01 September 2010

Apologia of the Lupophile

On the nightstand: Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat.  I have found it to be an interesting and charming book*, and one that made me consider that I had some clarifications to make regarding my own take on Canis lupus.

Simply put, I may have given the impression (in posts such as this and this) that I did not care for, or was disturbed by wolves.  This is not the case.

Do I respect them? Yes, very much so.  Anyone with an ounce of sense in their head would do the same.  Wolves may not be the savage, slavering killers so often portrayed in the past, but they are predators.  Intelligent, hungry predators fulfilling their destiny in the food chain.  I have often used wolves as metaphors for the troubles and anxieties of my own disjointed modern life.

I have never really taken it to heart, that wolves are mindless, demonic beasts that kill humans or other creatures for the sheer sake of killing.  I think what I did was unconsciously act on some of the prevailing myths in history and project them in part into my writing.  I find it significant that I chose wolves and not tigers or sharks.  Perhaps I was leaning heavily on North American folklore and legend because that is what I am most familiar with.

Wolves have chased me.  Wolves have followed me around, howled outside the windows and scratched at the door.  Wolves have breathed down my neck.  Because of that I may have inadvertently perpetuated some of the negative stereotypes that Farley Mowat and many others have worked hard to discredit.  For that I am regretful.  The wolf may be a dangerous predator, but it is at the same time a beautiful animal.

Never Cry Wolf has not made me feel as if I could plunge headlong into the Arctic wilderness and become best buddies with the beasts.  It did make me step back from my own perceptions, and rethink my use of wolves as metaphors.  I cannot say that I will never use them again in such a manner; the metaphor is wonderfully apt.  I will, however, be more careful and respectful in my characterizations.

Besides, the notion of totemic animals (wolf, jaguar, tiger, coyote, raven to name a few) is common across many cultures.  They represent artistic or spiritual human responses to the mystery and complexity of the life around us, ones that we (or at least, I) cannot ignore.  The real art here will be to learn how to run with the wolves, rather than being run down by the wolves.  There are worse things one can do in life than run with your mates, under the sun, and then howl at the moon.

*There is a lot of debate as to whether the book is mostly fiction.  There have been moments when reading it that I have raised an eyebrow and said "Really? Are you sure?" because some of it does seem fanciful rather than rigorously scientific.  Having said that, Mr. Mowat writes with such verve and affection that I couldn't help but be drawn in, and part of me hopes that things really did happen the way he describes.  It makes me want to be a wolf, especially the descriptions of the wolves at play.


  1. Aaawwwwwwwwwwoooooo!

    My youngest recently revealed he had a fear of wolves all through childhood too. Funny, he went to a high school with wolves as their mascot. If it's any consolation, he has the very best imagination and is years ahead of other 18-y.o.'s in literary comprehension and appreciation. Hoping for another writer in the family.

  2. i remember that book! aw take me back!

  3. loved that book growing up. if you're serious about understanding the female entity as per a prior blog, check out 'women who run with the wolves' - the writing is insanely interesting and with lots of mythological influence.

  4. Wolves really do get a bad rap, an unfair one. No one in North America has ever been killed by one. Man's best friend are bigger murders and yet we don't vilify them.

  5. Great book...read it a few years ago with my niece who loves wolves and has a Siberian Husky...I never had an affinity for wolves being taught from a young age "don't be the little boy who cried wolf !!" ..or reading Saki's "The Interlopers" where two lifelong enemies make peace...until...yeah, the wolves !!...but after being around huskies,reading about them, watching Dances With Wolves many times and seeing real ones up close at a preserve in believe it or not, "New Jersey"...well, I look at them in a whole new way now...Fascinating and brilliant animal...and as Captain D states, they get a bad rap, I certainly agree. Excellent post IG.

  6. The wolf makes a great metaphor, hungry, sad, amoral, a void outside your door waiting to take you, poverty... nothing wrong with using lupine metaphors. Great blog by the way.

  7. Really, wolves have chased you, scratched at your door? Were you describing a real event or using a metaphor? Seriously, I stopped breathing as soon as I read that sentence.

  8. I don't know that book! Must look it up.
    We did a semester of wolf studies when I taught in third grade about 10 years ago. We visited a wolf refuge and it was fascinating.


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