The working title for my new novel is ‘The Year of the Wolf’. In part it is inspired by the Motorhead song of the same name.
In many countries and cultures, the wolf is a potent symbol of both warrior-hero and predator-devil. On the one hand they represent freedom, family, intelligence, instinct, endurance and intuition; on the other, danger and destruction.
In the legend of Romulus and Remus, a she-wolf suckled the founders of Rome.
In Norse mythology, wolves are depicted as a symbol of victory when ridden by Odin and the Valkyries.
In Celtic lore, they hunt down the sun and devour it at dusk so the moon can appear in the sky.
In Baltic and Serbian mythology, they’ve transformed into werewolves.
Native American legends associate them with courage, strength, loyalty and hunting.
In Asia they’re revered as an ancestor of Genghis Khan.
And in art? Perhaps not surprisingly, the diversity is enormous. Here are ten examples I find intriguing.
- A Linocut by Australian artist, Jazmina Cininas, part of a Girlie Werewolf Project
inspired by her Lithuanian background.
- Margaret Atwood, writing in ‘The Blind Assassin’:
‘All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is. Anything else is sentimental drivel….Think about it. There’s escaping from the wolves, fighting the wolves, capturing the wolves, taming the wolves. Being thrown to the wolves, or throwing others to the wolves so the wolves will eat them instead of you. Running with the wolf pack. Turning into a wolf. Best of all, turning into the head wolf. No other decent stories exist.’
- Ingmar Bergman’s film, ‘Hour of the Wolf’.
‘The hour between night and dawn.
The hour when most people die, when sleep is deepest,
when nightmares are most real. The hour when the sleepless
are haunted by their deepest fears, when ghosts and demons
are most powerful. The hour of the wolf is also the hour
when most children are born.’
- Wislawa Szymborska, Polish Nobel Prize-winning poet,
‘An Unexpected Meeting’, Salt, 1962.
Our tigers drink milk
Our hawks tread the ground
Our sharks have all drowned
Our wolves yawn beyond the empty cage
- The classic children’s fairytale, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’,
The Brothers Grimm
‘…Now, the wolf had put on the old lady’s shawl and cap and slipped into the bed. Trying to imitate Grandma’s quavering little voice, he replied: “Open the latch and come in!”
“What a deep voice you have,” said the little girl in surprise.
“The better to greet you with,” said the wolf.
“Goodness, what big eyes you have.”
“The better to see you with.”
“And what big hands you have!” exclaimed Little Red Riding Hood, stepping over to the bed.
“The better to hug you with,” said the wolf.
“What a big mouth you have,” the little girl murmured in a weak voice.
“The better to eat you with!” growled the wolf, and jumping out of bed, he swallowed her up too. Then, with a fat full tummy, he fell fast asleep…’
- More of Jazmina Cininas on her Girlie Werewolf Project:
‘Angela Carter’s anthology of short stories, The Bloody Chamber, borrows from archaic versions of popular fairy stories and draws conspicuous attention to the notion of the adolescent girl as liminal woman, a child on the cusp of adulthood. One of Carter’s stories, The Company of Wolves, was made into a film by Neil Jordan in the 1980s. The film features a banquet scene, which draws on early modern urban legends of entire wedding parties turning into wolves. (In Lithuanian folk tales the best weddings would specifically invite werewolves to entertain the guests). The nuptial ceremony traditionally served to ‘initiate’ a maiden into womanhood; this ‘transitional’ status recommended weddings as sites for lycanthropic transformations. Carter’s model of the latent female werewolf, who first presents her lycanthropy at puberty, has been enormously influential in subsequent female werewolf literature and film.’
- Nikita Kruschev, Soviet Premier
‘If you live among wolves you have to act like a wolf.’
Quoted in Observer, London, September 26, 1971
- Otto von Bismarck
‘One shoots the wolves if one can.’
Otto von Bismarck, Prussian General/German Chancellor
- Celebrating Wolves of a different kind:
on the building site
a long low whistle growl
from a wolf
she was walking to the beach
see the flash of her smile
the swing in her stride
the joy in her feet:
how I wished that wolf
was celebrating me.
Celebrating Wolves: Suzanne McCourt; The Lost Men; Posh Dog Publishing, 2012
- How better to finish than with Ted Hughes’ beautiful poem ‘Birthday Letters’, written after his wife, Sylvia Plath, died by suicide.
Dropped from life,
We three made a deep silence
In our separate cots.
We were comforted by wolves.
Under that February moon and the moon of March
The Zoo had come close.
And in spite of the city
Wolves consoled us. Two or three times each night
For minutes on end
They sang. They had found where we lay….
They wound us and enmeshed us
In their wailing for you, their mourning for us,
They wove us into their voices. We lay in your death,
In the fallen snow, under falling snow.
How about you? Any favourite wolves?