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The Call of the Wild and White Fang

by Jack London

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Jack London

White Fang
The Call of the Wild

Penguin Popular Classics, Paperback, [1994].

12mo. 278 pp.

The Call of the Wild serialized in Saturday Evening Post, June 12 – July 18, 1903.
The Call of the Wild first published in book form by Macmillan, August 1903.
White Fang serialized in Outing, May–Oct 1906
White Fang first published in book form by Macmillan, 1906.
Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.

Contents

White Fang
Chapter 1: The Trail of the Meat
Chapter 2: The She-Wolf
Chapter 3: The Hunger Cry
Chapter 4: The Battle of the Fangs
Chapter 5: The Lair
Chapter 6: The Gray Cub
Chapter 7: The Wall of the World
Chapter 8: The Law of Meat
Chapter 9: The Makers of Fire
Chapter 10: The Bondage
Chapter 11: The Outcast
Chapter 12: The Trail of the Gods
Chapter 13: The Covenant
Chapter 14: The Famine
Chapter 15: The Enemy of His Kind
Chapter 16: The Mad God
Chapter 17: The Reign of Hate
Chapter 18: The Clinging Death
Chapter 19: The Indomitable
Chapter 20: The Love-Master
Chapter 21: The Long Trail
Chapter 22: The Southland
Chapter 23: The God's Domain
Chapter 24: The Call of Kind
Chapter 25: The Sleeping Wolf

The Call of the Wild
Chapter 1: Into the Primitive
Chapter 2: The Law of Club and Fang
Chapter 3: The Dominant Primordial Beast
Chapter 4: Who Has Won to Mastership
Chapter 5: The Toil of Trace and Trail
Chapter 6: For the Love of a Man
Chapter 7: The Sounding of the Call

===============================================

Few works are better suited for an omnibus edition than White Fang and The Call of the Wild. Only the titles don’t fit too well. They should have been White Fang and Buck or The Call of the Wild and The Lure of Civilization. Never mind. Classic canine stories, variations on opposite themes and perfect companion pieces, both are beautifully written inquiries into animal and human nature. The only fault of this edition, apart from being a little too closely printed, is the chronologically incorrect order. But, for once, Penguin did a great job with the cover. The bleak landscape perfectly evokes the “the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild” which Jack London admires tremendously. See the beginning of White Fang:

Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean towards each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness – a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.

[…]

It is not the way of the Wild to like movement. Life is an offence to it, for life is movement; and the Wild aims always to destroy movement. It freezes the water to prevent it running to the sea; it drives the sap out of the trees till they are frozen to their mighty hearts; and most ferociously and terribly of all does the Wild harry and crush into submission man – man who is the most restless of life, ever in revolt against the dictum that all movement must in the end come to the cessation of movement.

Beautiful writing, isn’t it? There is a hint of florid verbosity, a tad repetitious perhaps, but the grand rhetorical sweep is undeniably effective. Such passages are exceptional, though. For the most part London’s incredibly descriptive prose serves the situation and the characters; he is seldom given to metaphysical speculation. Occasional clumsiness (“upon which impeachment of what to her was her most essential sex prerogative”) is counterbalanced by frequent poetic flights (“buds bursting the shackles of the frost”, “the sun’s futile effort to appear”). The pace is slow but inexorable; the atmosphere is enthralling and visceral; the enormous amount of detail, rather than puts you out, draws you in with a vengeance. Many scenes I find almost painfully vivid. To take but a single example from both works, the first three chapters of White Fang are one of the scariest short stories I have ever read, while Buck’s hunting down a wounded moose in the last chapter of The Call of the Wild is one of the most heart-rending. In short, evocative storytelling doesn’t get much better than Jack London’s most famous canine stories.

