When a novel is set in pre-revolutionary Russia, there is at once a contradiction of austerity and explosions of color. A quick search on google brings up:
It is in this Russia where Katherine Rundell sets her new book The Wolf Wilder. The protagonist of the story is Feodora who lives deep in the snowy woods with her mother. The woods are cavernous and treacherous, but inside their cabin there is good food, dancing, and the joy they find with their wild animals. Here live the Wolf Wilders who take in wolves born and bred as luxury items of Russia’s rich who discard them when they reveal themselves to be inappropriate as pets. Feodora’s mother has raised Feo with these wolves as her siblings. She is more wolf than girl and this becomes her challenge after soldiers take her mother into custody. In order to find her mother and bring her back to safety, Feo must learn to be human. Feo uses her wolf’s instincts to get her through the woods, but it is her relationship with the young soldier Ilya that transforms her and moves her closer to her goal. The two become inseparable despite their initial lack of trust. The beginnings of their own revolution against what adults have done to the world flames when they meet Alexei, a young revolutionary who has tried and failed to get people motivated for the cause.
As a teacher and a parent, it is difficult not to see the metaphor of the need for wolf wilders in our own environment. Often we must take children who have been tamed by academics and reintroduce them to the world of play where they will learn the social skills of their own age groups instead of those of adults. When we reintroduce play and reading for one’s own pleasure, we transform children into open-minded learners who stoke their flames of curiosity. These untamed children will be the inventors of our time.
Rundell’s story evokes an age of fairy tales where wolves take center stage and are feared by all but those who identify with their true selves. The book reminded me a great deal of Ursu’s Breadcrumbs because I regularly stopped to think about what things meant within the story and outside of the story. It is an adventure and it is an allegory. Like all good stories, it becomes what you bring to it. For me it was a story about a girl and the power she has to give other people the power they have as long as she recognizes and embraces being human.