White Fang by Jack London
The story is predominantly about a wild wolf (well sort of 3/4 wolf 1/4 dog) and it’s transition into a domesticated animal. I guess it’s a coming of age story for canines! (I also read that it is believed to be an allegory of human progression into civilisation and more than that – that it could be an allegory about the writer himself and his transition from ‘wild child’ to successful author – I have no idea if that is based on solid foundation but thought I’d just throw it in as food for thought.
At the start of the novel we follow two characters as they trek across Yukon territory transporting a coffin to the town of Fort McGurry. The two men and their sled team are being hunted it seems by a pack of wolves who appear to have joined forces during a particular bad winter and period of famine. Gradually the wolves begin to pick off the dogs one by one – they seem to be made more confident in their escapades by the cool confidence of a female wolf – who appears herself to have some ‘dog’ in her genes. I’m not going to relate the whole hunt/chase as that would spoil the initial tension that you feel when reading this part of the story. The novel then progresses to the birth of a litter of cubs by the aforementioned she-wolf to the pack leader (who for the purposes of the story is called ‘one eye). From this point forward the story is narrated by one of the young cubs who is also the inspiration for the title of the book (unsurprisingly).
We follow in his footsteps as he begins to discover the wilds in which he lives and just how dangerous a place it really is. We watch him being taken captive and literally beaten into submission. Then, as he finally seems to come to terms with his lot he is passed on to a nasty character who makes his original capture and submission look like it was simply play time!
Characters – the main character of course is White Fang, his mother (Kiche), his father (One Eye) and a young dog pup called LipLip also play parts albeit mostly small ones comparatively speaking. There are also the ‘humans’ involved with the story – notably the obnoxious character Beauty Smith – a cowardly man who is determined to own White Fang, and Weedon Scott – the final character who plays a major role in White Fang’s life.
The Setting – Yukon territory, Canada at the time of the1890s during the Klondike Gold Rush.
I enjoyed this and thought it was well written, in fact given that this was published in 1906 I expected the language to have a more dated feeling which wasn’t the case. I think for me the first issue I had was getting used to the idea that I was reading from White Fang’s pov. At first I think I resisted the idea a little and so this, for me felt like the first part of the tale from White Fang slowed down a little. However, once I got used to the idea I enjoyed it a lot more – the author doesn’t try to make unreasonable points in terms of the story – it’s not like he’s applying thoughts to White Fang that are simply ridiculous, the dog isn’t describing things or thinking deep thoughts after all.
The ending – well, I don’t want to spoil it so don’t read any further if you dont already know the ending! Basically, the ending has the feel good factor. You could says its almost two sweet – and yet I liked the ending, I can’t deny it! I’m a pushover for a happy ending!