Illustration Friday & Inspire Me Thursday - Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
The topics for this week's Illustration Friday (Opposites) and Inspire Me Thursday (Child's Play) challenges serendipitously came together when I started to thinking how some animals are portrayed in myth and literature with either positive or negative attributes, usually depending on the cultural context. The wolf is a perfect example.
Wolves, as predators, have historically been perceived by humans as mysterious, cunning, and dangerously bloodthirsty. Yet as an archetypal symbol that's both negative and positive, the wolf represents the union of opposites. Although in many mythologies and religions, the wolf is considered demonic and destructive, there are as well many examples of the wolf as the protector-companion. For example, in the Middle Ages, the ancient idea that men could be transformed into werewolves, half-human, half-animal creatures who roamed the streets at night and feasted on humans, became a widely accepted belief, attributing the transformation to the devil. Yet in Classical mythology, the wolf is the companion to the goddess Artemis, and it was a she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, the founders of ancient Rome.
The opposing images of the wolf appear in literature as well. A large body of folklore attests to the negative image the wolf has attained throughout history; an image that has in fact caused the word "wolf" to become a metaphor for wily humans (usually men) who prey on innocent, helpless creatures (usually women). Fairy tales such as "Little Red Riding Hood" bring the creature and the metaphor together in a story with a moral: "...young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf." In contrast, the Russian Folktale, "Prince Ivan and the Grey Wolf", shows the wolf as a loyal friend who helps Prince Ivan achieve his goals and live happily ever after.
In nature, the wolf is a keystone predator, and as such, is an important part of its ecosystem. Prior to the 20th century, however, the wolf had been almost hunted out of existence in the United States and Europe, as it was erroneously perceived to be dangerous to humans and livestock. Fortunately, ecological research has caused more people to understand the importance of predators in the natural order, and there have been efforts to reintroduce the wolf to its former habitats.
(acrylic on 10" x 10" stretched canvas)
Check out my article on Andrea Pratt of Colouring Outside the Lines and her really outstanding art. If you don't know about her work, you're missing a wonderful experience!