As I have mentioned before, I didn’t become an avid reader until I was in my 30’s and was a reluctant reader until my 20’s. That being said, I realized some time back that I had some catching up to do. I read both of Jack London’s most famous books, White Fang and Call of the Wild, a while back when I started trying to catch up on the classics. When I read books that I usually associate with childhood readings, I often wonder if they would have been as dear to me then as they are now. Would I have gleaned the same soul nourishing drops from them? Regardless, both of London’s books have stayed with me, and some tiny notes in them hit me when reading, and have resonated in my heart and soul until they at last became a clear song. Here is one of them.
Note: If you haven’t read White Fang, there are spoilers below.
Go to it!
In order to get the reference of “Go to it!” I’ll give a little background on the story of White Fang.
White Fang is a wolf-dog (3/4 wolf, 1/4 dog) born in the wild Yukon Territory of Canada during the gold rush of the 1890’s. Taken in by Indian fur traders, he spends his first many years protected but unloved, learning the laws of fighting, taking, and surviving. He has an unusual degree of intelligence, attributed to the dog portion of his makeup, but has the quickness, toughness, and strength of a wild wolf.
Eventually, he is sold to a cruel white man named Beauty Smith. Beauty — so nicknamed because he is anything but — is a dog fighter and turns White Fang into killer in the ring. White Fang fights every type of dog imaginable, quickly learns their maneuvers, and defeats them all, killing most of them. All, but one that is: a bulldog.
Side note: Theodore Roosevelt was not a fan of Jack London and those in London’s ilk. He called such men “Nature Fakers” and believed that in their desire to tell a story they often mischaracterized the nature of animals and, to the true naturalist, plotted them in unbelievable scenarios. In reference to White Fang’s fight with the bulldog, he believed the fight was rather preposterous.
“Now, of course a wolf that could bite into the heart of a horse would swallow a lynx or a bulldog like a pill.” – Theodore Roosevelt on Nature Fakers
London’s and Roosevelt’s rivalry was pretty intense which makes it rather comical to read. Read more here.
The bulldog, Cherokee, is unlike any other dog White Fang has fought. It parades around the ring, wagging it’s stub of a tail, and has no reaction to the slashes it suffers from White Fang’s in and out, slice and retreat, signature fighting style. White Fang soon realizes Cherokee is biding his time, waiting for the moment when his opponent’s throat is exposed. Once the bulldog is attached, it doesn’t let go. It continues gripping more and more hide into its jaws, inching its way towards Fang’s jugular.
White Fang is nearly choked to death by the unrelenting bulldog until Weedon Scott steps in. I can’t do this part justice. Here’s a snippet from this part of the story:
“…Beauty Smith continued to kick White Fang, there was a commotion in the crowd. The tall young newcomer [Weedon Scott] was forcing his way through, shouldering men right and left without ceremony or gentleness. When he broke through into the ring, Beauty Smith was just in the act of delivering another kick. All his weight was on one foot, and he was in a state of unstable equilibrium. At that moment the newcomer’s fist landed a smashing blow full in his face. Beauty Smith’s remaining leg left the ground, and his whole body seemed to lift into the air as he turned over backward and struck the snow. The newcomer turned upon the crowd.
‘You cowards!’ he cried. ‘You beasts!’” – White Fang
Weedon is the hero, he is the good father that steps in and rescues Fang from utter destruction. What a man this guy was! A group of dog-fighting Yukon explorers, their hard-earned money waged, the adrenaline of the fight well circulating in their blood, and this guy is going to step into the crowd and bust the whole thing up? Good godfrey! He even pays Beauty for Fang. If you read the story though, and this is so good, he claims White Fang first. He’s just paying Beauty because it is the lawful thing to do. Here’s the interchange:
“‘I’ve got my rights,’ he [Beauty Smith] whimpered.
‘You’ve forfeited your rights to own that dog,’ was the rejoinder. ‘Are you going to take the money? or do I have to hit you again?’
‘All right,’ Beauty Smith spoke up with the alacrity of fear. ‘But I take the money under protest,’ he added. ‘The dog’s a mint. I ain’t a-goin’ to be robbed. A man’s got his rights.’
‘Correct,’ Scott answered, passing the money over to him. ‘A man’s got his rights. But you’re not a man. You’re a beast.'” – White Fang
White Fang’s wild and undomesticated life is likely not something many men — at least not the ones who read blogs, right? — would be familiar with. Though, those training grounds of fight & survive may not be far from what some of us may have experienced, depending on your family life or perhaps military background. In most cases, we find ourselves most familiar in Fang’s next setting, the quietude of suburbia or domesticated rural life, or perhaps in the unnatural busyness of the city. Either way, these are not places for wild creatures; these are places of rules.
