Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hungry Like The Wolf

A grim medieval lithograph
I was interested in this week to read environmentalist George Monbiot arguing for the re-introduction of previously extinct animals back into England.

Here is a list, taken from my book Feral, of a few of the animals which have become extinct recently (in ecological terms) and which probably meet the bill's new definition of non-native: "not ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain in a wild state". Some would be widely welcomed; others not at all, but it's clear that a debate about which species we might bring back is one that many people in this country want to have, but that the government wants to terminate. There's a longer list, with fuller explanations and a consideration of their suitability for re-establishment, in the book.
One of those animals that he argues should be introduced is the wolf:

Wolf: the last clear record is 1621 (not 1743 as commonly supposed). It was killed in Sutherland. As far as I can determine, neither Sir Ewen Cameron nor any of the other blood-soaked lairds and congenital twits from whom Lord Cameron of Dillington is descended were involved.
Meow! Oh, sorry, wrong animal.

Wolves were hunted for a number of reasons - their beautiful pelts for one thing, also to protect people and livestock for another.

Hunting was necessary for survival.
The wolf is a fierce predator, so much so that in medieval times, murderers were sometimes offered the option to become wolf hunters and freed on the condition become wolf hunters. To prove their worth, the felon had to come back with a certain number of wolf tongues per year.

What appeared to be clemency was actually a death sentence of another another sort.

The sneaky, cunning and duplicitous nature of wolves was so recognised across so many cultures and over so many generations that audiences back in Jesus Christ's time and the centuries since understood exactly what He meant with the words:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
In my medieval romance Warrior's Surrender, (which I hope will be out early in 2015) the wolf plays a pivotal role both in actuality and as analogy.

I hope you enjoy this snippet!

“Does the Baron of Tyrswick sulk like a child when he’s bested by a woman?” she called out.
She waited for a response.
When it came, Frey’s blood turned cold.
A sustained howl broke the silence and was joined by a chorus of similar cries that seemed to be all around her. Frey turned in a circle but could see only the trees.
Her horse had stopped its grazing and took a step back, ears flicking in one direction, then the other.
With hands cupped to magnify the sound of her voice, she called out.
There was no reply save the call of the wolf pack.
Gooseflesh needled along on her arms.
With greater calmness than she felt, Frey walked back to the horse and soothed it with soft words and a few strokes down its neck. It settled enough for Frey to unbuckle a leather quiver of arrows from the saddle, which she then secured across her back before releasing the bow which she placed over her shoulder.


Susanne Bellamy said...

Frey is an archer - very cool! Love the sound of this and can't wait till it's published!

Venetia Green said...

Love the pictures and the snippet, Elizabeth! Wolves are such evocative beasts, aren't they? Medieval English outlaws were also referred to as "caput lupinum", i.e. wolf's head, implying that they too, like the dreaded wolf, could be hunted down and killed like vermin. Pity their pelts wouldn't have much value ...