The Philosopher And The Wolf
November 02, 2011
I saw that a friend had ‘liked’ this book on Facebook and reading about it on amazon, I was curious enough to give it a go. It is the autobiography of the philosopher Mark Rowlands, specifically the experiences and lessons learned from raising a wolf, Brenin, from cub to maturity and beyond.
The book addresses different aspects of philosophy including the nature of evil and the interaction between humans and other animals. As you might expect, the book pays particular attention to our interactions with wolves and dogs. There is also a lot of explanation of the difference between wolves and dogs. Rowlands appears often to disparage dogs, though remembering my experiences of our Labradors while growing up did make me nod in agreement quite often.
Some of what he has to say about his actions seem a little hagiographic, making himself look less controlled and more anarchic in retrospect than perhaps was the case. I appreciate that this is probably everything to do with making the book a more entertaining read and it it no way detracts from the strength of his arguments. Faced with writing any book about my past I would do the same (I would have to!). Perhaps there is not much hagiography after all and it is just my prickly reaction to someone living a more exciting life than mine! The book contains valuable insights into the nature of love, the role that death plays in our lives and what it means to care for and respect other living creatures. I definitely learned things from this book. Moreover, there is an entertaining story at the heart of the book: that of one man and his wolf. I particularly like the idea of the wolf attending his lectures and howling from time to time by way of critique.
One of the important parts of the book is when the author realises very quickly that to do right by Brenin (bought on whim as a cub), he has to make sure that he is with him as much of the time as possible, that he is able to exhaust the wolf daily and that he continually engages with the wolf - lest he get bored and destroy the furniture/air conditioner/curtains again. I think this is also true of love and friendships, when you read the story as a manifesto for interacting with other creatures you can take a lot from it. Because of Rowlands’ remarkable respect for his wolf, most of his advice and ideas work well if you replace wolf with child or best friend.
Particularly harrowing experiences are recounted toward the end of the book as Brenin nearly succumbs to a tumour. It made me realise that love is not always romantic, sometimes we can express love by performing actions for a person or animal against their will (but in their best interest), or at great personal cost to oneself, in order to help them survive. This is something learned from experience and not from a book but Rowlands writes very eloquently about it, which is very useful for those of us fortunate to have so far been protected from such experiences.
This book puts me in mind of two others, one that I have read and one that I haven’t. The first (the one I have read) is “Straw Dogs” by John Gray, which concerns how unimportant humans actually are in the grand scheme of things - when Rowlands writes disparagingly of humans in TPATW, it made me think of this. The second is “How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog” by Chad Orzel - though one suspects after this that a wolf might make a better pupil!
Picture by Martino Pizzol.