Wednesday, June 29, 2016

White Fang

White Fang
© 1906 Jack London
pp. 1- 101, Tales of the North.

"An' right here I want to remark,' Bill went on, 'that that animal's familiarity with camp-fires is suspicious an' immoral.'
'It knows for certain more'n a self-respectin' wolf ought to know,' Henry agreed

White Fang revisits  the theme of the Wild versus civilization from The Call of the Wild and reverses it.  Whereas in Call a soft California dog was thrown into the Alaskan wilderness and forced to call upon his instincts to survive, finding joy running with wolves after his master is killed,  in White Fang a dog/wolf hybrid is lured from the wild into the camps of man.  First published in Outing Magazine,  the story begins with two men being tracked by an eerie creature, a she-wolf who understands man. It is she who will give birth to a cub, and rear him in a wilderness of even-more dangerous predators like the Canadian lynx,  and it is her own youth spent in an Indian camp that will first introduce the cub to man.  Three-quarters wolf, there is virtually nothing of the dog in him, only a respect for Man's strength and a willingness to submit to it in exchange for shelter and food.  Yet there is more to man's relationship with wolves and dogs than sheer animal dominance.

 Here again London touches on Nietzsche's superman myth, and again rejects it; just as  he did in The Sea Wolf and Martin Eden.   White Fang is shaped by fear, hunger, and rejection to be a creature mighty in strength, desperately cunning, and comfortable only in solitude. He knows one law: kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, intimidate or cower. Every memory of tenderness, either from his cub days or his early adoption by an Yukon native, is erased after he falls into the captivity of dog-fighters.  Yet he is not lost; just as Wolf Larsen was defeated by a man who combined wild strength with moral courage, so too is White Fang's savagery tamed by persistent and intelligently guided affection,  care that teaches him other laws -- care that reignite the what little of the dog exists within him.  Considering that The Call of the Wild was my first novel, and that every single thing I've read by Jack London has proven unforgettable, it's hard to believe White Fang has taken me this long to read. It combines adventure with a narrative that speculates on how a dog might, in coming of age, grow to understand the world. The writing is winsome as usual, dramatic and - occasionally, unexpectedly - with flashes of laughter. (London has given me a most excellent insult -- "If you don't mind me saying, you're seventeen kinds of damn fool, all of them different, and then some!")

The Sea-Wolf, Jack London.

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