Anyway, just as I did with The Call of the Wild, I downloaded my copy of London’s White Fang in EPUB format from Project Gutenberg, a massive online library of thousands of mostly older books and literary works (for which U.S. copyright has expired), all eased into digital and electronic formats, and all made available for free for anyone to access, download, and read.
And just as I did with all the book overviews and reviews that preceded this, this particular overview and review contains exactly just those: an overview and a review. The overview is simply a brief (hopefully) summary of the book, and the review is no more than an account of my experience with the book. Please keep in mind that everything I’ve written below does not in any way constitute a literary critique, nor was it intended to be. I am neither a literary critic nor do I flatter myself to be one. I am only a humble reader, nothing more, nothing less, and my sole intention in doing this is to grow my passion for books and for reading, and to share my experience with people who have the same such passion.
White Fang is a short novel written by Jack London and published in 1906. He intended it to be the companion to his earlier and more popular work The Call of the Wild. As with London’s earlier work, White Fang is set largely in the Arctic Northland, specifically in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories of Canada, and in Alaska, sometime during the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890s. The book tells the tale of the wolfdog White Fang’s long and eventful transformation from a feral and savage animal of the Wild to a domesticated household pet.
The story begins with an account of two dog mushers, Henry and Bill, traveling through the frozen Northern landscape, driving a dogsled laden with the casket of an important man. Both the men driving the dogsled, and the six dogs hauling it, were harrowed, harried, and hunted by a pack of ravening wolves made even more ferocious and desperate by the ongoing winter famine. Slowly, the dog team was picked off by the wolves, and the two men, with but three bullets for their one gun, struggled to fend off the pack. It was soon revealed that the pack’s successful efforts in slowly decimating the dog team was due to the wily craft of one of the leaders of the pack, a reddish, grayish wolfdog, named only as the She-Wolf, who would lure a sled dog away from the protection of its team and of the men and thence into the devouring maws of the wolf pack.
Slowly but surely, the dog team dwindled, and the men grew more desperate, while the wolves, smelling blood, grew bolder and drew ever closer to their fleeing preys. Eventually, the She-Wolf, in broad daylight, lured the leader of the dog team, One Ear, away from the men, and straightway the wolf pack fell upon him. One Ear tried to escape by dashing into the woods, but the pack pursued him. Bill would not have any of it, and despite the protests of Henry, he headed off into the woods to save One Ear, armed with his gun and his three bullets. However, both Bill and One Ear were killed, and Henry had no choice but to move on.
With the dog team now reduced from six to two, the dogsled moved at a crawl, and the wolves tightened their circle. Henry attempted to lighten the load by leaving the burdensome casket upon a wooden platform he had hastily crafted and tied up high among the trees. This did lighten the dogsled considerably and made the journey faster, but it was not enough. The wolves finally managed to hem in Henry and his two remaining dogs. He tried to fend them off with fire, but to little effect. The wolves devoured the dogs and moved in to kill Henry. But in that very moment, he was saved from death by the arrival of more men and more dogs sent to receive – or retrieve – the casket bearing the important man, who was later named as Lord Alfred.
But this opening part served nothing more than to introduce the She-Wolf and the wolf pack to the plot. The narrative then shifts to the wolves and their wanderings after they had fled from a succored Henry and had resumed their hunt for meat elsewhere. After much roaming, the pack finally reached a land where game was plentiful, and they gorged themselves on abundant meat. The pack, which was largely held together by wolves’ hunger and desperation during the famine, now began to disband as the needs of their stomachs were met. Half of the pack followed the She-Wolf along the Mackenzie River and thence east. But one by one, the wolves peeled off, until only three remained by the She-Wolf’s side: One Eye, an old and battle-scarred male gray wolf bereft of an eye who was also a leader of the pack; a young male, yet another leader of the pack; and another young male, an upstart.
But the three male wolves only followed the She-Wolf because each sought to be her mate. The rivalry between the three culminated in a bloody and bitter fight to the death, and the cunning One Eye prevailed over the other two. He took the She-Wolf as his mate, and together they journeyed deeper into the forest.
Eventually, in a cave by the banks of a stream (a tributary of the Mackenzie), the She-Wolf gave birth to a litter of five pups, three males and two females, all of which looked much like her, with reddish fur, save for the one male cub who had inherited his father’s gray coat. During all this time, One Eye was fulfilling his fatherly duties of bringing home meat to his partner and their pups.
But the winter famines took their toll on the wolf family. Prey became scarce, and even the She-Wolf joined One Eye in the vain quest for food. But with neither meat nor milk to go about, four of the wolf pups succumbed to death, leaving the grey cub the sole survivor. Soon after, even One Eye was slain by a mother lynx when in utmost need, he tried to raid the lynx’s den for food (this lynx was later killed by the She-Wolf and her grey cub after a cruel duel to the death).
The famines finally abated and the She-Wolf soon had meat to bring to her grey cub, which continued to grow larger and bolder. The grey pup, in his endless explorations of his surroundings, eventually dared to venture out of his lair one time during the absence of his mother. He explored and examined the outside world, and all his discoveries, observations, interactions, and even his near-death experiences with other animals, prey or predator alike, he distilled into simple ‘laws’ or ‘rules’ to be followed, among which is the law ‘eat or be eaten’. These laws he expanded or modified as he came to know more of his surroundings.
Growing more confident and more adventurous each day, the grey cub in one of his excursions beyond his lair eventually stumbled into humans, into Native Americans/First Nations peoples, who unwittingly drove the pup into such a scare that he called for his mother. Straightway, the She-Wolf came bounding in to her pup’s rescue. But it turned out that one of the Native Americans, Grey Beaver, was in fact the brother of the former master of the She-Wolf, for the She-Wolf was then revealed to be none other than Kiche, a runaway sled dog. Grey Beaver recognized Kiche, and promptly called out to her. Kiche submitted to Grey Beaver, and she and her pup, who the Native Americans called White Fang owing to his gleaming teeth, and who was ever after known by that name, were brought to the Native Americans’ village.
In the village, under the stern hand of Grey Beaver, who was neither cruel nor kind, White Fang slowly and painfully learned to adopt the trappings of domestication. He met more of the humans and learned much of them, and became overawed by their superiority and dominance. He met the other dogs of the village, too, but these domesticated dogs were not kindly disposed towards him, for to them he represented the Wild and all things wild, and thus they held him as their enemy. Indeed, one particular puppy, Lip-lip, the self-proclaimed leader of all the village pups, gave him much trouble, such that Lil-lip soon became White Fang’s sworn enemy.
White Fang found life in the village difficult, especially because of Lip-lip and the other dogs, and especially after Kiche was given by Grey Beaver to Three Eagles, another Native American, who took Kiche with him to an expedition into the Great Slave Lake. Robbed of his mother and sole protector, White Fang was forced to rely on himself to survive. He grew stronger, swifter, more savage, and more cunning, a master of skirmish and warfare, a sly thief and trouble-maker, a lone and rebel wolf. Though he slowly adapted into the domesticated life, the Wild never stopped calling to him. And soon enough, he could ignore it no longer, and plotted to escape Grey Beaver and the village. His chance came one day, when the Native Americans finally broke camp and decided to relocate to richer hunting grounds. In the confusion and commotion, White Fang hid himself, and though Grey Beaver called and called for him, he never answered, until the tribe, at long last, moved on without him.
But White Fang immediately discovered that the Wild no longer suited him, and that he actually longed for Grey Beaver and the life in the village, for though it was a hard life, it was not without its merits. Promptly, he set out in pursuit of the tribe, and by fortuitous chance, he found them once again. Convinced now that he was better off a domesticated pet than a creature of the Wild, he gave himself up to Grey Beaver and took him as his first master. Grey Beaver welcomed White Fang back, and made him one of the sled dogs of his son, Mit-sah. His life toiling before the sled took him to many places and to many Native American villages, and in one of such village, he chanced upon Kiche. He recognized her, and but not she him, and even drove him away from her new litter of pups.
Winter came and along with it, famine. Life turned wretched in that village for both men and mutts. White Fang, so as not to be devoured by desperate men, fled into the forest and there held out, his survival assured by his prowess and patience in hunting, even if game was scarce. There, in the forest, he once again encountered Kiche, who had taken up residence in their old lair by the stream. But she no longer knew him, so he left her forever and for good. He also met Lil-lip, his old rival, who had grown gaunt and weak with hunger, being ill-suited to life in the Wild. White Fang slew him in single combat.
