In our latest lecture, we looked in great detail at the symbol of the wolf in literature, in particular the well known bloodthirsty villain of Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf has been used as a motif throughout history – in Native American culture the wolf is a symbol of courage, strength, loyalty and intelligence. However, in modern narratives I have observed that the wolf has come to represent the outcast, or outsider.
The book series Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, by Michelle Paver, explores the many different facets in the wolf’s nature. The series is set in a Prehistoric world, following the story of a boy, Torak, and a wolf. The society is made up of many different clans named after animals indigenous to their own regions, and each values the characteristics of its ‘clan creature’ above all else.
Torak, originally of the wolf clan, has lived separate from them for most of his life, up until the death of his father. As a baby he was left for a month in the den of a she-wolf and as a result is naturally able to communicate with wolves. He rescues Wolf, an orphaned cub who sees Torak as his pack brother. As children, both are made outsiders by the death of their parents, and must learn to survive on their own. As adults, Torak is cast out by the other clans as a result of his coveted abilities and the actions of his father, but Wolf chooses to remain with him rather than join a true wolf pack.
The Wolf Clan live alongside the rest of the clans, but separate. They seek to understand and think as the wolf does, even using plants to turns the whites of their eyes yellow. However they remain separate from wolves, unlike Torak, and are envious of his bond with Wolf. While not cruel, they are ruthless, with strict rules.
The wolf is often seen as a bloodthirsty creature that follows its base instincts. Werewolves, for instance, see humans changing from a man to a beast during a full moon, a gruesome phenomenon transmitted through infection from a bite. As a mythical creature in a world where science is king, they have to keep it a secret, which alienates them from society. In the Harry Potter series, the character Remus Lupin was a werewolf and as a result he was alienated from normal society. J K Rowling herself said that she created Lupin and the stigma surrounding his condition based upon the current stigma of HIV sufferers. In the series, Lupin due to the invention of a medicine, his condition was stable, and he was rendered harmless in wolf form, but society continued to turn their backs on him. It was only recently that I was reading about Rowling’s thought processes behind many features of the story and I commend her for dealing with a very sensitive subject with compassion.