Useful monsters

BBWolfThe wolf prowls the worlds of Story in many guises.


Wolves have been demonized in stories probably since stories were first told, or at least since humans began to domesticate sheep and cows and other animals. When this happened, however many thousands of years ago, when we began to keep animals as captive protein sources instead of just following them around with spears and bows, what a transformation that must have been in our way of being in the world. Because now there were two different kinds of animals: ours, and all the others out there, including the ones that wanted to kill and eat ours.


Come to think of it, this may have been the reality-altering moment that the idea of wild first entered human consciousness: when we put a fence around some animals to keep other animals out. Before the sheepfold and the barn, we were hunters along with the wolves and the other predators. The forest was our home too. But once we learned to keep animals and breed them, we probably soon stopped thinking of ourselves as having anything in common with the other predators. Of course we were still predators, only we’d learned how to keep our prey close by for when we needed them. We no longer had to venture out into the dark dangerous forest to compete for them with the other meat-eaters.


As we looked over this new thing we’d invented called the fence, which divided the world into two separate realities, my stuff and out there, our stories must have changed, too. On the other side of the fence was the wolf, a dusk thing, prowling the border of night and day, of two worlds. He was a lot like our new friend the dog, and so seemed close to us in a disturbing way, and yet he was not like the dog because he could not be tamed.


So the wolf made a handy villain. We could tell scary stories about his cruelty, his lack of mercy, his diabolical craftiness, conveniently forgetting these were really human traits. Giving them to the wolf could give evil an acceptable face, one that wasn’t our own. And if we could name evil, and kill it, we’d be safe for a while.


So we invented the Big Bad Wolf, and he began to prowl through our tales, a useful monster. But he’s not alone out there. He has a lot of company in all the others, human and otherwise, that we place on the other side of the fence in our minds.






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