IN a letter of February 1903 to George P. Brett, President of the Macmillan Company, Jack London described a new novel he had just finished as "an animal story, utterly different in subject & treatment from the rest of the animal stories which have been so successful; and yet it seems popular enough for the Saturday Evening Post, for they snapped it up right away." After reading London's manuscript, Brett responded that he liked the story but not its title: "It is a title which, it seems to me, the public would not understand until after they had read the book," he wrote. "I hope something else will occur to you, as I like the story very well indeed, although I am afraid it is too true to nature and too good work to be really popular with the sentimentalist public."
Ordinarily an astute judge of what the "sentimentalist public" liked, in this instance Brett could scarcely have been farther off the mark. As London later recalled, "When you came to the book-publication of this story, you wrote me the very same proposition [that had been sent me by the editor of the Post]: The yarn was bully, but the title was rotten. I told you the same thing I had told the editor of the Sat. Evening Post [to use another title if he could invent a better one]. You failed in getting another title, and reluctantly used my title. And I'll be damned if that very muchly-rejected title didn't become a phrase in the English language."
London's "muchly-rejected title" has indeed become a phrase in the English language, and his "too true to nature" story has become tremendously popular, not only in the English language but in nearly ninety other languages as well. The Call of the Wild is, in fact, one of the strongest claims any American author has yet staked to the title of "Great World Novel."
Moreover, contrary to Brett's apprehensions, the public, evidently cloyed with a surfeit of sentimental pap, was ready for London's meatier fare. The Call of the Wild was an immediate popular success. It also became a classic overnight;