Recently, I reread Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild”, which I first read at about 12 years old, and this week I reread “White Fang”, which I first read at about the same age. They are more or less companion pieces. In the introduction to the copy of the combined books I got from the library, Abraham Rothberg says that White Fang could be called “The Call of the Tame”. The first book is about a dog named Buck, who is stolen from his comfortable home in California and sent to the Yukon, where, after a series of unfortunate experiences, he reverts to the wild and runs with a wolf pack.
In White Fang, Fang is a wolf/dog mix…3/4 wolf and 1/4 dog, who is born in the wild. After a series of…you guessed it…unfortunate experiences, he settles down with the man who rescued him on a big spread…in California. Fang has a lot to learn there, such as Don’t Eat The Chickens. Who knew that was wrong?
As interesting as the books are, Jack London himself is quite a story. He was born in 1876 and died in 1916 at the age of 40, possibly by suicide but that is in great dispute now. Among other things, he was, as the Eagles’ song says, brutally handsome. In his day, he was considered a great adventurer and a great adventure writer. I wonder what he would think about the fact that in the library, you can only find his books in the “Youth” section, not in “Adult Fiction”.
“Call” was first published in 1903, and “Fang” in 1906. They are both very depressing and full of savagery and misunderstandings. I am amused by the fact, however, that they are considered “suitable” for young readers. White Fang is beaten half to death, and must fight every minute to survive. But. At the end, White Fang is installed in California where a female sheepdog named Collie, already a resident, is his chief torturer. Only one day, Collie suddenly becomes friendly and draws him into the woods, where they frolic as friends. Miraculously, Collie ends up with puppies. (Note to Self: Spend more time in the woods.)
Where are we going wrong in terms of what we let children read?
It’s astonishing to realize that “Call” was published 107 years ago, and “Fang” 103 years ago. And yet those books are still mesmerizing and don’t seem outdated at all. Maybe only to some extent in how more of us treat dogs. But conditions in that part of the world are much the same, and the lives of men and dogs are still primitive. All you have to do to recognize that is watch an episode of Ice Road Truckers.
In White Fang, London does an amazing job of speculating what is going on in White Fang’s head as he learns first to protect himself, then to protect his “master”, as well as himself. He learns that you Do Not Eat The Chickens, which he initially takes as Don’t Eat Things That Are Alive. Then he learns that jackrabbits don’t count, so he adjusts. He learns to make subtle distinctions.
Here is a biography of Jack London on Wiki. I sort of wish I had known him, then again, I am sort of glad I didn’t. But I for sure would have liked to know the imaginary White Fang. I leave you with the brutally handsome and doomed Jack London: