Book Review: White Fang – Jack London

White Fang

I’ve never understood why Jack London’s books aren’t more widely discussed. They’re insightful, intelligently written, and, if this is to be the alliteration I intended it to be, really rather intuitive. And that’s without even considering just how many of them there are. (Have you seen just how many? That list is long.

“White Fang” is a particularly strong example of London’s work. Arguably one of the most well known of his books – depending upon one’s perspective – it’s short enough to read in a reasonable length of time and to look about as intimidating as a small goldfish, but is, once opened and delved into, an astonishingly clever account of one animal’s journey from the depths of the Wild to an almost-quiet life in rural England.

White Fang, a wolf, is born into the Wild. From an early age, he must learn to cope independently, and learn he does, flourishing in an environment that kills many and cares little for the survivors. Gradually, throughout many hardships, he leaves that life behind, switching hands constantly until he finally ends up as the property of a man that truly cares for him. White Fang is a fighter and a survivor who learns to combine deadly instinct with even deadlier ability to stunning effect, and who must also adapt constantly to new, unknown environments. He does, wonderfully, but not without injury and difficulty, and although “White Fang” culminates in a happy ending, it is far from a cheerful romp.

Often tragic and moving, and always engaging, “White Fang” is a story that I was able to thoroughly immerse myself in. I’ve read it before, but some time ago, and in this return to the narrative, I enjoyed it much more. “White Fang” is a story about a wolf’s journey from one world to another, certainly, but it is also a story of the Wild and the frontier it represented, of hardship and bravery, and of the often cruel world that is the unexplored wilderness. Most of all, it’s a story about the division between the world we know and the world we do not, and how hard it is to move between the two. The central character of “White Fang” may be a wolf, but I don’t believe it is much of a stretch to consider that the sense of isolation experienced by White Fang is not dissimilar to that experienced by a human being who moves far away from their home and from what is familiar, to find themselves entering into an entirely new culture of which they have only little knowledge.

Make no mistake, “White Fang” is not written for children. The language, while accessible, is weighted with words and phrases that could, potentially, prove to be somewhat elusive to a younger audience, and although it features the life of an animal, it does so in an extraordinarily clever manner. London manages to give White Fang personality without anthropomorphising him to the extent that he becomes human, describing basic thought processes and the influence of instinct in a manner that appears, at least to me, to be exceptionally intuitive.

It is also a profoundly accessible read, as the chapters are short enough to prevent the reader from losing themselves within them, and feature one main event, thus succeeding in their ability to organise and divide without interrupting the story, and are frequent enough to keep the reader interested. If the narrative is somewhat simplistic in this arrangement, with little happening beyond each transition to a different stage of White Fang’s life, it nonetheless makes for an enjoyable read. I like a multi-faceted, complex book as much as anybody, but it is refreshing to read a piece of fiction that knows exactly what it is and does exactly that. The complexity is not in its structure, but in its themes and the writing, and that makes it increasingly enjoyable.

To conclude: “White Fang” is certainly worth a read, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. It’s intelligent, wonderfully written, and engaging, and it is so much more than your standard ‘animal story’ written for an older audience, but it does that pretty well too.

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