about this blog



I started this blog in 2008. It started mainly as a way of tracking the evolution of my dry garden, and that led to an interest in photography and in the creatures that live in the garden. It's still about the garden and wildlife, but now my passion is thinking about how we humans can learn to co-exist with wild animals and plants, especially in urban areas.

Friday, 20 September 2013

rethinking the meaning of predators through story

Once upon a time the world was full of fierce animals that threatened and killed humans. The story of Little Red Riding Hood  is of this time. It tells how the brave woodcutter saves both the child and the grandmother from the Big Bad Wolf.

A century later, and the world has changed. Much of the world's forests have disappeared, and many predators threatened with extinction.

Traditionally animals were thought of as either good or bad. Bad animals were ones that competed with us for food. Good animals were either domesticated, or caused us no trouble.

Today it is understood that every animal has its niche in the ecosystem. In Yellowstone Park, for example, when the wolves were gone, the elk population soared to such an extent, that they destroyed ancient forests. Now wolves have been re-introduced, and these predators have brought balance, life and biodiversity back to Yellowstone.

In a traditional fairy tale there is a hero and a villain. If the animal is not the villain, maybe the human is the villain? In the case of Little Red Riding Hood, maybe it is the woodcutter?

Barbara G. Walker* has written her own versions of fairy tales - challenging the traditional patriarchal society in which they were based. In her short story Little White Riding Hood, the hunter / woodchopper represents 'man's destructive exploitation of the wilderness'. The wolf, on the other hand, represents 'the spirit of the wilderness itself'.

Gray Wolf (Wikipedia)

When Little White Riding Hood is bringing food to her grandmother, she is accosted by two hunters carrying the body of a female wolf they have just killed. They bully and threaten Little White Riding Hood, but she runs away to her grandmother's house.

Grandmother and grand-daughter find the orphaned wolf cubs and rescue them. Then they break the traps of the hunters. When the hunters come to grandmother's house to get their revenge, grandmother puts on a wolf suit, and frightens them away.

These stories are very entertaining, and worth a read. Fairy stories reflect and affect our beliefs and values. Marina Warner says fairytales are stories that try to find the truth.

The truth is that the world is trying to find a way for humans and predators to co-exist. But that's for another post...

*Feminist Fairy Tales, by Barbara G. Walker. Available as e-book by Harper Collins.

It's a bit of a stretch to think of this as a review of a gardening book. But I think I'll link it to Holley's monthly Garden Book Reviews meme anyway.

21 comments:

  1. An interesting post - especially as we have recently had news of a sharp increase in the number of wolves in Switzerland and the corresponding increase in the number of sheep killed
    I have a feeling that my views would differ if I were a Swiss shepherd however what interests me is the fact that we 'urban and suburban folk' think that we have nature all nicely under control - as long as it is a sanitised, saccherine place; but the moment the real 'mother nature' appears we run about in a panic. I think we may have lost our resilience and our respect for the wild.

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    1. Hi Kirk, it must be hard for the Swiss shepherds, and all the other shepherds and goatherd who have to contend with tigers and such animals. In a sense we are removed from nature - if we eat meat, most of us buy it in a packaged sanitized form. I am fascinated by sharks, and how several shark attack survivors have not wanted their attackers killed, recognizing that it is their realm and we are the invaders. But that is easier to resolve because it is clearly a different space to ours.

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  2. Hi Sue. Alot of these old fairy tales were spiked with confronting issues; it only makes sense we continue the tradition and deal, through them, with predicaments we might otherwise air-brush under the carpet.
    It's a source of wonder that they CAN be re-interpreted for a shifted world.
    Me? I've always loved the wild and incline to the belief that I'd be saving those wolf-cubs whatever age I was born into. Here, of course, it's been the dingo that's been the villain. But Aboriginal Australians often kept them as companions.

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    1. Hi Faisal, ... Australian humans need the dingo for tourism, so when dingos killed a baby in Alice Springs and a child on Fraser Island, I don't think there was a call to kill them all. Just to realize they are wild and keep your distance and respect them.

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  3. It's great that these stories can be re written with a modern twist. I can understand farmers not wanting them on their land but here in the UK we have killed all our large predators and therefore have a red deer problem. Whenever there is talk about bringing back the wolf, there is an understandable outcry from the farming community, I don't think it will ever happen.

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  4. Interesting ... in competition for the same food supply, the more powerful species rules.

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  5. It sounds like an interesting read. I like mostly anything with a feminist bent. I don't mind predators within the natural world but the ones within the human world are the most disturbing.

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    1. Beautifully put, Tammy - Barbara G. Walker would agree with you and so do I.

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  6. Thanks for joining in! I hadn't thought about "bad" animals being the ones that compete with us for food, but it makes sense. Food at that time was not as abundant. I also imagine people that lived in the woods at that time really did have to watch out for wolves. I once attended an educational talk about wolves and it gave me a new respect for them. Interesting concept of taking fairy tales and modernizing them to our worldview. You are exactly right - with so many people on earth, we need to find a way for humans and predators to coexist.

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    1. I'm so pleased you found the post thought provoking, Holley.

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  7. protecting the habitat of the apex predator has a ripple effect all the way down, protecting prey and plants in turn.

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    1. Like your special protege - the cape leopard.

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  8. Sounds like a great read! I just watched a hawk catch prey in the woods today. I don't know what the prey was--maybe a small rodent? There was a slight struggle, but the hawk flew away fast--so I'm not sure he got anything. I found myself thinking, this is a balanced habitat. The rabbits have been out of control, so I'm glad to see a hawk taking up residence.

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    1. When I see worms I feel torn between hiding and protecting them from birds, and offering them to birds. But hopefully everything is in balance, and everything is either food or prey - except the apex predator in every habitat.

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  9. I was at the bookstore yesterday looking for the coloring book of The Secret Garden for my little neighbor girls, but they were out of it. This would probably be a book they would enjoy. Another excuse to go back to the store! Thank you for an interesting review!

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    1. dear dorothy, Check it out before you buy it. This book of fairy tales is like traditional fairy tales, that were dark and violent, and not meant for children. On the other hand, probably it's suitable for everyone. There 's a lot of irony and humour for us adults, but children will take what they understand from it. And of course we want girls to have positive assertive brave role models. If it's not in the bookshop you can get it online.

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  10. I love fairy tales and your description of this book has me intrigued. I will have to read the book to have a well rounded view :)

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    1. Enjoy - if you love fairy tales, I'm sure you will!

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  11. I recently saw a doco about the reintroduction of wolves in the US. It's amazing how they changed the order of things. The introduction of wolves actually had the effect of increasing the number of beavers which in turn increased the number of dams which changed the flow of a river!

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    1. How fascinating Alex. The combination of critters is so incredibly powerful and complex.

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  12. here is so many ways that our pets are wonderful. Anyone fortunate enough to own a pet has love for it. You can train your pet without hurting the relationship in any way. Pets are usually more loyal than anyone we have ever or ever will meet check it out

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