Useful monsters

The wolf prowls the worlds of Story, in many forms and guises. One of the most terrifying is the garm wolf. This creature takes its name from a hellhound, Garmr, mentioned in the Poetic Edda: he is a monstrous dog whose howling will announce the coming of Ragnarok, the fall of the gods and the ending of the world.

In the Perilous Realm, the garm wolf is a wild wolf which has been captured and transformed, by sorcery or ill-treatment or usually both, into a vicious hunter and killer. Unlike the werewolf, which is a man (or woman) changed into a monster that kills other men, the garm wolf is a wolf changed into a monster by man, to kill other men.  The journey may be different but the end result is much the same: a creature that is neither one thing or another but something else, a thing that crosses a guarded boundary and leaps out at us from our darkest nightmares.

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 livestock. When this happened, however many thousands of years ago, when we began to keep animals as stock, like items in a store, instead of just following them around with spears and bows, what a change that must have made in our way of seeing 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 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 find them.

So, as we looked over this new thing we’d invented called the fence, which divided the world into two separate places, home 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. And 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 are traits we excel at ourselves). We could give evil a face. And if we could name it, and kill it, we’d be safe for a while. Good defeats evil once again.

And so we invented the Big Bad Wolf, and he began to prowl through our stories and nightmares. And that is what the tale of the garm wolf is really about, perhaps. It is a story about the story of the Big Bad Wolf. About how we made the wolf into a useful monster.

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