Since starting my PhD on werewolves, I have discovered that whilst I don’t see lycanthropes everywhere (I’ve not started hallucinating through exhaustion yet), I do see wolves where ever I go. On a brief sojourn to my home county, Lincolnshire, I was informed by my friend that there was a pack of Hudson Bay wolves living six miles outside Lincoln at the Woodside Wildlife and Falconry Park. Which I wasn’t really expecting. As further evidence, this morning I received a text from both my mother and aunt to tell me that there was a programme about wolves on Radio 4. Part of the Shared Planet series presented by Monty Don, the programme’s blurb was as follows:
“Few creatures have infiltrated our psyche as much as wolves. They haunt our imagination and appear in our stories, myths and legends. They are at once the embodiment of the devil and of the wild, enough dog that we relate to them, but also rugged, unpredictable and wild. They roam vast, untamed landscapes and then appear in our midst, hunting sheep and spreading fear. Our relationship has been so conflicting that they were almost eradicated from the earth by the end of the 19th Century. But since being protected they are slowly coming back in both Europe and America. Are we now able to live with them? Do we want to? Monty Don explores the enigma that is the wolf and looks at how our attitudes have shaped their destiny”.
Given the breadth of what was covered on the programme it managed to be very subtle. The discussions regarding our ‘idea’ of the wolf and the reality of the wolf were nuanced. Of particular interest to me were the time frames that were discussed. The 1970s was quoted as a period of increasing sympathy towards the wolf – concurrent with the emergence of, broadly speaking, environmental rights including the movement towards deep ecology.
There was a very sensible comment made by Dr Thomas Heberlein that suggested that although people may have more positive attitudes towards wolves this is often in a theoretical sense. In the same way that the wolf has become a poster child for the rewilding movement, there is a danger about moving from a position from uncritical hatred for the wolf to uncritical approval for the wolf. In both cases, the emotional response is based on ideological version of the wolf that is being used to extend human concerns.
Anyway, I would recommend giving the programme a listen yourself via BBC iPlayer. And if you want to read a little more about wolves I recommend Barry Lopez’s Of Wolves and Men and Garry Marvin’s Wolf, part of the Reaktion series on animals. Both are accessible, well-researched, and thoroughly interesting. These are both non-fiction but for those who fancy a fictive representation of wolves, I would urge you to read Melvin Burgess’s Cry of the Wolf. Based on the idea that a group of wolves survived in the South of England, it perfectly encapsulates the spirit of ‘wild writing’. I’d even go as far as saying it allows the reader to move between human and wolf in an act of literary lycanthropy.