Type of Work:Adventure novel
SettingNorthland (Alaska); the goldrush of the 1890s
Principal CharactersBuck, a large, intelligent and well-bred dogSpitz, a cruel lead sled dogJohn Thornton, Buck’s Northiand master
Buck, a huge four-year-old Scottish Shepherd-Saint Bernard cross-breed, lived a life of ease at Judge Miller’s Santa Clara Valley estate. As the judge’s loyal companion, working with his sons, and guarding his grandchildren, Buck ruled over all things – humans included. Combining his mother’s intelligence with the size and strength of his father, Buck became the undisputed leader of all the dogs on the estate.
At this time, gold had been found in Alaska, and thousands of men were rushing to the Northland. They wanted dogs, dogs like Buck. One night, Manuel, the estate’s gardener, who felt he was not earning enough to support both his family and his gambling habits, took Buck for a walk to the railroad station. There, money was exchanged, a rope was placed around Buck’s neck, and his life in the civilized world had come to an end.
For two days and two nights Buck traveled northward in a baggage carrier. Caged, with no food or water, his placid disposition changed to that of a raging fiend. In Seattle, Buck was met by a man in a red sweater, holding a club. As Buck came charging out of the opened crate the man cruelly beat him into submission. Buck had learned his first lesson: he stood no chance against a man with a club.
Buck, along with other dogs, was purchased by Francois and Perrault, dispatchers for the Canadian government, and transported by ship to Alaska. Buck soon came to respect his French Canadian masters. But life among the dogs was savage; no law existed but that of fang and force.
The first day, Buck looked on as one of his shipmates, downed in a fight, was savagely killed by the anxious pack of dogs. Thus he learned that in the event of a fight, he must always stay on his feet. Spitz, the sly-eyed and powerful lead dog of the sled team, took pleasure in these disputes. Dogs being slashed to ribbons seemed to amuse Spitz, making Buck hate him from the beginning.
Buck came to know his teammates: which dogs were approachable, and which to leave alone. He learned the necessary skills of a sled dog, which included digging under the snow at night for warmth, surviving on far less food than he was used to, stealing food from other dogs, and the knack for pulling a load.