Book review: White Fang by Jack London

White Fang by Jack London

I first read White Fang as a reading obsessed child, probably when I was about ten. I remember I also read The Call of the Wild at about the same time. I remember I preferred White Fang to The Call of the Wild for two reasons: first, that it has a (relatively) happy ending and, second, because of the dog fight scene, when White Fang, who before had killed every dog put in his way, is defeated by the slow, plodding advance of a bulldog.

Rereading it many years later, if anything my enjoyment of the book increased. What a writer Jack London was. The prologue, of the two men at death’s edge trying to keep alive through the northern winter as they are pursued by a wolf pack, is as visceral a piece of writing as I’ve ever read. Then, as the focus switches to White Fang himself, Jack London proves that a great writer can break just about every writing rule out there.

One of the things they tell you when writing is show, don’t tell. If your hero is a crack shot, have him shoot the ace out of an ace of spades rather than just telling the reader he is a marksman. But in White Fang, Jack London does a lot – a lot! – of telling. He tells us White Fang’s inner life, his outer life, the life of the north, wild and human. He does this because he won’t succumb to anthropomorphism and give White Fang a personal voice: he is a wolf and does not speak. So London tells us what he thinks and feels and does, and he does this so well that the book makes one really believe that this is how an animal thinks and feels and behaves. If one reason to tell a story is to enter into a world that we cannot personally know, then White Fang does this as well as any story ever written.


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