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Psychic wolves: why I don't like.

I just cannot bring myself to enjoy this theme, and wish to rant about it. Apologies to those who do enjoy it.  Psychic wolves that soulbond with human beings are not wolves

A wolf is, by definition - arguably more so than with any other species - a wild animal that does not choose to form bonds with humans. (It may do so if forced, but that's a bit of a Stockholm Syndrome situation...)


This article explains how wolves came to be wolves, and dogs came to be dogs. Much as I love Eagle of the Ninth's Cub, it wasn't by an Esca-style domestication process where people stole wolfcubs and brought them up as their own, then deliberately made a plan to breed them into chihuahuas.  Cub really only makes sense if he's not really a wolf.

It was an evolutionary process that could almost be described as a choice.   The animals that are now wolves, Canis lupus, are the animals that have chosen, over at least fifteen thousand years and probably a lot longer, to have nothing to do with humanity.   They really, really don't want to soulbond with us. They think we are scary. 

We do, of course have animals that are very closely related to Canis lupus which form close emotional bonds with human beings, and can seem almost psychic in their ability to read the scent and body language of our species.  They are Canis lupus familiaris : dogs. 

Of course there are other differences between dogs and wolves apart from that - dogs are much more variable, and even the most wolflike dogs tend to have smaller teeth and skulls, less powerful jaws,  less stamina.  Neither species tends to spend much time on jockeying for status and concepts like 'alpha'.  We now think that those ideas are more a primate thing : ie, us.

But most dogs are still strong and lethal enough that they could rip your throat out. The amazing thing about dogs is that, as a species, they almost never eat us.   If you had an animal with all the physical attributes of a wolf, that could safely mix with people, children, animals - that's not a wolf.  That's a dog.

But of course, a man who forms a soulbond with a member of canis lupus familiaris is not news. I suppose the familiar lacks excitement. Plus of course when people really form emotional bonds with not-quite-wolves, it has little effect on their sex lives...  I can more or less cope with the Stark children's direwolves - they are not really wolves, more like living heraldic symbols - and the Starks don't communicate with them in humanlike ways, which helps, as does the fact that they are clearly very dangerous and undoglike... 

I suppose people like soulbonded sexy wolves for the same reasons they want sexy vampires: the wolves are the dangerous other, the darkness lurking in the woods and that's attractive.  But looked at from the wolf's point of view, it seems to me that we are the terror that lives in the light, the red nightmare with fire and spears and guns.  Why would they want to soulbond with us?  If they wanted to, they would be dogs.

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( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
helflaed
15th Mar, 2012 10:54 (UTC)
Psychic anything annoys me, unless it is a sci fi with a good backstory which explains why it happens- such as the genetic meddling by other species in Babylon 5
bunn
15th Mar, 2012 11:56 (UTC)
I quite like Joan D Vinge's psychic novels, where psionics is more or less an alien technology that humans can learn but aren't naturally gifted at.

But the ones where being psychic - particularly in communication with animals - is basically like having a private phone conversation, with both sides speaking coherently in grammatical sentences just don't seem *likely*. Who thinks like that in the darkness inside their brain?

And introducing animals makes it worse - I just don't believe they think like that,even if people do, which I don't think they do. Animals don't not talk because their mouths are the wrong shape, they don't talk because that's not how they think about communication...

Which is not to say I didn't passionately love the psychic soulbonded Pern-dragons when I was 14. But, I was 14.
(no subject) - pellegrina - 15th Mar, 2012 14:28 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bunn - 15th Mar, 2012 14:48 (UTC) - Expand
parrot_knight
15th Mar, 2012 12:10 (UTC)
There once was a dog who had had a rough few early years on the streets, and found himself in a very comfortable house. He liked playing with humans, but he found it difficult to judge his strength at first.

One day, when he and a nine-year-old girl were playing with one of his toys, he briefly became angry and lunged at the girl's throat. He didn't touch her, but she collapsed and decided to play dead.

