I’m slightly miffed that despite google’s supposed distortion of its search results to your previous habits and tendencies, when I type ‘wolves’ into google, I end up with Wolverhampton Wanderers as my top result. I don’t know any nursery rhymes about them, but am upset with the postindustrial megastalker doesn’t yet know me well enough to know that I prefer scraggly hunting dog monsters to football.
The thing to remember about wolves, is that Europe, where most of the nursery rhymes you are thinking of (probably) were mostly woodland (probably) when the time they were written (probably) was existing.
All those probablies distracted me from the weirdness of that last phrases, but I’m just going to skirt by it, apparently.
Woods had wolves in them. Wolves used to be something it was worth worrying about. They also have that slightly comprehensible attitude. You can imagine their cleverness. They are pack animals, social and intelligent. This makes us better at anthropomorphising them. We can project intelligible thought onto them. Intelligence, particularly cunning, is associated with evil. Therefore wolves are nasty blighters.
In fact, it’s part of a grander scheme, teaching a fear of the unknown, of the wild, and, if you go in for that kind of reading, sexuality. That wildness turns into rampant power. It’s the dark side of sexuality. Red riding hood, fast approaching menarche (hence the hood) is assaulted on the road to adulthood by the wildness of her own sexuality, until the patriarchal woodcutter saves her from her darkside (and her freedom).
Or something like that.
The elements in nursery rhymes and fairy tales are always so simplified that they make for easy allegorizing. Everything can stand for whatever suits, to fit whatever political moral you’re looking for. This is why they are so popular among the psychoanalysts.
Mythology simplifies to a point where the complexities of life can be controlled and neutered. Evidence from the collective unconscious is presented as objectivity, despite the clear magnification of the interpreters own voice.
Without an author, the death of the author isn’t assumed, it’s assumed to be something bigger. The folk tales tell the tale of the folk. That’s all of us, implicit in the wildness of the wolves. Our own psychologies betrayed by stories and songs of our childhood, our lives rooted in another era.
Wolves probably aren’t so scary any more, but we have plenty of fears. As our tales become sanitised, we can still use the fears of centuries ago as a stand in for what we need to overcome. Possibly it was never really wolves, and it was always just symbolic. That’s how stories work. How songs work. Things mean things. Stories reassure by building a world that makes sense and follows a narrative. There’s always a moral to a story, even if it doesn’t look like that.
Wolves aren’t wolves. They’re stories. The wolves out there don’t follow rules, they just live.
I don’t know if the same applies to the Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Illustration by Emma and friends