Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Of Wolves and Men, by Barry Lopez

In Of Wolves and Men (Simon & Schuster, 1978) Barry Lopez examines the importance of wolves in human history and culture.  Early sections of the book describe the wolf in its own environment.  This interest in the wolf as an animal, as an inhabitant of nature, is what I expected and wanted from this book.  I hoped for descriptions of how wolves live and hunt and reproduce, their pack mentality, their intelligence relative to other animals.  Lopez treats all these subjects, but not at the sort of length and depth that we found in Arctic Dreams (1986), his best work. Instead, in later chapters, Lopez describes attitudes of native Americans towards the wolf, cultural misperceptions of the wolf as an evil and cowardly creature, the sustained campaign to wipe out wolves on the American continent in the late 19th and early 20th century, folk tales and fables about wolves, and so on.
Lopez is especially interested in Native American views of the wolf.  Their views illustrate the importance of the wolf in one aspect of human history.  To me, these sections of the book reveal more about native American cultural beliefs and practices than they do about the wolf.  These sections are undoubtedly based on extensive reading and research, but they lack objectivity.  How would an anthropologist view them?
Lopez argues that human interpretations of the wolf often are driven by preoccupations unrelated to the animal—that views of the wolf as evil, murderous, and cowardly are in fact projections of traits that human observers discern within themselves.

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