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White Fang is a 1906 novel written by Jack London, often published together with The Call of the Wild nowadays. Whereas the latter 1903 novella is the story of a tame dog adapting to the wild, White Fang is the story of how the titular wild one-quarter-dog-three-quarters-wolf becomes tamed.
The novel starts with two men and their dog sled team being pursued by a wolf pack in the Northland Wild. Desperate for food during a famine, the wolves eventually kill all of the dogs and one of the men before the other is rescued. The starving pack eventually splits up, the She-Wolf who lured the sled dogs to their doom going off with her mate, whom the narrator refers to as One Eye. The two raise a litter of pups, only for One Eye and all the litter except one to die. The She-Wolf and her surviving pup eventually meet up with a group of Inuits; one of them, Grey Beaver, recognizes the She-Wolf as Kiche, his brother's runaway half-wolf-half-dog, and takes possession of her and her pup, whom he names White Fang.
So begin White Fang's lessons in cruelty and mastery. The puppy pack he now belongs to see him as a wolf and treat him as an enemy. The abuse he endures from them, particularly the leader Lip-lip, makes him both stronger and more vicious, gradually turning him into a brutal, savage fighter. Nevertheless, he adapts to the laws of his new surroundings and develops a loyalty and respect for Grey Beaver, who eventually sells Kiche and takes White Fang to his trading post at Fort Yukon.
At the Fort, the young wolf catches the attention of "Beauty Smith," who introduces Grey Beaver to whiskey in order to get him to sell White Fang. The book now takes the reader into the horrible world of dog fighting, where drunken men put two starved, violent dogs in the ring, but only one comes out alive. Thanks to his sadistic new tormentor of an owner, White Fang becomes an unbeatable monster, forced to fight wild wolves, several dogs at once, and even a lynx for entertainment. It is during a fight where a bulldog all but kills him that White Fang is finally rescued by Weedon Scott.
Like John Thornton in Call of the Wild, Scott introduces White Fang to The Power of Love for the first time, and his love slowly heals the wounds of abuse and torture and transforms the monster into a tame friend and protective ally. Scott eventually takes White Fang back to his father's estate in the Santa Clara Valley, where he must adjust to living as a tame pet and learn which animals are fair game (jack rabbits, squirrels, and quails) and which he must leave alone (chickens, cats, other dogs). He ultimately repays Scott for his love and protection by saving his family from a murderous intruder one night (an escaped convict whom Judge Scott unknowingly sent to prison for a crime he was framed for). The reader leaves White Fang surrounded by the puppies he fathered with the sheepdog Collie.
Definitely not a Coming of Age Story about A Boy and His Dog but a harsh look at life in the rugged Northland Wild where only the strong survive and an ugly examination of the forces that shape the clay that is the human mind.
The novel was adapted to a namesake film in 1991, directed by Randal Kleiser. The film cast a real wolfdog, Jed, into the role, with Ethan Hawke cast as his beloved master Jack Conroy. It was a modest box office hit, earning $34,793,160 in the United States market. It is still well-regarded. It also spawned a sequel, "White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf" (1994). This one briefly featured Hawke. But the main human characters were Henry Casey (Scott Bairstow) and Lily Joseph (Charmaine Craig). This one didn't do nearly as well. It earned $8,878,839 in the United States market, only the 117th most successful film of its year.
There was an television series based on the novel between 1993 and 1994. Not related to the films above, though probably inspired by the success of the first one. It lasted a single season, 26 episodes. All episodes are available on DVD.
Tropes in this work:
- Artistic Licence Biology: The fact that no male wolf will ever fight a female wolf or dog, even if attacked by one. Then there are inaccuracies in wolf pack structure, hunting, mating behavior...
- Beastly Bloodsports: White Fang is forced to become a pit dog, and it turns him into a deadly monster. He has to fight wolves, multiple dogs at a time, even a lynx once. The last fight he was in was against a bulldog, and it nearly killed him, until some men arrived and broke up the fight. One of them cared for White Fang, who eventually was tamed by his kind new master.
- Being Tortured Makes You Evil
- Berserk Button: Do not laugh at White Fang. Just don't.
- Big Badass Wolfdog
- Big Damn Heroes: White Fang tries to invoke this when he meets his first humans -- by calling Kiche to save him. It backfires.
- Book Ends: With The Call of the Wild. While the first begins with Buck sleeping on a judge's farm on California and ends with a pack of wolves terrorizing the humans on Yukon, this one starts with a pack of wolves hunting two men and ends with White Fang on a judge's farm on California.
- Unreliable Illustrator: In the illustrated version of the book, when the bulldog is giving White Fang a Curb Stomp Battle, the accompanying illustrations show the bulldog burying his jaws in White Fang's neck, then standing a foot away, then standing a few yards away, then back to gnawing on the protagonist's throat. All the while the accompanying text has White Fang constantly in the Bulldog's jaws with Scott and Matt barely struggling to get the dog's mouth open. Also, while a lot of blood and gore is described in-text, none of it is shown.
- Byronic Hero: Albeit having the excuse of being a wild mostly-wolf canine, White Fang is a very, very dark anti-hero for most of the book.
- Double Consciousness: The wild nature of a wolf vs. the tame, instinctual loyal nature of a dog. Since White Fang is the son of a wolf and a half-wolf dog, this also represents In the Blood.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: You're darn right White Fang has to earn his happy ending.
- Evil Makes You Ugly: Beauty Smith
- For the Evulz: Deconstructed. White Fang kills other dogs for pleasure, but gets pleasure from it not because he's a Complete Monster, but because of how emotionally damaged he is.
- Happily Ever After
- Anti-Heroic Dog
- Humans Are Bastards: True until we meet Scott, whose rescue of White Fang is motivated by his desire to atone for this.
- Humans Are Cthulhu: The canines see the humans as gods and have an innate fear/respect of them.
- Ironic Nickname: Beauty Smith, explicitly compared to calling a bald man "Curly."
- Family-Unfriendly Violence
- Karma Houdini: White Fang sure does kill a lot of dogs...
- Aside from the ones he's forced to kill, that is.
- Kick the Dog: Literally. Also beat the dog, starve the dog, jump up and down on the dog...
- Puppies Are Cruel: Seriously.
- Love Redeems: Scott's patience with White Fang.
- Mama Bear: Kiche repeatedly in the first part of the book. She even risks the wrath of a Mama Cat by killing lynx kittens to feed her pup.
- Subverted later when the pup tries to invoke this upon his first encounter with humans -- and is alarmed and dismayed when Kiche submits to them.
- Mighty Whitey: When White Fang sees Caucasians for the first time, he immediately recognizes their superiority to his native 'gods' like Grey Beaver.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Inflicted on White Fang by other dogs, on White Fang by humans, by White Fang on other dogs, on him again by a bulldog, and finally by White Fang against an armed intruder.
- Papa Wolf: White Fang for his humans.
- The Power of Love
- Puppies Ever After
- Put On A Canoe: Kiche, though she makes a brief Cameo later.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Modern readers may question how a bulldog would possibly be able to stand up to a wolf in a fight, but long ago bulldogs were powerful, athletic, and incredibly sturdy, very unlike the waddling, laid-back bulldogs of today.
- Slap Slap Kiss: The female dog on the farm that bullies White Fang seduces him when she goes into heat and goes right back to disliking him after giving birth to his puppies.
- Slap Yourself Awake: Near the beginning, a drowsing character attaches a burning stick to his hand to keep from falling asleep, since he's surrounded by wolves and if the fire goes out, he's Wolf Chow.
- Soft Glass: Averted.
- Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Fighting a female dog goes against every one of White Fang's natural instincts.