Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

My inspiration for a recent picture book manuscript was a sighting of wolves at our cabin in the Cariboo. It was last winter when we were hunkered down in front of a roaring fire and my daughter spotted three wolves crossing the frozen lake. We quickly ran to get binoculars and cameras. Our four-year-old grandson, Charly, grew visibly upset.

“Are the wolves going to hurt us?” he asked.
“Wolves won’t hurt people,” we told him. “They’re afraid of humans.”

“No!” he insisted. “It’s the big bad wolf. It will hurt us.”
We couldn’t convince him.  Like most children in North America, Charly has been raised on myths of the archetypical big bad wolf. These ancient folktales arose in Europe where wolf attacks on humans were much more common.

The branding of the wolf as ‘big and bad’ began as far back as the 14th century when Grimm wrote Little Red Riding Hood. Later Joseph Jacobs penned Three Little Pigs. Walt Disney followed suit with the highly successful animated movie, Br’er Wolf and the hit song, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

The modern day version of the big bad wolf stories is Jon Scieszka’s hilarious tale, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf.  But the wolf is a slick fast-talking character who protests his innocence though it’s obvious he’s lying.

Despite the wolf’s reputation as a vicious predator, there have been few instances in North America of humans being attacked or killed by wolves. (Although hybrid wolves or wolves interbred with dogs are much more aggressive than purebred wolves, probably because they have lost their fear of humans.)

One theory that might explain the differences in behavior between the more aggressive European wolves and North American wolves was the devastating European wars where thousands of bodies were left to decompose on battlefields. Unlike North American wolves, perhaps European wolves developed a taste of human flesh.

Presently, the government of British Columbia has declared an open season on the hunting of wolves. They are also considering a wolf ‘cull’ during the denning season when it is impossible to distinguish lactating females from males. This would leave vulnerable wolf pups to die of starvation. And yet bear attacks in North America are much more common than wolf attacks.

So the main character in my latest story is a sweet wolf, neither big nor bad. I hope to encourage kids to see wolves as intelligent, social animals, as much a part of the ecosystem as human beings.

As Ernest Thompson Seton wrote, “Ever since Lobo (the wolf) my sincerest wish has been to impress upon people that each of our native wild creatures is in itself a precious heritage that we have no right to destroy or put beyond the reach of our children.”