The dog was very worried for a few seconds, and began to shake and whimper. The girl then got up with a laugh.

The dog growled at her, for he had been deceived. He did not, however, tear her throat out in punishment. He immediately trotted off to find the girl's mother, complaining loudly all the way, and once he had found her made sounds and gestures to indicate how indignant he was.

This, I think, illustrates the difference between dogs and wolves.
bunn
15th Mar, 2012 12:55 (UTC)
That's a nicely written story! (And yes, definitely demonstrates the difference)
pellegrina
15th Mar, 2012 12:33 (UTC)
This is the best treatment of that particular theme I've encountered and takes the telepathic soul-bond (it's a fantasy world after all) to a way more logical conclusion. (Oh, oh, a sequel is coming!)

That said, I have a visceral loathing for telepathic anything in fiction. I could just about tolerate it in Babylon 5, but season 5 basically used up my lifetime supply, and I now vet any SFF purchases for hidden teep content. My special passionate loathing is reserved for Telepathic Cat Alien Boyfriends in SF.
bunn
15th Mar, 2012 12:54 (UTC)
Just reading the synopsis of 'a companion to wolves' makes me go 'but but but but' like a small outboard motor: I don't think I can bring myself to actually read it, even in the interests of balance, even if the writing is good.

I don't mind fictional telepathy, but if people are going to make up a fantasy species, I wish they'd give it a different name.
(no subject) - pellegrina - 15th Mar, 2012 13:04 (UTC) - Expand
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inzilbeth_liz
15th Mar, 2012 12:43 (UTC)
I'm a bit out of touch these days but I believe theories on dog evolution have come a long way since Konrad Lorenz proposed in 'Man Meets Dog' that the Spitz breeds were related to wolves and all the other breeds to jackals.

I saw a promo on ebay the other day asking for funds to stop the trade in dogs for meat that takes place in some parts of the world. Wolves probably had the right idea in shunning humans.
bunn
15th Mar, 2012 13:00 (UTC)
Yes, I understand the genetics has now proved beyond reasonable doubt that all dogs are descended from the same early canine ancestor as wolves...

I think you could argue it both ways : there are a lot more dogs than wolves, so in numeric terms, being a dog has proved a very successful strategy.
puddleshark
15th Mar, 2012 14:02 (UTC)
I think the best telepathic animal novel I've come across is Rider at the gate by CJ Cherryh, which features human settlers on a world where the native fauna has evolved telepathy. There's a whole devastatingly hostile telepathic xeno-ecology, and humans have only survived by forming a bond with one of the larger predators.

I like the way that communication is in images, not words, and the way that the night-horses have chosen to live with humans, partly becasuse they're 'addicted to the complexity of human thought', and partly because they like bacon...
pellegrina
15th Mar, 2012 14:47 (UTC)
I actually knew a pony who was partial to ham sandwiches.
(no subject) - puddleshark - 15th Mar, 2012 15:56 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wellinghall - 15th Mar, 2012 18:26 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - puddleshark - 15th Mar, 2012 18:35 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bunn - 15th Mar, 2012 19:30 (UTC) - Expand
isiscolo
15th Mar, 2012 14:54 (UTC)
Here via friendsfriends, and I wanted to say that I agree completely with your very-well-stated last paragraph.
ningloreth
15th Mar, 2012 16:43 (UTC)
Is psychic wolves a common theme? I've only seen it in the Eagle fandom and haven't read the story, since I don't ship Marcus/Esca.

Your thoughts on Cub (via the link) are very interesting (and worrying).

As for telepathy...

Who thinks like that in the darkness inside their brain?

Are you saying you don't think in words? My ex said that he didn't think in words but in feelings, but I have a constant stream of words going through my head, and am always in a telephone conversation with someone -- maybe myself, maybe someone imaginary, maybe someone I know (who isn't there). When I was thinking about writing this comment, I was in conversation with 'you'... So the telephone conversation thing wouldn't be too much of a stretch for me accept.

