By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by John Lee
“White Fang” is one of two famous works by Jack London. London writes an entertaining story about a mostly wild wolf that becomes a domesticated pet of an American geologist who visits Alaska and returns to California.
A criticism of the story is its similarity to “Call of the Wild” which involves an abused domesticated dog that is born in California, stolen by an abusive thief, and released in Alaska. London is an outstanding wordsmith that draws a reader into “White Fang”; despite its aura of a twice told tale. Both dogs in London’s two tales grow to be ferocious fighters; adopted by abusive owners that use dogs in a fight-to-the-death betting’ sport.
“White Fang” breaks into three sections of a wolf’s life; i.e. first, there is the story of humans and the threat of wolves-in-the-wild when meat is scarce;
the second section reports on a meat trail that all wild carnivores follow to survive; the final section shows how an intelligent dog (mostly wolf) transitions from life in the wild to life with man.
London creatively explains how a wolf or dog appears to view life. Animal intelligence is shown to be instinctive; not calculated. As dogs mature they look at humans as gods; i.e. viewing man as good, bad, terrible, and superior. A dog’s acceptance of man’s superiority engenders instinctive fear, love, and sometimes hate. Each emotion is magnified by a human master’s treatment.
White Fang experiences fear, hate, and finally, love of man. The wolf-dog’s third and final human owner rescues White Fang. In the beginning, White Fang fears his first owner. The first owner beats White Fang and threatens punishment for unacceptable behavior. In spite of harsh treatment, White Fang becomes loyal to his first owner because harshness is meted out with enough justice to offer a sense of security, not instinctively evident in the wild. White Fang fears this first owner but respects human superiority.
White Fang’s second owner is overtly, sometimes slyly, abusive to aggravate White Fang’s instinctive pride to encourage aggressive behavior. The second owner recognizes White Fang’s ferocious, dominating personality. He molds White Fang into a nearly unbeatable ring-fighter through clubbing episodes and shaming laughter that physically and mentally torment the wolf-dog. This second owner imprisons White Fang by chain and stake which are only loosed when ring-fights are scheduled. White Fang hates and fears his second owner; without love or respect but with focused ferocity, born by nature and breeding.
White Fang triumphs in every fight until matched with an English bulldog. Though White Fang is faster, bigger, and more outwardly ferocious, the bulldog is built low to the ground, neck less, and imperturbably persistent. White Fang makes a mistake and the bulldog locks his jaws near White Fang’s neck. As they twirl in a locked embrace, the bulldog nudges and adjusts his jaws closer and closer to White Fang’s neck. White Fang begins to fail as blood rushes from wounds and air becomes difficult to draw.
Nearing death, White Fang’s third owner rushes into the ring, smashes a fist into the wolf-dog owner’s face, grabs the bulldog, and pries open clamped jaws with a gun barrel. White Fang is released from death’s grip. A happy ending is in store.
“White Fang” is a sweet adventure but not quite as emotion laden as “Call of the Wild”. London offers a compelling description of Alaska’s wild and its relationship with meat-trail winners and losers.