Jul 11, 2015

Of Wolves and Men

by Barry Holstun Lopez

The last book I read sparked my interest to read another one about wolves off my shelf. This book introduces the biology and behavior of the wolf, but mostly it is an examination about the different aspects relationships between mankind and wolves have taken on through the centuries, up to the present day. It looks at fairy tales, myths, folklore and misconceptions alike (presenting a nice distinction between fable and fairy tale by the way). It is not exactly linear in nature, discussing firstly the close parallel lives of native americans and other peoples who lived a hunting lifestyle had with wolves (and how this affected their view and esteem of wolves), then the warfare and extermination programs run against wolves in North America- all the various methods and justifications people had for killing wolves and the devastating effects this had. Then it examines the medieval view of wolves, which was mostly fanciful and moralizing. Wolves were presented as the embodiment of evil and religious powers only strengthened this idea, which persisted for a very long time. Then there's the completely opposite idea of the wolf as a nurturing mother that would raise human children in the wild- I came across a lot of familiar material in this chapter. Lopez shows how eventually science tried to look at real wolves and understand them, but how difficult it remains to break from old ideas, to see past what we've always believed to be true. The final epilogue is all too short, a glimpse of the time the author spent raising two wolves- I want to read more about that. I suspect he did not write much about it because he realized it is a bad idea and didn't want others to be encouraged to copy the experiment. Throughout it all, some fascinating history and intriguing ideas about how human minds from the depths of the past have shaped what we see and understand today. The overall idea I came away with was that no matter which way we look at the animal, we only see a part of it, what we think of it, never completely what the wolf truly is in and of himself. Some part of the animal will always remain a mystery to us, and Lopez seems content to leave it that way.

Rating: 3/5      308 pages, 1978

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