We’ve been telling animal stories, of course, for as long as we’ve told yarns. And we no doubt told stories of our own dogs around ancient camp fires.
Our earlytales mixed myth, dream and fantasy with the real world. Our legends told of talking animals, including dogs. So did the tales of the Greek slave named Aesop. Well into the Nineteenth Century, dogs in literature were mostly creatures of fancy, often talking and thinking like humans, on which they were really based. Kipling’s JUNGLE TALES, an international bestseller, is a good example of the fantasy-form.
Sir Charles G D Roberts, a Canadian author born in 1860 in Douglas, New Brunswick, changed that.
Roberts grew up watching animals, both domestic and in the wild Northwoods, and wanted to write about them as they really lived. He said that the exciting adventure lies in the effort to ‘get under the skins,’ so to speak, of these shy and elusive beings. He didn’t want to write about human nature in animal form, but was determinedto write yarns about animals that caught their emotions and thoughts. In so doing, Charles G D Roberts created the one native Canadian art form: the Realistic Animal Story.
Although Roberts wrote about domestic animals such as dogs, it was the animals of the wilderness that caught his attention. Powerful stories such as The Passing of the Black Whelps and Wild Motherhood told stories of wolves, moose and bears. His books include THE LURE OF THE WILD and HAUNTERS OF THE SILENCES.
Fellow Canadian Ernest Thompson Seton followed with WILD ANIMALS I HAVE KNOWN (1898), giving the animal story a new credibility and power as a literary genre. Two stories from this book told of dogs: Bingo, the Story of My Dog and Wully, the Story of a Yaller Dog.
In 1903, Jack London’s masterpiece THE CALL OF THE WILD appeared.
When Jack London wrote THE CALL OF THE WILD, he wrote the seminal Northwestern novel.
Jack London had already written THE SON OF THE WOLF and A DAUGHTER OF THE SNOWS, themagazine short story ‘To Build a Fire,’and would follow THE CALL OF THE WILD with his wilderness story of the wolf-dog WHITE FANG, a classic work of animal fiction.
Although many consider the 20th Century/Darryl Zanuck movie version of THE CALL OF THE WILD, starring Clark Gable as John Thornton, to be the best version, my personal favorite is the later Ken Annakin Film production, starring Charlton Heston. Heston — and Annakin — captured the spirit and character of Jack London the man and author better than anyone else has.
The theme of domesticity to savagery in THE CALL OF THE WILD and its opposite — savagery to domesticity in WHITE FANG, is a deeply human theme that is the soul of the Northwestern, and needs more exploration… -Brian Alan Burhoe, author of WOLFBLOOD: A Northwestern Story…
The American Jack London wrote of dogs against the background of the Klondike Gold Rush, red-coated members of the North-West Mounted Police, prospectors, trappers, outlaws and the white wilderness of the Alaskan and Canadian Northwest. His literary masterpieces created a demand for more. Read More