‘Company of Wolves’: Wolf Children

Thanks to Kaja for her wonderful post on wolves and weres. Wolves seem very current just now hence our OGOM ‘Company of Wolves’ conference in July. The Guardian have today chosen the wolf to front their article on the rewilding of disappeared species in Britain. Wolves cannot fail to provoke an emotive response since they are so tied to folklore and fairy tales. I laughed out loud at natural historian Buffon’s mistaken idea that wolves who specifically prey on humans are known as ‘ware-wolves’ since you should ‘be aware’ of them!! A little gem uncovered by Kaja!! She didn’t mention this but she has compiled a ‘Table of Werewolves’ that would put Sir Christopher Frayling or Casaubon to shame. She is looking for shifts in thinking about these creatures in fiction so is documenting their appearances in literature. It will be a useful key to all mythology surrounding the representation of werewolves and is going to form an appendix to her thesis!

I don’t want to give too much away but I am researching wolf children for my plenary talk re: ‘Company of Wolves’. The feral child and human pet ‘Peter the wild boy’ will feature heavily as he lived out much of his later life in Hertfordshire (quite near to my office at the university). He was captured in the forests of Hamlin in 1724. At the time of his discovery he was thought to be quadruped and lived solitary in the woods. Stories grew up that he was raised by bears or wolves. I was heart broken on seeing his grave pictured below, he was such a symbol of natural innocence, despite appearing wild, a genuine example of the noble savage.

Grave in Christchurch, Herts

Grave in Christchurch, Herts

I was tearful too on learning about the collar he was made to wear when older. It bore the inscription ‘Peter the Wild Man’

Iron collar inscribed for 'Peter the Wild Man'

Iron collar inscribed for ‘Peter the Wild Man’

and asked that he be returned if he strayed as he never learned more than a few words.

There are links back to Kaja’s research on wolves, subjectivity and voice here and to Marcus too. He revealed recently that his character Alice is a wolf child in The Dark Horse and he also has a Kasper Hauser inspired story, The Book of Dead Days. His US publicist is writing on werewolves in medieval literature! Serendipity or wolfish fortune again!!! ‘Company of Wolves’ is proving a very appropriate theme just now as Matt, the second OGOM  PhDer I supervise has published The White Devil: The Werewolf in European Literature (Reaktion, 2013). I will ask him to post on here and introduce himself……

About Lucy Northenra

Senior Lecturer in Literature, University of Hertfordshire

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