It is refreshing now and then to read a work of fiction in which humans are firmly in the background. So they are here. Too much has been made of Jack London’s anthropomorphic proclivities. Seldom does he indulge excessively in them, mostly (though not only) in White Fang which is more than twice longer and correspondingly more ambitious, but less successful, than its companion. When he makes White Fang immediately recognise humans as masters of the world or Buck dream of hairy ape-men, Mr London endows his characters with knowledge and reasoning they have no right to possess. On the whole, however, he is remarkably successful in creating protagonists who are not humans at all. Buck and White Fang are not troubled by unpleasant memories (most people are) and learn from their mistakes (most people don’t). They don’t talk human languages, nor do they think long and hard over their actions. They are perfect incarnations of the Wild (his capital), unsoiled by human fairy tales like morality. Pity, compassion, kindness, empathy are quite foreign to them. They know only the most primordial of all instincts: food, breed, love, hate, pleasure, pain, fear, even death (= cessation of movement).

Those who read Jack London only to search for his socialism, social Darwinism, alcoholism or other “-isms” would be disappointed with these works – or would they? The novels are more complex and ambiguous than they look; I guess they can be used to support plenty of contradictory arguments. The only attitude I, personally, am able to detect with certainty is profound admiration for the Beauty of Nature (my capitals, but I think the author would have agreed). This is no mean achievement. An intellectual giant like Bertrand Russell, who achieved so much in his long life, could never achieve that. He was appalled that animals kill each other and there is no end of this suffering. But this, of course, is a myopic point of view. Once the big picture is grasped, at least to some extent, there is a kind of beauty in the exquisite balance between predator and prey; cold and harsh beauty, to be sure, but beauty nonetheless. Jack London knew that very well indeed. It is not just physical fitness and brute force that he admires, though sometimes he waxes disconcertingly lyrical about them. Cunning is highly praised, too, and often developed to something very much like intelligence, or at least shrewdness. Above all, intense and self-sufficient existence in perfect harmony with the environment, making the best of all your natural gifts, is what the author admires most. This is what Buck achieved in the end and White Fang lost long before that. This is something we, humans, have not enjoyed ever since our apelike ancestors and are currently getting further and further from.

Speaking specifically of humans, it must be said that the novels are not misanthropic. This is no small achievement, either. It must be tempting, when nearly all of your characters are animals, to turn the humans into cruel monsters or cartoonish caricatures. This is not the case here. Sometimes humans are mean bullies (Beauty Smith) or stupid greenhorns (the hilarious episode with Hal, Charles and Mercedes), but for the most part they are kind-hearted professionals (Perrault, Francois) or at least neutral (Bill, Henry). Then there are John Thornton and Weedon Scott. It is significant that in both novels (yet another reason to read them together) deep compassion, for better or worse purely human quality unknown in the Wild, plays pivotal role. Buck would most probably have succumbed to “the call of the wild” even without John Thornton’s help, but the latter was more than mere last link. As for White Fang, it is up to the reader to decide whether he fulfilled himself completely or paid too high a price for his freedom. In short, the human element is rather prominent and worth considering, but it must be searched, not in the animals as so many misguided fellows do, but in the bipedal characters.

The graphic representation of violence in both novels has drawn some negative criticism from uncomprehending folk. Certainly, there is a good deal of violence, and some of it is hard to stomach. Dogs are beaten with clubs and whips or torn to pieces; game is stalked, hunted and killed mercilessly; humans, so far as they appear, don’t fare much better. Death is constantly present and always violent, sometimes gruesome. Put like that it sounds pretty horrible. Well, the violence is less in amount and intensity than in The Passion of the Christ (2004), but it shares the same general characteristics: extreme but not excessive. It is never – I repeat: never – gratuitous. All of it is relevant to the plot and the characters, for it propels the former and builds the latter, and to sentimentalize it even a little would be to falsify it completely. Besides, to say that violence is the raison d'être of the novels is like saying that Beethoven composed nothing but operas.

