Last Wolf is an entity of our own making, and this suits us best. We are therefore perhaps in a privileged position to discuss some of the more esoteric or mythical aspects of the outdoors and not necessarily the need to follow science or current opinion. For this article we shall be exploring the outer fringes of current buzz word ‘rewilding’. Rewilding is important, essential even. But perhaps it begins within us all and is a far more spiritual manoeuvre than we first thought. Bear with me here, and for anyone not wanting any Game of Thrones plot spoilers, cease reading now.
Certainly one of the biggest cultural phenomenon of the 2010s, George R.R. Martin’s novel series A Song of Ice and Fire has shifted some 90 million copies worldwide and the ensuing TV series was a staggering success, despite its staggeringly shite ending. This was watched by millions of people who would have normally scoffed at watching a fantasy series, let alone read something from the SF/Fantasy section of the local Waterstones. Orcs and goblins may be out but plenty of human genitalia is in.
In the world of Westeros and beyond, those who live beyond the wall are called ‘wildings’, meaning ‘savages’; the uncivilised. They are to be feared and kept out, whilst all amount of debauchery goes on at Kings Landing, the centre of civilisation. Royal lines are kept by an incest so secret that everyone knows about. But as we know, the real battle was never against the feared wilding invasion, or the wilding of the civilised world. It was against the white walkers, the Others, vacant deathly spirits whose only motive is death and the real ‘rewilding’ of the known world.
Over a thousand years before Game of Thrones, though part of a similar literature, came Beowulf, the hero of the Old English poem named after him. Beowulf kills Grendel, a monster local to the great hall Heorot, home of the Danish King Hrothgar. Grendel keeps eating the king’s warriors because they are partying too much and enjoying themselves far too often. Beowulf hears of this and leaving his home Geatland, goes off to help the Danes purely to further his own personal mythos and reknown. When they eventually meet, Beowulf tears off Grendel’s arm at the shoulder and Grendel subsequently dies from his wounds.
Quite rightly, this angers Grendel’s mother. Seeking revenge, the next night she attacks Heorot and kills a favoured warrior. Beowulf again hears of this and finds the monsters family cavern deep underwater where they battle fiercely. Grendel’s mother is a much trickier foe but Beowulf eventually chops off her head with a giant’s sword. He finds the corpse of Grendel and removes his head from his shoulders and presents both to King Hrothgar.
The ‘wild’ has been suppressed; the meres and marshes are safe. Strong bonds between the Danish and the Geats are created. Heorot becomes an actual refuge rather than a symbolic one, where light and warmth and culture can continue. The Danes are free to go about their business without this horrendous outside threat and party like its 999. The story is not over for Beowulf though. He becomes a king himself in his own land and fifty years later from the Grendel story, he battles and kills a dragon. But Beowulf himself dies as a result of their encounter.
“The world period of the hero in human form begins only when villages and cities have expanded over the land. Many monsters remaining from primeval times still lurk in the outlying regions, and though malice or desperation these set themselves against the human community. They have to be cleared away. The elementary deeds of the hero are those of the clearing of the field.” Campbell. Pg. 285.
But dragons do not exist. These fantastical ones anyway. More importantly what about real animals that have suffered the most at the hands of man and the death of the wilderness. It is hard to argue against the suffering of the wolves, enemy of man for centuries, if not longer. I wonder where dogs actually evolved from because even going by tales as modern as Disney’s Frozen, beady eyed wolves roam the forest waiting viciously for any passing traveller to harass and presumably eat. Or a snowman with a sausage for a nose.
What are traditional tales really about? Could they really be about the taming of the forest; the loss of the wild. The wild becomes a civilised place for little girls to walk happily to their grandmas. Whilst evil old wolfie will even go as far as wearing grannies clothes to lure the hapless girl who clearly forgot her glasses that day to her doom. Why he has to go to such subterfuge, we’ll never know, but he’s clearly hungry. Is it possible that when the woodsman hero of the story isn’t chopping of wolves heads, he’s busy chopping down the trees, ridding the wolf of its natural habitat and forcing it into the human domain? Sound familiar?
The wolf is the ultimate bad guy. He is devious and manipulative, he attempts to outsmart the humans. He is a threat, and this mind-set has continued into the present day. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, the boy who cried wolf, The Big Bad Wolf. The fear of nature. The fear of the wild. Fear is our natural defence mechanism developed over millennia to ensure our survival and the fear of animals is still in our genes.
I believe we still have a genetic hangover about our very human attitudes towards rewilding. Imagine living in a world in the not too distant past where being prey for a bear, a wolf, or a lion was a reality and being lost in an unknown, pathless forest a likely possibility. Have these Hansel and Gretel type stories made us fear the woods and the wild more than we should?
So learn from this
and understand true values. I who tell you
have wintered into wisdom.
Beowulf. Pg. 119.
Campbell, Joseph. “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Abacus: Sphere Books, 1975.
Heaney, Seamus. “Beowulf: Bilingual Edition”, Faber and Faber, 2007.
Currently listening to: Sentenced’s first album, ‘Shadows of the Past’, 1991