But though White Fang roamed and ranged in the Wild, he never got far. The bonds of domestication kept him in check, and eventually, he decided to return to the village. By then, the famine had ended, and he was welcomed back in.
In the summer of 1898, Grey Beaver, with White Fang and his other sled dogs, journeyed west to Fort Yukon along the Yukon River, where he traded furs, mittens, and moccasins to the Caucasian men caught up in the gold rush, and amassed a great fortune in the process. In the meantime, as Grey Beaver settled down to trade, White Fang took up as his pastime going down to the docks and fighting the dogs newly brought to the North by the eager gold prospectors and miners.
But the wolfdog’s penchant for trouble and tussle, and his prowess in fighting, caught the eye of one ‘Beauty’ Smith, a cruel, cowardly, conniving Caucasian man, as ugly on the inside as his misshapen outward appearance, who sought to possess White Fang for his evil purpose. Smith tried to buy White Fang from Grey Beaver, but the master would not part with his wolfdog, for he had grown rich and had no more need of money, and because he valued White Fang and knew that there were no other dogs like him. Smith, however, plied his evil wiles, and daily supplied Grey Beaver with alcohol, slowly thrusting the Native American into alcoholism and, in the attempt to feed the growing addiction, into subsequent financial ruin. Driven to drunkenness and destitution, Grey Beaver soon had no choice but to sell White Fang to Smith.
At the outset, White Fang already hated ‘Beauty’ Smith, for the wolfdog had immediately divined the evil nature and intent of the man. Indeed, White Fang sought to escape the possession of Smith, and even after he was sold, he kept returning to Grey Beaver, his first master who he would not give up so easily. But Grey Beaver did not reciprocate his wolfdog’s loyalty, and he surrendered White Fang to Smith every time the wolfdog fled, until the Native American, now sober, eventually left for home, and White Fang was left forever to Smith.
Under his second master, White Fang was turned into a fighting animal, and was pitted against other dogs and other wild animals in battles that were often to the death, all for the financial gain of his hideous owner. In all these battles, White Fang had the mastery, for he had grown grimmer, more fell, and more hateful, driven by his loathing for Smith. Soon, White Fang earned renown as the Fighting Wolf, and no animal across the North could best him, even after Smith relocated to Dawson further up the Yukon in search of more opponents. White Fang was victorious in every battle, until the day when Tim Keenan and his bulldog Cherokee arrived. White Fang was forced to battle the bulldog, but try as he might, he could not bring it down, for the beast was bred solely for such a purpose: combat. In fact, if anything, it was Cherokee who almost killed White Fang, and it was only by the providential intervention of Weedon Scott, a young, wealthy, and powerful Caucasian gold prospector, and his dog musher Matt, who were passing by at that time, that White Fang was saved from imminent death.
Scott rescued White Fang from Smith, forcing the evil man to sell the wolfdog. He took pity at the condition of White Fang, and vowed to treat him with kindness, for he thought that it was upon himself to right the wrongs that humanity had wrought maliciously upon the wolfdog. White Fang was at first suspicious and hostile to Scott’s advances, and even bit both him and Matt. But Scott persisted. Besides, they found out that White Fang was simply too intelligent to kill. Eventually, Scott’s kindness and patience slowly won the wolfdog over, and White Fang began to learn to like – and then to love – the young man. As time went by, the bond between White Fang and Scott became so strong that the wolfdog would not be parted from the man, for he had already taken Scott as his third master.
But soon it was time for Scott to return home, to California, and he thought that it was no place for an animal of White Fang’s rather wild and violent disposition and propensity to the cold climate. He tried to leave White Fang to Matt’s care, but the wolfdog had other plans. He snuck into the steamboat Scott had boarded, and when Scott discovered him, it was already too late. He finally surrendered to the idea that White Fang simply cannot be left behind, so he took the wolfdog with him to San Francisco, and then to his Sierra Vista home ranch in the Santa Clara Valley.
At first, White Fang had trouble adjusting to his new life in the ranch, for the place was so different from all the other places he had been thus far, and so distant from the wild North. He had trouble in particular with the two other dogs of the ranch, Dick and Collie. The ever-suspicious Collie was especially hostile towards him, and would not let him a moment’s rest. But in the end she grew warmer towards him, until she even took him as her mate.