From reading some reviews one might be led to believe that The Call of the Wild and White Fang are something like The Jungle Books and Animal Farm. Far from it! These are neither fairy tales for children nor political propaganda masquerading as art. This is not a comment against Kipling and Orwell, whose “animal stories” I in fact enjoy, nor does it constitute a judgement that London is better or worse than them. He is simply different. And definitely worth reading, not by children and not in “adapted” editions, but by thinking adults at leisure to savour the rich prose. If you enjoy reading on a computer screen, there are countless online editions.

P.S. The first three sentences of the third chapter of The Call of the Wild are used to great comic effect in Bad Boys (1983), an otherwise gritty and violent teenage drama set mostly in a juvenile correctional facility. It remains one of the most underappreciated movies of the 1980s, with a stellar lead performance by then very young and largely unknown Sean Penn. It is both hilarious and saddening to see how the delinquents, when they are asked to read the passage on the blackboard, can’t pass beyond the tricky phrase “dominant primordial”. Later Mick O’Brien, Penn’s character, reads the novel in his cell and sighs disconsolately: “I don’t get this shit!” ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Jul 23, 2014 |
I read White Fang two years ago for school and don't remember much about it, but Call of The Wild I just finished. It's interesting how you can make a dog a well-rounded character. I like Buck because he progresses and changes throughout the story. He starts out well cared for and is stolen by a man in a red sweater who beats him with a club. He learns "The Law of Club and Fang" which is kind of a dog-eat-dog philosophy. He becomes more powerful, wild, and aggressive. He learns what love is when John Thorton saves his life. ( )
  SebastianHagelstein | Jun 12, 2014 |
I've listened to the first book in this set, The Call of the Wild. It was a book I read when I was young but I didn't remember much about it. Buck was taken from his life of luxury on Judge Miller's ranch and sold to men who were putting together dog teams to travel the Yukon gold rush. Buck is an exceptional dog, smart and a leader and he soon gains the admiration of people who see him. But it is a hard life and becomes even harder when he is sold to three inexperienced gold rushers. Buck eventually refuses to lead the dog team and he is almost killed but he is saved by a man, Thornton, who is recovering from an injury. Thornton and Buck become very close but Buck starts to feel the "call of the wild". He spends days away from the mining camp and on one of his trips the camp is overrun by natives and Thornton and his partners are killed.

I can't quite feel comfortable with the level of violence in this book. I must have noticed it when I was young and it didn't stick with me but I would hesitate to recommend this to very young readers.

Now I've listened to White Fang the other book in this virtual boxed set. Again the level of violence bothered me but at least in this book someone recognized the inhumane treatment of the dog.

White Fang was born of a dog mother and a wolf father. His mother was also probably part wolf. At the start of the book she is running with a pack of wolves who follow two men who are taking a coffin by dog sled back to civilization. The female tempts the sled dogs away from the safety of the fire at night and then the pack kills them. The wolves also kill one of the men and the survivor is close to becoming their next meal when other men turn up. The female, Kiche, mates with one of the wolves (the one that kills the two other possible suitors) and she gives birth to five cubs. However her mate is killed and Kiche is unable to provide for the cubs. Only White Fang survives because he is the strongest. On one of his explorations while Kiche is out hunting he stumbles into an encampment of natives. Kiche comes to his rescue but she is recognized by Grey Beaver as his brother's dog. When he calls her by name Kiche she starts to wag her tail and allows the natives to tie her up. Kiche and White Fang go to live in the large encampment that Grey Beaver belongs to. White Fang refers to Grey Beaver and the other humans as gods although they don't seem to treat him very well. Mostly White Fang is left to fend for himself against all the other puppies who attack him because he is considered to be a wolf.

