The Big Bad Wolf
A Book of Tales' Special
Wolves are massive, like Alsatians with an upgrade in absolutely every department.
As with all members of the wider canine family, they're 'digitigrade': they walk so that their heels don't touch the ground but they use that feature far more effectively than say, a pug. Darting stealthily around they barely make a sound. They can jump 7ft, have a sense of smell 100 times better than ours, can hear you from almost 10 miles away and bite twice as powerfully as a police dog. Aside from being extraordinary physical specimens they are smart. Researchers once did an experiment with two wolves pitted against two dogs. A treat was placed on a bench, which they could pull towards them, but only by tugging at two different ropes at the same time. Dogs, failed almost every time. Wolves got it almost instantly.
In Europe wolves served for centuries as the unrivalled top predator after humans, of course which probably explains their dominance in folk tales.
The Three GoatsA tale about three goats,
who want to cross a bridge guarded by a wolf.
In our folk tales, myths and legends wolfs have however become a repository for all mankind's evils. They're the ultimate supervillains in our fairy tales.
So much so that we have become uncomfortable with wolves. Wolves, however, are much more scared of humans than we are of them and are notably unthreatening.
We have seen the enemy, he is us!
Pogo, the famous cartoon character by Walter Kelly
The exhibition 'Untold Tales' by our artist Jef Franssen. View >>
There are three generally recognised wolf species: Grey wolves (canis lupus) - species such as the snow-white Arctic wolf are merely subspecies of the grey that have arisen by taking on physical adaptations to their particular environment -, the incredibly rare Ethiopian wolf (canis simensis) and Red wolves (canis rufus) a critically endangered native to the eastern United States.
Without wolves the elk in Yellowstone National Park (US) ate the willow, aspen and cottonwood shrubs, depriving beavers and songbirds of their habitats and causing riverbank collapse. Once the wolves were re-introduced in the mid-1990' elk numbers shrank, carrion birds had carcasses to pick at, trees grew back, beavers could build dams and eventually even the courses of rivers changed.
If nobody is around to hunt or shoot them elk are destructive to the flora and fauna around them, and multiply like rats, just like the deer in Scotland and just like that other animal called man. But where is the big wolf that keeps mankind in check?
Do you know...
that the worst calamity to hit mankind
was the epidemic of Spanish Flu in 1918-19.
In Japan the flu was initially called sumo flu since their first victims were wrestlers. Although generally called Spanish Flu it is thought it might have originated not in Spain but in Kansas. The Americans however, blamed the Chinese.
In Chilli officials blamed the flu on the poor and torched their houses. That created a refugee problem, spreading the flu farther.
The flu infected 500 million people or one in three of the Earth's population. It killed at least 50 million people maybe twice that number.
Maybe that that big wolf that should keep mankind in check isn't that big after all....
Todays Big Bad Wolfs
Last September a columnist and writer well-known for his environmental and political activism wrote that most people would prefer to live in a world in which everyone is treated with respect and decency, and in which we do not squander the natural gifts on which we and the rest of the living world depend but that a small handful of people, using lies and distractions and confusion, stifle this latent desire for change.
He accused politicians and, in not so many words the president of the United States of America (USA), of inducing us to accept a vicious ideology of extreme competition and individualism that pits us against each other, encourages fear and mistrust and weakens our social bonds.
He believes that the story of our competitive, self-maximising nature has been told so often and with such persuasive power that it has changed the perception of ourselves and in turn changed the way behave.
He is however convinced that most people are socially minded, empathetic and altruistic and that a mobilisation of this silent majority could easily stop the power of the few who deceive us.
That same month in his maiden speech to the UN General Assembly in September the president of the USA, stated the following:
"...The scourge of our planet today is a small group of rogue regimes that violate every principle on which the United Nations is based.
They respect neither their own citizens, nor the sovereign rights
of their countries.
If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph. When decent people and nations become bystanders to history, the forces of destruction only gather power and strength...."
He, the president of the USA, who himself stands accused of being one of the wicked few, talks about the righteous many and wicked few. His opinion of who these wicked few are, however, differs slightly.
The president of the USA, our writer and with them many more are forgetting one thing: a fact which is so beautifully put into words by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his novel 'The Gulag Archipelago':
"Gradually it became clear to me that the line separating
good from evil
runs not between states, not between classes, and not between parties:
it runs through the heart of each and everyone of us and
through all human hearts."
Beside the Russian novelist, historian and Nobel Prize winner Solzhenitsyn two Americans put the same fact into words in their song 'Man in the Mirror'. The song was made famous by the American singer Michael Jackson.
I'm starting with the man in the mirror.
I'm asking him to change his ways.
And no message could have been any clearer
if you want to make the world a better place
take a look at yourself, and then make a change.
Nobody is so good that he is without fault.
Nobody is so bad that he is without virtue.
Hávámal, The High One,
in the Old Norse Edda
The Hermit and the She-WolfA short tale from the Desert Fathers