But I had a very interesting experience watching TV once. They were talking about playing music containing subliminal messages in shops, and I just assumed that the message would be 'Buy more!' But the moment I heard the music, I knew that it said 'Don't steal!'. When they turned the sound up, it actually said 'Shoplifting is theft', so I'd not only heard the message, I'd also processed it. I imagine telepathy would be something like that...

My Legolas & Eowyn have a mental bond. I'm not sure how it came about, now, except that it would have arisen from the plot, but it proves handy because my!Legolas tends to panic when Eowyn's in danger and having him able to 'sense' her fear makes that more reasonable! Also, when the plot demands it, I can have him 'sense' that Eowyn's in danger but OK, and so he can get on with something else. As far as I can remember, I've always described it as a feeling rather than a conversation, though Eowyn does attempt to send messages to Legolas by thinking specific sentences -- as you might if the whole thing was new and unfamiliar to you.
bunn
15th Mar, 2012 19:48 (UTC)
I dunno, I just seem to have seen several psychic wolf things reviewed recently so am beginning to think it is a 'thing'. I can probably blame Amazon 'if you liked that you might also like...'

Though if we can venture away from wolves for a moment into the general realm of creepy ways to bond with other species I will specially mention Avatar and the whole 'tame flying thing by forcibly penetrating it' concept which... really!

Give me Sutcliff any time: 'You could tame a wild thing, but never count it as truly won until, being free to return to its own kind, it chose to come back to you'. Or Tolkien for that matter: 'If he will consent to bear you, bear you he does; and if not, well, no bit, bridle, whip, or thong will tame him'.

... there is a related thing of wolves as 'spirit animals' that I find slightly uncomfortable for related reasons, but have not been able to pin down till recently.

Edited at 2012-03-15 19:54 (UTC)
(no subject) - pellegrina - 15th Mar, 2012 22:32 (UTC) - Expand
don't think in words - bunn - 15th Mar, 2012 20:30 (UTC) - Expand
skeptic7
15th Mar, 2012 19:33 (UTC)
Psychic wolves
The last psychic wolves novel with the mental telepathy and everything "A companion to wolves" by Bear and Monette, and then its sequel.
These are not "normal" wolves, these are great bear-like troll-wolves. They are bigger than normal wolves and have less endurance and a different mindset. I thought the first book which I liked very much was too much like a fan fiction story. There was a larger war-band then the civilian populace could support, or even for that matter than the ecological system could support. Our main character was drafted as being the only acceptable young man in the village. But the area could support a group of 30 wolves and men and support staff , which does not make sense in an area in the far North with little surplus food.
I don't think you are being fair to the story, these are not wolves, these are magical creatures with some canine characteristics, like teeth and tail and paws.

bunn
15th Mar, 2012 20:07 (UTC)
Re: Psychic wolves
Having thought about it a bit more, I think my irritation with this particular theme is feeding over from my dog rescue volunteering, where we have something of a problem with a mindset that goes like this :
1) wolves work by the strongest wolf getting to the top by violence
2) dogs are just like wolves and communicate in the same way - with each other and human beings, who are all in the same hierarchy
3) therefore I should strive to be the strongest wolf by being mean to my dog.

None of these points is true and the results can be irritatingly messy when you have to pick up the bits.

Logically there is no reason why psychic fantasy trollwolves should annoy me any more than, say, psychic fantasy mammoths, yet because I have no personal engagement with any member of the elephant family, I am able to greet such mammoths in the frivolous spirit no doubt intended...
Re: Psychic wolves - skeptic7 - 15th Mar, 2012 21:31 (UTC) - Expand
Re: Psychic wolves - bunn - 16th Mar, 2012 20:08 (UTC) - Expand
endlessrarities
28th Mar, 2012 18:51 (UTC)
Nice post! I enjoyed reading that!!
( 42 comments — Leave a comment )

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