It’s been years since I watched the Disney movie with Ethan Hawke but though I can only remember random scenes from the movie, the book is much more raw. I couldn’t help comparing this book to “Frankenstein” as the theme of nature vs nurture quickly takes precedent and White Fang’s story unfolds.
The book is primarily about nature and what animals do to survive. The book opens up to two men and their sled team traveling through the wilderness to take their dead companion home. They are followed by a pack of hungry wolves and each night, one by one, the dogs on their sled team are picked off and even one of the men.
Then the narrative turns its attention to the pack and follows a she-wolf and her interactions with the pack until finally she has a litter of pups. Nature rears her cruel head once more as each pup succumbs to hunger until only one survives. That pup is later to be known as “White Fang” when he is captured by an Indian tribe. Here is where the story truly starts as we follow White Fang’s growth, as he learns to survive among the tribe and the other dogs, eventually becoming one of the fiercest dogs. He become vicious and a killer of other dogs because he knows it’s kill or be killed.
His demeanor is further shaped by his interactions with humans until one day, he is suddenly met with a kind hand. And it throws White Fang for a loop as he waits for the punishment that is surely going to come. I couldn’t help but be sad as this is the life that he has been dealt. But when he meets Scott, we are hopeful that White Fang can see that he doesn’t have to live in fear of being punished or where his next meal will come from or having to defend himself against another.
Jack London doesn’t hold back when it comes to describing the cruelty of nature and humans, so the parts about animal cruelty are especially hard to read. All the more reason why I think this book has stood the test of time. Animal cruelty has never gone away and it says something about how it shapes an animal’s demeanor and their interactions with other living things. But there is redemption in this book when White Fang meets Scott and he learns what a gentle hand means. Perhaps that is where you see the most growth in him. If there is one thing that Jack London shows us – whether dog, human or any animal, it’s that our experiences shape who we are and who we become.
I read this book in one sitting and while it is perhaps a young adult novel, I think you can read this at any age and get something out of it.