Adventure, Children's/Coming-of-Age, George, Jean Craighead

Review of Julie of the Wolves

What was it about?

The story begins with Miyax, an Alaskan Eskimo, who is attempting to join a wolf pack. She is stranded in the wilderness and depends on the wolves to find food. Amaroq is the leader of the pack. He is naturally the most majestic of the wolves and the one with whom Miyax establishes a spiritual connection. She names another wolf Kapu because he reminds her of her father Kapugen, the person who taught Miyax so much about the natural world.

She is running away from an oppressive and frightening past. In a letter addressed to Miyax, her Gussaq (means ‘White’ in Eskimo) pen pal Amy had offered her a place to stay in San Francisco. But she got lost in the Alaskan wilderness, and to survive, Miyax must turn to her Eskimo heritage for guidance.

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George explores the boundaries that divide the tame from the wild, the traditional from the modern, and one culture from another.

What did I think of it?

I love wolves. This should come as no surprise since this is the second book I have read this year about wolves (the first was The Call of the Wild). There are, in fact, quite a lot of similarities between the two works even though the story lines are vastly different. In Julie of the Wolves, Miyax is the protagonist but the story is just as much about her as about the wolves she lives with. In The Call of the Wild, Buck is the protagonist, but once again, the humans are important players in the narrative. The tone as well as some of the themes of the two stories are also quite similar. (Both, for example, speak about “the call” of the wild.) I was surprised by the sometimes blunt realism in Julie of the Wolves. One scene in particular has placed this work on a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books in America. Jean Craighead George offers a pretty convincing tale about a runaway Eskimo girl living with wolves. While the author clearly loves the natural world, the story is (for the most part) grounded in reality. No culture is purely good or purely evil, and the wilderness is not an idyllic paradise. My only criticism is that at times, I found it hard to believe that it was possible for a person to develop such a tight friendship with wild and fully-grown wolves. George clearly had an understanding of the “language” of wolves, but Miyax makes a lot of physical contact with the animals and doesn’t ever get injured. Despite this minor criticism, I am definitely in agreement with the committee that awarded the Newbery Medal to Julie of the Wolves in 1973.

Favorite Quote

“Julie is gone,” she said. “I am Miyax now.” 

This book counts toward the Newbery Medal Challenge

 

Adventure, London, Jack

Review of The Call of the Wild

What was it about?

The Call of the Wild by Jack London is told from the perspective of Buck, a St. Bernard Scotch-Collie. He lives a comfortable existence in the household of Judge Miller; the children play with him, and Judge Miller treats Buck like a king. But the gardener, Manuel, is short on money. To feed his family, Manuel kidnaps and sells Buck to two French Canadians bound for Alaska. Yukon, Alaska is nothing like Santa Clara Valley, California, and François and Perrault are nothing like Judge Miller and his family. Buck’s new masters beat their dogs into submission so that they can be effective sled dogs. The dogs steal and fight for dominance, but only one dog can be the alpha.

During the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, countless men left the comfort of their homes to chase after gold in the harsh wilderness of Alaska. The Call of the Wild does much more than recount the hardships sled dogs faced. It explores the fine line that divides the wild from the tame, the savage from the civilized.

What did I think of it?

The Call of the Wild is not just a story about a dog’s transformation. It is also a study of human nature. London uses human characteristics to describe Buck and animal characteristics to describe the men to argue that humans too have an innate desire for superiority and for a life without societal duties and constraints. For both dogs and men, there is a constant competition to be the best, to be the alpha male. The wild/tame theme is even carried into the author’s choice of setting. Alaska itself is where civilization meets the wilderness. Throughout their journey, characters occasionally stop by villages and trading posts before plunging back into the wild.

Jack London pulls no punches. He vividly paints the way individual dogs are treated by their masters and by the other dogs in the pack. This is naturalistic writing at its finest. The Call of the Wild has easily become one of my favorite books of all time.

Favorite Quotes

[Buck steals food for the first time from another dog]: “This first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile Northland environment. It marked his adaptability, his capacity to adjust himself to changing conditions, the lack of which would have meant swift and terrible death. It marked, further, the decay or going to pieces of his moral nature, a vain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence. It was all well enough in the Southland, under the law of love and fellowship, to respect private property and personal feeling; but in the Northland, under the law of club and fang, whoso took such things into account was a fool, and in so far as he observed them he would fail to prosper.”

“Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as [Buck] heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the forest.”