Thursday, December 29, 2011

White Fang - by Jack London

White Fang is a 1906 novel by Jack London. (US Edition)  (UK Edition) London is famous for The Call of the Wild, about a dog stolen from his comfortable life in California and transported to Alaska to be a working sled dog.  But there are some, myself included, who think White Fang is the better book.

White Fang, like London’s other famous dog novel, is written primarily from the perspective of the dogs.  "White Fang" is a dog/wolf hybrid.  The book is set in the wild.

The porcupine rolled itself into a ball, radiating long, sharp needles in all directions that defied attack. In his youth One Eye had once sniffed too near a similar, apparently inert ball of quills, and had the tail flick out suddenly in his face. One quill he had carried away in his muzzle, where it had remained for weeks, a rankling flame, until it finally worked out. So he lay down, in a comfortable crouching position, his nose fully a foot away, and out of the line of the tail. Thus he waited, keeping perfectly quiet. There was no telling. Something might happen. The porcupine might unroll. There might be opportunity for a deft and ripping thrust of paw into the tender, unguarded belly.

But at the end of half an hour he arose, growled wrathfully at the motionless ball, and trotted on. He had waited too often and futilely in the past for porcupines to unroll, to waste any more time. He continued up the right fork. The day wore along, and nothing rewarded his hunt.

Because it is set in the wild, some animals get killed and hurt.  That is going to make this distasteful to some readers.  But, some people avoid murder mysteries for similar reasons – the violence is distasteful.  I let the reader make the choice.  I find London’s books to be powerful stories about the love between man and dogs.  Others find them to be about cruelty.  I suppose that is why one UK reader calls this a “marmite” book – a polarizing novel that people either love or hate.

Once, lying awake, he heard a strange sound in the white wall [the cave entrance]. He did not know that it was a wolverine, standing outside, all a-trembling with its own daring, and cautiously scenting out the contents of the cave. The cub knew only that the sniff was strange, a something unclassified, therefore unknown and terrible--for the unknown was one of the chief elements that went into the making of fear.

The hair bristled upon the grey cub's back, but it bristled silently. How was he to know that this thing that sniffed was a thing at which to bristle? It was not born of any knowledge of his, yet it was the visible expression of the fear that was in him, and for which, in his own life, there was no accounting. But fear was accompanied by another instinct--that of concealment. The cub was in a frenzy of terror, yet he lay without movement or sound, frozen, petrified into immobility, to all appearances dead. His mother, coming home, growled as she smelt the wolverine's track, and bounded into the cave and licked and nozzled him with undue vehemence of affection. And the cub felt that somehow he had escaped a great hurt.

I have always loved books about animals and this was one of many I read as a child. But this one always stood out and I have vivid memories even of where I was when I read it.

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  1. Love Jack London. Just finished Sea Wolf last week. I think I just may re-read White Fang (I too read it as a child) as my next selection.

  2. Yes, Sea Wolf is great. Thanks for the reminder. There was a very good movie of that. Thank you for reading and remarking!


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