Under the kind and loving tutelage of Weedon Scott and the Scott family, White Fang swiftly adapted to a tamed life, and slowly shed the last vestiges of his primal nature. But the Wild was never completely removed from him, and this stood him in good stead. For his wildness soon came to use when an escaped convict with a vendetta against Scott’s father came into the house one night. White Fang, guessing rightly the intention of the intruder, confronted him and killed him, but he himself was almost killed in the noble act. The Scott family leveraged their wealth and influence to obtain the best possible medical operation for White Fang, who hovered upon death’s door. His chances of survival were very, very slim, but once more his wildness saved him. For in such a grim situation, domesticated animals would have swiftly succumbed to death, but not White Fang, for his upbringing in the Wild and his hard life among men before he met Scott had wrought him into a strong and a most enduring animal. He survived the ordeal, was healed, was named as the Blessed Wolf, and soon after it was revealed to him that he was now the proud father of Collie’s litter of pups.
It took me a rather long while to write my overview of White Fang, and out of embarrassment for writing so long an account for what is supposed to be nothing more than a brief summary of the book, I’ll try to keep my review of the book as short as I can, so that this entire overview and review need not stretch into lengths even I consider to be too long.
Right off the bat, I will say that I did enjoy reading White Fang, but I found it less exciting than its pair The Call of the Wild. This is due to several reasons. The first is on account of the premise of the story. To me, White Fang’s transformation from a wild animal to a tame household pet wasn’t really as interesting as Buck’s (of the Call of the Wild) journey from domestication to savageness. It was still an interesting premise, don’t get me wrong. However. reading through White Fang’s story, the decelerating pace of the plot is very palpable, and it wasn’t as thrilling. There was always this indescribable feeling of being suffocated, of options narrowing, of walls closing in. I don’t know. It felt like reading The Call of the Wild backwards, except that instead of the excitement increasing with every chapter, it dwindles and eventually dies down. Admittedly, however, White Fang’s story did make for a more traditional and more comforting ending, which would please those looking for a regular, happy resolution. I for one am content with how the story ended.
The second reason is still on account of the plot of the novel. I did say that the story was told in a decelerating manner. But it was also told very slowly. I felt like White Fang’s tale dragged out or was protracted. The ending is already known even before one got through the opening chapters, but getting to the ending is a slower experience than one might have expected. I understand, of course, that London deliberately elaborated his narration to include more insight and information as to the how’s and why’s of White Fang’s story, to build a more thorough and compelling case of White Fang’s transformation. But though the story certainly had its attractive and gripping moments, overall it still felt a bit stretched out and stretched thin, a rather long tale for a rather simple premise. Also, it still felt a bit hollow and lacking to me, and was not particularly convincing.
Third, regrettably, I did not find any of the characters in the story as likable as I initially hoped for. Even the protagonist, White Fang, I did not care for very much. I liked him still, mind you, but I was much more engaged and immersed with Buck than I was with White Fang. But as to the rest of the characters, honestly, I wasn’t really interested in them. They were there mainly as props, it seemed to me, and not as sincere and rounded characters of their own.
Lastly, I was very disturbed by London’s apparent display of racism and bigotry. There were instances of racism in The Call of the Wild, but in White Fang, these were even more evident. Whether this was intentional or simply due to carelessness, I could not say. I especially disapproved of some of London’s depiction and description of Native Americans/First Nations peoples, in particular his use of offensive terms and stereotypes, as well as his insinuations – if not outright declarations – of the superiority of white men over Native Americans/First Nations peoples. Even if London wrote White Fang solely for a white audience, and thus wrote it such that white men were the heroes of the story, his racism is still unacceptable. It is not simply an outdated mode of thinking that was prevalent in the past and that can be consigned to history. It was wrong even then as much as it is still wrong now.
Anyway, notwithstanding London’s display of racism, his book White Fang is still a good read overall. It certainly has many engaging and perceptive moments, and it’s especially suited for those who have read The Call of the Wild and wish to see the opposite perspective. There’s some insight to be gained, information to be gleaned. I for one learned a bit more about ptarmigans, moosebirds, bulldogs, dogsledding, and some other interesting topics. Plus, the book isn’t very long, taking no more than a couple of hours to read or so, so there’s that. But there’s a reason why its pair, The Call of the Wild, is the more popular book.