My first review of 2013 is a double-whammy: two books by American author Jack London which make a perfect pair and can only be reviewed together.
White Fang and The Call of the Wild are two books which tell very similar stories but in opposite directions. Both books are set during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th century and were inspired by London’s own experiences as a gold-prospector.
The Call of the Wild was first published in 1903 and is the tale of Buck, a dog who lives a very comfortable life at his home in California until he is stolen and sold into servitude by a desperate gardener. From the ‘sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley’, Buck is sent north to Canada to be a sledge-dog in the Yukon. From now on, Buck must learn to fight for survival as he passes through the hands of multiple masters, some good, some not so good. Buck is a fast learner and by embracing his inner wolf soon finds himself top dog and a prized possession. But there is something else that Buck finds in the frozen wastelands, something in the forest calling to him and which he finds it increasingly hard to resist…
White Fang (1905) tells the story of an animal of the same name born in the far north-west of Canada, an animal that is half-dog, half-wolf and who lives a hard life in which survival is only for those who fight longest and hardest. Moulded into a killer by a succession of hard and even cruel masters, White Fang is a match for no other animal in terms of ferocity and fighting skill. But is there a part of him that remains susceptible to the kinder side of human nature?
Both these books tell stories that centre on man’s domestication of the wolf but in very different ways. In The Call of the Wild, a faithful human companion reverts to a wilder state as he learns to fight for his life whereas in White Fang, a wolf is brought in from the wild and learns to rely on and even to love his human master.
Despite being very similar stories, one is much harsher than the other. Although it may have something to do with the scary looking cover, I found White Fang to be a much more violent and a colder book than TCotW and it took me longer to warm to the story and to care for the main character. Nevertheless by the end of the book, I was firmly behind White Fang, just as much as I had supported Buck from page 1.
Both tales are equally as compelling and give an excellent insight into life during the Gold Rush which is a time I know very little about. However both stories are incredibly violent and not for the faint-hearted animal lover, both dogs are forced to fight numerous times and the fights are described in detail so if you don’t like a bit of blood and guts these are not the books for you!
I’d definitely recommend that you read both books, the reversal of the story is an excellent technique to embroider the imagery of the individual tales.