|Set in||Santa Clara Valley and the Yukon, c. 1896–99|
|Media type||Print (serial, hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||298 pp (2001 Scholastic paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3523 .O46|
|Preceded by||The Call of the Wild|
|Text||White Fang at Wikisource|
White Fang is a novel by American author Jack London (1876–1916) — and the name of the book's eponymous character, a wild wolfdog. First serialized in Outing magazine between May and October 1906, it was published in book form in October 1906. The story details White Fang's journey to domestication in Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush. It is a companion novel (and a thematic mirror) to London's best-known work, The Call of the Wild (1903), which is about a kidnapped, domesticated dog embracing his wild ancestry to survive and thrive in the wild.
Much of White Fang is written from the viewpoint of the titular canine character, enabling London to explore how animals view their world and how they view humans. White Fang examines the violent world of wild animals and the equally violent world of humans. The book also explores complex themes including morality and redemption.
As early as 1925, the story was adapted to film, and it has since seen several more cinematic adaptations, including a 1991 film starring Ethan Hawke and a 2018 original film for Netflix.
The story begins before the wolf-dog hybrid is born, with two men and their sled dog team on a journey to deliver the coffin of Lord Alfred to a remote town named Fort McGurry in the higher area of the Yukon Territory. The men, Bill and Henry, are stalked by a large pack of starving wolves over the course of several days. Finally, after all of their dogs and Bill have been eaten, more teams find Henry escaping from the wolves; the wolf pack scatters when they hear the large group of people coming.
The story then follows the pack, which has been robbed of its last prey. When the pack finally brings down a moose, the famine is ended; they eventually split up, and the story now follows a she-wolf and her mate, One Eye. One Eye claimed her after defeating and killing a younger rival. The she-wolf gives birth to a litter of five pups by the Mackenzie River, and all but one die from hunger. One Eye is killed by a lynx while trying to rob her den for food for the she-wolf and her pup; his mate later discovers his remains near the lynx's den. The surviving pup and the she-wolf are left to fend for themselves. Shortly afterward, the she-wolf kills all the lynx's kittens to feed her pup, prompting the lynx to track her down, and a vicious fight breaks out. The she-wolf eventually kills the lynx but suffers severe injury; the lynx carcass is devoured over a period of seven days as the she-wolf recovers from her injuries.
One day, the pup comes across five indigenous people, and the she-wolf comes to his rescue. One man, Grey Beaver, recognizes the she-wolf as his brother's wolfdog, Kiche, who left during a famine. Grey Beaver's brother is dead, and so he takes Kiche and her pup and christens the cub "White Fang". White Fang has a harsh life in the native camp; the current puppy pack, seeing him as a wolf, immediately attacks him. The Indians save him, but the pups never accept him, and the leader, Lip-Lip, singles him out for persecution. White Fang grows to become a savage, callous, morose, solitary, and deadly fighter, "the enemy of his kind".
It is at this time that White Fang is separated from his mother, who is sold off to another Indian camp by Three Eagles. He realizes how hard life in the wild is when he runs away from camp, and earns the respect of Grey Beaver when he saves his son Mit-Sah from a group of boys seeking revenge for White Fang attacking one of them for trying to beat him for no reason. When a famine occurs, he runs away into the woods and encounters his mother Kiche, only for her to chase him away, for she has a new litter of cubs and has forgotten him. He also encounters Lip-Lip, whom he fights and kills before returning to the camp.
When White Fang is five years old, he is taken to Fort Yukon, so that Grey Beaver can trade with the gold-hunters. There, when Grey Beaver is drunk, White Fang is bought by an evil dog-fighter named "Beauty" Smith. White Fang defeats all opponents pitted against him, including several wolves and a lynx, until a bulldog called Cherokee is brought in to fight him. Cherokee has the upper hand in the fight when he grips the skin and fur of White Fang's neck and begins to throttle him. White Fang nearly suffocates, but is rescued when a rich, young gold hunter, Weedon Scott, stops the fight, and forcefully buys White Fang from Beauty Smith.
Scott attempts to tame White Fang, and after a long, patient effort, he succeeds. When Scott attempts to return to California alone, White Fang pursues him, and Scott decides to take the dog with him back home. In Sierra Vista, White Fang must adjust to the laws of the estate. At the end of the book, an escaped convict, Jim Hall, tries to kill Scott's father, Judge Scott, for sentencing him to prison for a crime he did not commit, not knowing that Hall was "railroaded". White Fang kills Hall and is nearly killed himself, but survives. As a result, the women of Scott's estate name him "The Blessed Wolf". The story ends with White Fang relaxing in the sun with the puppies he has fathered with the sheep-dog Collie.
White Fang, the novel's protagonist; a wolfdog who was born wild but becomes more dog-like after Gray Beaver domesticates him. He gets bullied by Lip-lip and was forced to become a fighting dog when he was bought by Beauty Smith. However, his life changed when a loving master named Weedon Scott buys him and takes him to his home in Santa Clara Valley in California. He eventually becomes a part of the family after saving Judge Scott from Jim Hall.
Major human characters:
Critics have identified many underlying themes in the novel. Tom Feller describes the story as "an allegory of humanity's progression from nature to civilization". He also expresses that "the [story's] implication is that the metamorphosis of both the individual and society will require violence at some point." Paul Deane states that "[in the novel] society demands a conformity that undermines individualism." London himself took influence from Herbert Spencer's words: "survival of the fittest", as well as Friedrich Nietzsche's idea of a "superman" (or "superdog", in this instance) and of "the worship of power".
The novel is partly an autobiographical allegory based on London's conversion from teenage hoodlum to married, middle-class writer. In writing it, he was influenced by the ideas of Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Conditions in the US also influenced the story.
Since the novel has been published it has been translated into over 89 different languages and released as a three-volume Braille edition.
Upon its release, White Fang was an immediate success worldwide, and became especially popular among younger readers. Robert Greenwood called White Fang "one of London's most interesting and ambitious works." Virginia Crane claims that the novel is "generally regarded as artistically inferior to its companion piece [The Call of the Wild], but [that it] helped establish London as a popular American literary figure".
Shortly after the book's publication, London became a target in what would later be called the nature fakers controversy, a literary debate highlighting the conflict between science and sentiment in popular nature writing. President Theodore Roosevelt, who first spoke out against the "sham naturalists" in 1907, specifically named London as one of the so-called "nature fakers". Citing an example from White Fang, Roosevelt referred to the fight between the bulldog and the wolfdog "the very sublimity of absurdity." London only responded to the criticism after the controversy had ended. In a 1908 essay entitled "The Other Animals", he wrote:
I have been guilty of writing two books about dogs. The writing of these two stories, on my part, was in truth a protest against the "humanizing" of animals, of which it seemed to me several "animal writers" had been profoundly guilty. Time and again, and many times, in my narratives, I wrote, speaking of my dog-heroes: "He did not think these things; he merely did them," etc. And I did this repeatedly, to the clogging of my narrative and in violation of my artistic canons; and I did it in order to hammer into the average human understanding that these dog-heroes of mine were not directed by abstract reasoning, but by instinct, sensation and emotion, and by simple reasoning. Also, I endeavored to make my stories in line with the facts of evolution; I hewed them to the mark set by scientific research, and awoke, one day, to find myself bundled neck and crop into the camp of the nature-fakers.
The novel has been adapted into numerous pictures and sequels, animated specials, as well as an audiobook format. A television series, White Fang, was filmed in Arrowtown, New Zealand, in 1993.