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    Both terrible and magnificent, Jack London tells the brutal tale of a wolf-dog in the Yukon Territory of Canada during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s. Named White Fang by the Indian who adopts him, the story is told from a wolf point of view. Published in 1906, ten years before London's death, it was an immediate success, according to Wikipedia, which added to London's already immense achievement as an author. As the blurb on the back cover of this Dover edition states, he was "one of the most famous, popular and highly paid writers in the world." White Fang's appeal hasn't waned in 100 years. It is now available in 89 languages and also in a Braille edition.
    The scene is set in the frigid north, where two men, Bill and Henry, are delivering a dead man in a coffin to a remote village. It is when Bill mentions that he took six fish out of the bag to feed the six dogs, and was one short that they become suspicious. After that, one by one, the dogs disappear. They are being stalked by a large pack of starving wolves and it is the she-wolf who lures the dogs away, one at a time, only to be devoured by the pack. Eventually only Henry remains, and in the nick of time is rescued by another team of men.
    The law of the wild is "eat or be eaten" and only the bravest and most cunning can survive. Of the she-wolf's three admirers, it is the two younger and stronger, but less experienced that are eventually killed, leaving to her old One Eye, who becomes her mate. They travel together but eventually must stop, as she needs to find shelter to give birth. Five healthy cubs are born, but despite One Eye's skill at hunting, famine has swept the land and all but one cub dies. He is also the most obstinate, strong willed and a little fighter. One Eye is killed by the lynx, but the she-wolf raids her lair and steals her litter. The lynx then seeks revenge and the she-wolf and cub are both nearly killed.
    Eventually they take off down the Mackenzie River and come across an Indian camp. Grey Beaver recognizes the she-wolf as his late brother's dog Kiche, who is half wolf. Grey Beaver calls her and she submits.
    Both Kiche and her cub, now named White Fang are taken in by the Indians, but being beaten into obedience is the method Grey Beaver uses for his animals. Kiche is eventually given to another Indian as payment for a debt, and he takes her away, leaving White Fang in a state of abandonment. Attempts to follow his mother earn him the worse beating he ever received, so far, but that aspect of his life will only worsen. White Fang learns to hate and to kill, and these are his driving forces. He is ostracized by all the other dogs in the Indian camp. Though Grey Beaver is in no way an affectionate man, he does appreciate what an extraordinary creature is his White Fang. White Fang, on the other hand, realizes that Grey Beaver provides him with food and a sense of loyalty develops between the two.
    A terrible famine strikes the Indians, and the dogs leave. Kiche has escaped her master, and now has another litter. White Fang goes to her, but she doesn't remember him and attacks him until he leaves. With his mental and physical strength and intelligence, however, White Fang survives and thrives during the famine, and when it is over, he returns to Grey Beaver.
    Eventually, White Fang and Grey Beaver travel to Fort Yukon to sell his goods, which exceeds his highest expectations. But rather than leaving, he gets mixed up with the cook for the white residents there, (called "sour-doughs" of which Jack London himself was at one time). The cook, called "Beauty" Smith is ugly and deformed at both the physical and spiritual levels. He wants to buy White Fang, but Grey Beaver refuse, so he plies him with drink. Soon, Grey Beaver has drank away all his wealth, and loses his wolf.
    All White Fang's previous physical abuse is nothing compared to what is on store with Beauty as his master. Because Beauty is part of a dog-fighting ring, the more vicious he can make White Fang, the more money he will be worth.
    For someone who is a lover and protector of animals, the cruelty of humans to this extraordinary creature throughout most of the story is almost unbearable. But just when you think you cannot bear to read any more, everything changes when Weedon Scott rescues White Fang at the point of death during a "fight." He "buys' him for 150 dollars, but when Beauty refuses to sell, he threatens the law on him and takes White Fang anyway.
    And here is where the really magnificent part of the tale emerges, and we begin to grasp the depth and potential of this creature who has never known anything but brutality. Though the patience of Weedon Scott, White Fang triumphs, and is recognized for the true hero that he is.
    What makes this novel so extraordinary is that London has assumed the personality of the wolf throughout most of the story, and so it is told from that perspective, creating a most interesting tale that compels the reader to ponder deeply the behavior of not only animals, but the atrocities committed by humans toward animals and their justification of it. Here, we follow the growth of an extremely intelligent wolf-dog pup who not only follows the instinct of survival, but whose rage and hate is nurtured by the even more beastly humans he encounters. But the magic of the story, and the testimony to the adaptability of life goes in the opposite direction, and here White Fang must learn something totally new and even more difficult, and that is called Love.

"The puppy sprawled in front of him. He cocked his ears and watched it curiously. Then their noses touched and he felt the warm little tongue of the puppy on his jowl. White Fang's tongue went out, he knew not why, and he licked the puppy's face."

You can teach an old dog new tricks! While much of this story will be terribly painful to anyone who, like myself, is an animal rights advocate, the ending is absolutely extraordinary. Highly recommended reading, even more so if you are a lover of dogs.

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