Books: White Fang and The Call of the Wild
Category/Age: Middle Grades, 10+
Blurb – Call of the Wild:
The Call of the Wild is a novel by American writer Jack London. The plot concerns a previously domesticated dog named Buck, whose primordial instincts return after a series of events leads to his serving as a sled dog in the Yukon during the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush, in which sled dogs were bought at generous prices. Published in 1903, The Call of the Wild is London’s most-read book, and it is generally considered his best, the masterpiece of his so-called “early period”.
Blurb – White Fang:
Half wolf, half dog, White Fang fully understands the cruelty of both nature and humans. After nearly starving to death during the frigid Arctic winter, he’s taken in first by a man who “trains” him through constant whippings, and then by another who forces him to participate in vicious dogfights. Follow White Fang as he overcomes these obstacles and finally meets someone who offers him kindness and love.
From my reading of these two books as a child, I remembered vaguely that they were a bit violent. I was therefore a little startled at how violent the books are when I reread them. Both humans and dogs (as well as other animals) die and suffer in a surprising variety of horrible ways. I also was not all that impressed by the writing this time around. It’s old-fashioned, yes, but I have no problem with that. It was just a little clunky – it felt like an uneducated man trying to impress with his use of large vocabulary words, and not-so-subtle imagery.
All that being said, they are still both gripping tales. You really care about the characters in the stories and root for them to succeed despite the odds. I think they’re best read together, in the order presented here as you end on a happier note with White Fang. White Fang is also significantly longer. You have more time to come to care about the character, but also more time for bad things to happen to him. And they do, aplenty, which is one of the reasons his redemption is that much sweeter at the end.
I have always been fascinated by survival stories, and these have lots of action and hardship, loyalty and betrayal, sacrifice and love. The things I mentioned not liking about them – the violence and the writing style – I think are less likely to bother children than adults. I was (am) a total wuss about violence in books and movies and I don’t remember being traumatized by it. Perhaps children are more practical about violence in nature than adults. That being said, I recommend these books for children, but I also strongly recommend you read them first to make sure your child is ready for them.
Have you read White Fang or The Call of the Wild? What did you think? Would you encourage your kids to read either?
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P.S. I read most of these books with my dog curled up in my lap, which provided a hilarious contrast to these noble, savage beasts that Jack London knew as “dogs”. My little terrier mix has about as much in common with these creatures as she does with a banana. We’re pretty sure the tan recliner pictured below is her “natural habitat”.