After spending time with White Fang in the Yukon, earning his trust, and White Fang developing a love for his new master, Weedon decides to set off for home, California. Although Weedon is from a wealthy family and has a large estate with a great deal of land, he really doesn’t know what to do with a wolf in California, and while he tries to leave White Fang behind, the two end up together, which both confounds Weedon but also pleases him immensely.
White Fang is about as out-of-place in the city as you can imagine, and the homestead isn’t much better. There are rules here that seem to matter to the Master, but make absolutely no sense to White Fang:
Rule: You cannot eat the chickens running around the master’s yard.
Rule: You cannot eat the chickens running around other people’s yards.
Rule: If a dog becomes angry with you, or tries to put you in your place, you cannot kill said dog.
Rule: Hugs. People do them. Don’t kill the person hugging your master.
Rule: Small humans (toddlers) hit and poke you, but you cannot eat them.
Rule: Small boys throw stones at you. You cannot tear their throats out.
Rule: You may eat Jack rabbits.
This is where I relate.
This is the part of the story I most relate to and I think a lot of men as well. There is a frustration with White Fang in this domesticated life. On one hand, here is ease, comfort, love, and a future. On the other hand, he feels bound against his natural self in order to satisfy these good things. For a lot of men the rules of domestication might look something like this:
Rule: If you want stuff, sit in a cubical for 8 hours.
Rule: You cannot raise chickens in your yard.
Rule: Your yard does not supply firewood. You have to buy it or scavenge.
Rule: If you’d like to build a shed in your back yard, you have to square it with your home owners.
Rule: If the government takes your money and spends it frivolously, you cannot throw government officials in jail or flog them.
Rule: If you want to stay in shape, you waste both time and energy by moving iron weights around resulting in the building of nothing. And you pay for this.
Rule: If you want to eat the flesh of an animal, you can hunt on government approved lands, but not in the woods by your house.
Rule: Alternatively, you can pay money to fish in toxic lakes.
Rule: It is illegal to shoot a BB gun within city limits. A friggin’ BB gun!
I’ll admit that a number of these things are petty and we all make sacrifices when living in a community. Yet, in a real sense it is all of the little things that add up to make domesticated life something of a hindrance to the wild spirit within us.
I think that is why what happens next in White Fang’s story really captured me:
“On the way to town, hanging around the saloon at the cross-roads, were three dogs that made a practice of rushing out upon him when he went by. Knowing his deadly method of fighting, the master had never ceased impressing upon White Fang the law that he must not fight. As a result , having learned the lesson well, White Fang was hard put whenever he passed the cross-roads saloon. After the first rush, each time, his snarl kept the three dogs at a distance but they trailed along behind, yelping and bickering and insulting him. This endured for some time. The men at the saloon even urged the dogs on to attack White Fang. One day they openly sicked the dogs on him.
The master stopped the carriage. ‘Go to it,’ he said to White Fang.
But White Fang could not believe. He looked at the master, and he looked at the dogs. Then he looked back eagerly and questioningly at the master.
The master nodded his head. ‘Go to them, old fellow. Eat them up.’
White Fang no longer hesitated. He turned and leaped silently among his enemies. All three faced him. There was a great snarling and growling, a clashing of teeth and a flurry of bodies. The dust of the road arose in a cloud and screened the battle. But at the end of several minutes two dogs were struggling in the dirt and the third was in full flight. He leaped a ditch, went through a rail fence, and fled across a field. White Fang followed, sliding over the ground in wolf fashion and with wolf speed, swiftly and without noise, and in the centre of the field he dragged down and slew the dog.” – White Fang
“Go to it,” the master said — I love that. “Do what you were made for. Do what you’re good at. Show them damn dogs who they’re messing with.” I feel there is so much there that speaks to me. I think in so many ways, once we have mastered our wildness, God sets us free. He is the one who says, “Go to it!”
The question we men have, then, is this: “And do what? What am I good at? What can I sink my teeth into?”
One thing I loved about Weedon’s charge to White Fang was that he had absolute confidence in this Fighting Wolf’s ability to carry it out. Just a nod and a ‘Eat them up’ and White Fang was off to get it done.
White Fang knew what he was good at. His master knew as well. Maybe we get the call to ‘Go to it’ before we know what we are good at, but I have a feeling that we don’t. I think our first charge is ‘Grow. Love. Train. Fail. Repeat.’ or something along those lines. Still, we are waiting for the clear call from the Master and the purpose for which we were made. Go to it.