Sunday, April 3, 2011

Quotes and Thoughts: A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear


Female Influence
"Perhaps sometimes it was wise to listen to a woman. Not that he would have to learn, unless he wasn't chosen. Wolfcarls did not marry. But for a woman's voice to speak reason when a man's counseled cowardice --- there was shame." Page 7
The female's influence is a thread that begins as a subtle one and one that runs deep within A Companion to Wolves. At first glance it is tough to recognize this thread since the book is packed with male central characters, testosterone and, from the beginning, that psychic bond between man and wolf seems to be the main focus. However even through that bond, our main character Njall or Isolfr learns that there's no shame in listening to a female and that her influence can sometimes be the most powerful. The thread is carried throughout the story as Isolfr and his friends battle trolls and meet the powerful svaltarfar who dwell under the mountain.

Honor
"You must decide what your honor is, Njall, and hold to it...." Page 11
Honor is another key thread throughout A Companion to Wolves. It is what drives Isolfr's actions from the beginning when he is 16 years old and gives himself as tithe to the wolfheall against his father's wishes. Honor is ingrained in Isolfr, but it is the above advice given to him by his mother -- a female that knows the true meaning of the word -- as he is leaving the keep that stays with him throughout the story. Holding his honor is a decision that will place Isolfr in deadly danger, but one that will make a great man out of him.

Pack sense
"He could smell the night around him -- the snow and the dark and the sap running up branches, the first green tang of spring. He could smell Sigmundr beside him, smell the wolves and the men, each individually, smell Brandr's sour fear and his determination, smell his own confidence -- for, unlike the other young men, he was a jarl's son and this was not his first time in battle -- and he thought if he closed his eyes and concentrated, he might be able to pick out the scent of the moonlight on snow. Moving, all moving, like a great, coordinated dance, and he bit his lip to keep from laughing in delight." Page 21
Without pack sense there would be no book. This is what makes the story truly amazing. The authors explore social structure, hierarchy, even political and amorous ambitions and how they affect a group. There's the beauty as shown by the above quoted passage but there's also the raw brutality expected of both wolf pack and man. Man's ambitions and outward civility, as well as the animal's need for domination and or submission are both captured by the writers. The authors also go out of this circle and explore how this group is viewed, and therefore judged, by outside society.

However within the wolf pack, the authors also address the female role. The leader of the wolves is a female. She chooses her mate and controls the pack, and in turn her chosen brother (the man) becomes the most influential male. This brings me back to the thread of female influence, as this female doesn't just represent the mother or mate in the story, instead without her or her brother there would be no cohesion to the pack. In A Companion to Wolves when a female wolf is born there is cause for celebration, as opposed to the world of men where females are not held in high esteem.

Do the central characters realize what females contribute to their lives and to the outside world? Does the role of the female wolf within the pack impact the men's outlook on their world? You'll have to read the book to find the answers.

Final Note: I chose to focus my post on this one point because I found it a fascinating thread in a book that features an all male character cast as the protagonists. The raw and rather brutal scenes that make this story such a fascinating read, combined with the main character's personal realizations, all kept pointing me in this direction as well. However, I just wanted to point out that this is a beautifully written, moving fantasy story focused on the characters -- human and non-human -- their relationships, battles, and most of all honor.

6 comments:

  1. Hi Hilcia!! I hope you're having a great weekend!

    I'm so glad you really enjoyed the story! I agree, I think women are one of the most strongest points in the book, although they aren't the main figure.
    You asked if the female wolf impacts the way men see the world, well, I think in a way... yes. They trust the female wolf and depend on her to act when it concerns the daily life. And the female wolf chooses the companion after all.

    You know, I think what still lingers in my head after all the time that has passed since I've read it, it's the sense of happiness the boys find when a wolf chooses them, I mean, they are eager to be chosen, to be part of it, I don't think it's only honor that motivates them, it's the whole culture, the feeling of belonging.
    I'd never think of a book where the animal chooses the partner, because we tend to see humans as the rational one, of course. The sexual part confused me a bit there - not because of the m/m part, you know I don't mind that - but because of the power play. It's more than just an alpa/bet/omega thing, but after a while you get used to it.
    I loved the descriptions...one couls actually feel the trees, the wind, the dirt while walking, very good. :)


    sonia

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  2. Sonia, my weekend was a good one. I read a lot! :D

    The female's influence was a bit of a surprise in this story, wasn't it? I was also surprised how that thread was carried on to the trolls and svaltarfar cultures as well. How Isolfr questions himself over that.

    I loved that the wolves are the ones that choose their "brother." That was different too, right? For me, the honor comes into play more with Isolfr's character and the choices he makes throughout the story.

    RE: The sexual part of the story. That was definitely all about power in my opinion. There was really no sensuality or even a "love" situation per se in this story. It was all about the power (and in some cases ambition) and that definitely had to do with the wolf pack. The men's feelings were a side effect of the bond... at least when it came to Isolfr. There were others who had "feelings" for each other, but there were very few of those moments described in this story. I think that's what made those situations so raw.

    Loved, loved the descriptive moments in this book! The writing is something that I definitely enjoyed all the way through. My one big quibble with this story is the amount of hard-to-pronounce, confusing names for such a large cast of characters. It was tough keeping track of who was who for way to long.

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  3. Hils - fantastic insight! Thank you! And I'm so glad you enjoyed the book. I'm hanging out for the sequel - The Tempering of Men - which is due out later this year.

    And I hear you on the hard-to-pronounce names. I'm OCD and I really had to talk to myself sternly to not get hung up on how to pronounce them.

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  4. Orannia, I can't wait for the sequel. There's still so much to explore in the world these two authors created and the characters lives.

    LOL on those names! I didn't even try pronouncing them, it was trying to identify the myriad of characters by the strange names that I had a tough time doing. But after a while, thankfully I was able to put everyone together. *g*

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  5. I'm so glad you found it such a rich book. Lots of food for thought!

    It's been a couple of years since I re-read it, but I never thought of the female influence in the way you did. Thanks for shedding new light on one of my all time favorite books!

    I can't wait for The Tempering of Men.

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  6. Renee, it's an interesting thread and one that seems to get a bit lost because there's just so much to this story. However, the fact the female "influence" is so strong within the pack, and later on in both the troll and svaltarfar communities didn't seem like much of a coincidence to me. That, combined with Isolfr's questioning of his own role (a womanish role), that he has troubles coming to terms with until almost the end, pointed me in this direction.

    I'm really curious as to where the authors will take this story in The Tempering of Men. I'm SO looking forward to reading it. PS: I can see why this is one of your all time favorite books. :D

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