Nov 21, 2008

White Fang

by Jack London

Another old favorite of mine, White Fang is almost a mirror image of London's other dog book, Call of the Wild. That one is about a pet dog named Buck from California who adapts to a harsh life in Alaska, eventually running off with the wolves. White Fang, in contrast, is about a wolfish dog born in the wild who eventually comes home to man- back to an estate in California that feels, in fact, very like the one Buck left. Reading the two stories back to back feels like traveling a complete circle.

White Fang begins with a few chapters describing two men traveling through a desloate Arctic wilderness, striving to reach the safety of a fort before the famished wolves get them. Then the storyline pivots and follows the wolf pack on its journey through the forest. It isn't until chapter eight that the real protagonist of the book comes in- a little puppy whose mother is hybrid wolf-dog that had run off with the pack. As the wolfish puppy grows up, the reader gets to experience the world through his eyes and see how his development and temperament is shaped both by instinct and environmental pressures. The young wolf-dog learns harsh survival lessons in the wild before following his mother back to the Indian camp of her origins, where he submits under the dominion of man and acquires his name, White Fang. Life in this camp isn't any easier for him, and by the time a brutal white man named Beauty Smith finds him, White Fang has a reputation for ferocity and killing other dogs. Smith encourages White Fang's belligerence, using him in numerous dog-fights until at last he is rescued by a kind-hearted man who tames his wild spirit and shows White Fang for the first time what love is. Then he has to learn new laws of conduct all over again so he can live peacefully in "sun-kissed California."

To me, this book feels more savage than Call of the Wild. Mostly because there are pages upon pages of violence and fighting. This is usually between the animals, but there are also scenes of people abusing them. Reading this story as a youth, I was captivated by the viewpoint; I'd never read a book before that portrayed so vividly the consciousness of an animal's (albeit limited) reason and intelligence. As an adult, I find the incessant fighting a bit unrealistic and disturbing. I'm also unsure how likely it is that White Fang could be tamed after a lifetime of bad treatment. But it's still a thrilling story nonetheless.

Rating: 4/5                        272 pages, 1906


bethany said...

I really liked this one, I read it a long time ago though. I agree with you about Call of the Wild being more violent that read.

Great review!

Bookfool said...

I routinely get chewed out by my youngest for not having read White Fang. It's been his favorite book since the age of 10. Someday, I'll get to it!

Lenore said...

I loved both of these when I read them as a teen. Definitely worth a reread!

Laura said...

I read Call of the Wild in college, and I've wanted to read White Fang ever since. I enjoy Jack London's writing style, as well as the viewpoint!