After many trials and tribulations White Fang is sold to a white man in Fort Yukon who stages dog fights. White Fang manages to kill all opponents but when a bulldog is put in the ring with him he has his work cut out for him. It looks like the bulldog, from sheer tenaciousness, is going to kill White Fang. In the nick of time a young mining engineer, Weedon Scott, comes by and manages, by using his pistol, to loosen the bulldog's grip on White Fang. He takes White Fang home and manages, by showing the first kindness White Fang has ever received, to gain his love and trust. When Weedon Scott returns to California he is forced to take White Fang with him. White Fang has lots to learn about being a domesticated animal but Scott never gives up on him. ( )
  gypsysmom | Oct 10, 2013 |
"The Call of the Wild" is a short novel about Buck, a St. Bernard/Scotch Shepherd mix who is taken from his comfortable California home during the fever of the Klondike gold rush, and pressed into duty as a sled team dog. He is passed on to a succession of masters, quickly shedding his soft civilized shell and becoming lean, hard and resourceful. Eventually the death of his final master at the hands of the Yeehat Indian tribe leads to Buck's freedom and an opportunity to join the wolf pack that runs through the forest. The book is a short masterpiece of occasionally lyrical beauty.

"White Fang" is a more substantial work that in some ways reverses the theme of "The Call of the Wild", as we see the progression of White Fang, a wolf/dog born in the wild who follows his mother as she returns to the Yeehat tribe she left during a famine some years back. White Fang learns the ways of these gods who are now his masters, until he is sold to a cruel white human who makes him a sport-fighting dog and brutalizes him until he is a merciless hate-filled demon of a dog. When a kind human liberates him from his torment, it is an open question if, and to what degree, White Fang can join the society of man and canine. I actually enjoyed this more than London's more famous work. It was also surprising to me that a pair of books written over a century ago could show such enlightened attitudes about human society and animal treatment. ( )
  burnit99 | Sep 29, 2013 |
The call of the wild: Stolen from his life as a beloved pet, Buck must learn to adapt to abuse as a Klondike sled dog, to life with a loving master, John Thornton, and finally, when Thornton dies, to life in the wild as a leader of the wolf pack.

White Fang: The adventures in the northern wilderness of a dog who is part wolf and how he comes to make his peace with man.
  BlessedHopeAcademy | Jul 27, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jack Londonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
BamaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rothberg, AbrahamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"Old longings nomadic leap,
chafing at custom's chain;
Again from its brumal sleep
Wakens the ferine strain."
Dedication
First words
(Call of the wild)
Buck did not read newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing.
(White Fang)
Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway.
Quotations
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Contains both (and only) Call of the wild and White fang.
The Wordsworth Classics edition (ISBN 1853260266) sometimes referred to as The Call of the Wild is actually an omnibus edition of both The Call of the Wild and White Fang, so it should not be combined with either individual work.
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References to this work on external resources.

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Book description
AR 8.0, 7 Pts - Call of the Wild

AR 7.4, 13 Pts - White Fang
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553212338, Mass Market Paperback)

The Call Of The Wild is the  story of Buck, a dog stolen from his home and thrust  into the merciless life of the Arctic north to  endure hardship, bitter cold, and the savage  lawlessness of man and beast. White Fang  is the adventure of an animal -- part dog, part  wolf --turned vicious by cruel abuse, then  transformed by the patience and affection of one man.

  Jack London's superb ability as a storyteller and  his uncanny understanding of animal and human  natures give these tales a striking vitality and  power, and have earned him a reputation as a  distinguished American writer.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:44 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

The Call of the Wild and White Fang, by Jack London, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriateAll editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works. Jack London's two greatest novels, The Call of the Wild and White Fang—originally intended as companions—are here compiled in one volume. The Call of the Wild centers on a domesticated dog, Buck, who is kidnapped and sold to Klondike gold hunters. To survive Buck must listen to the Call and learn the ways of his wolf-ancestors, who guide him from within. White Fang tells the story of a half-wolf, half-dog nearly destroyed by the vicious cruelty of men. Brought to the very brink of his existence, White Fang is lucky enough to experience the one thing that can save him—human love. Adventurer and activist, philosopher and alcoholic, Jack London was a man of great contradictions and greater talent. Both of these novels are written in a simple, direct, and powerful style that decades of readers have admired and that writers have imitated.

    Tina Gianquitto holds a Ph.D. in American Literature from Columbia University and currently teaches at The College of the Mines in Colorado.… (more)

    » see all 9 descriptions

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