I’ve been making some good progress on my Dusty Bookshelf Challenge recently, and tackled another one: White Fang by Jack London, the opposite number to The Call of the Wild, which I read for my Classics challenge last year.
How long has it been on my shelf? Since summer, 2011, I forget exactly when. Call it six or eight months.
I almost never buy unread books, so how did I get it? I bought it absurdly cheap at an estate sale, along with a copy of Call of the Wild.
Now that I’ve read it, am I keeping it? No. I wanted to read Jack London’s two most famous books, and I’m glad I have–but this is the end of the road for Mr. London and me. I don’t see myself as likely to read this a second time.
White Fang is in the same mold as The Call of the Wild—the story of a dog in the harsh Klondike. White Fang takes the story in the opposite direction; instead of house pet to wolf, White Fang is a wolf who becomes a house pet. Though it’s still an immensely grim, sometimes disturbing book, I think that trajectory gave it much more hope, and made me like the book better on the whole.
White Fang starts out as a wild wolf cub, and I really enjoyed his growth as he learns about the world. London did an excellent job showing the world from a wolf’s point of view. Many books are from an animal’s perspective, but they mostly personify the animal. Other than simple things like a talking mouse having a weakness for cheese, most animal characters tend to be humans in animal form, as far as their mind and view on the world works. White Fang really looks at the world differently, understands things differently, learns differently. I don’t know anything about animal psychology, but London has created a convincing picture of how a wolf thinks. White Fang lives by the maxim of “eat or be eaten” and all other animals are classified accordingly. He sees humans as “gods,” their power demonstrated by the size and solidity of their dwellings.
White Fang leaves the wild when his mother, half-wolf and half-dog, returns to the Indian tribe who had domesticated her. White Fang’s first master is an Indian, who is stern and hard but usually just. White Fang is a solitary creature who doesn’t get on with other dogs. His world is a hard one, but this portion still felt less disturbing than similar passages in The Call of the Wild, because White Fang seems to be suited for this world. It’s hard, but he knows how to cope, and even to thrive.
Unfortunately, about halfway through the book, White Fang passes out of the hands of his Indian master and over to a white man, the “mad god.” This is by far the most disturbing part of the book, as the mad god is cruel and horrible, forcing White Fang into dog-fighting.
It’s a bit of a spoiler, but such a relief of one I’ll give it away anyway—White Fang is eventually rescued from the mad god by the “love god,” the first master who shows him kindness and wins his undying loyalty in return. The whole book takes a far more positive turn at that point, and ends more happily than The Call of the Wild.
I was curious about London’s two best-known novels, and they’re both good books for what they are. They’re really not my type of book though, too harsh and grim for me, positive ending notwithstanding. I’m glad to have read them both, but I don’t see myself as likely to read more London in the future.