Now my third birthday is over and I am feeling the effects of quaffing too much of Margery Sharp’s champagne, inevitably this book blogger’s thoughts turns towards her reads, not to mention her posts on her reads. And idly looking through WordPress stats to see which posts have been most viewed, yielded results which intrigued me a little.
Far and away my most viewed post was the hardly mainstream non-fiction book by Mark Rowlands, the title of which gives away the contents The Philosopher and The Wolf Rowlands is a philosopher, with a passion for wolves, and his book explores what it might be to be human, and what it might be to be wolf. I posted this review shortly after I started blogging, when, to generate some bloggy content I was cannibalising some of my most loved reads which I had raved about, sometimes years earlier, on Amazon. My review of Rowlands book has been viewed (and continues regularly to attract viewers) over 1160 times in my 3 years of blogging – though a miniscule number of likes!
In a shifting competition for second place, with 650 and rising views each are two other non-fiction books. Currently ahead by a whisker (at the time of writing this post) is Robert Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra, which he wrote back in 1967. Admittedly, it is more directly about the Romanovs than the progress of the revolution, but of course, the journeys are entwined. And Massie wrote the book largely because his own son was born with haemophilia, which of course had devastating effects on the last Tsar’s family.
It may be that the third book, by Sharman Apt Russell, published in 2001, Anatomy of a Rose which, unsurprisingly is about Roses, will have knocked the Romanovs into third place by the time this goes live, as these two continue to jockey with each other.
Apt Russell is a Pantheist and a writer who is much concerned with the environment. Her writings about the natural world are plenty full of science, but laced with a poet’s, mystic’s sensibilities, so they are the very reverse of drily factual, objective laying out of unemotional fact.
Curiously (or not) the Wolf and the Rose books have attracted their many visits from image searches, not from the titles of the books. I have no idea whether those who landed on my blog following their viewing of a page where a picture of a wolf, or a botanical drawing of the parts of a rose appeared, were pleased or irritated by what they found.
The three continue to steadily get viewed, and it is a rare day when none of them feature in my visiting stats
We are a patterning, narrating species, drawn to making connections and looping together this and that. The web, the net, both wonderfully named, offer new kinds of connections, and can begin, in the mind of the viewer, to tell new stories. Quite possibly, the wolves, the Romanovs, the roses connect not at all, but as the weaver of particular junctions on the patchwork quilt of my own blog, I have rather embarked on an idea of connections. This journey has meaning to me, even if the conclusions have no resonance for anyone else.
The wolf, that creature of the wilds, particularly of the shadowy fastnesses of forests, has long inhabited our dark dreams, our nightmares. Canis lupus exists as the shadow side of man’s best friend, the domesticated sub species Canis lupus familiaris, which we have made safe and beloved. But, maybe, a little bit of wild exists in the memory and genepool of even the most civilised and tamed of little doggies, who satisfy our days by honouring its tribe, pack, heritage by offering its human, leader of the pack status.
But, those untamed ones, what of them? They, like us, are a top predator. They, like us, are a tribe, pack, community animal. They, like us, are highly intelligent. But, unlike us, (or, perhaps, like us?) they are untamed. Once the wolf threatened our attempts to make our world safe and domesticated. When we became agriculturalists, the wolves were predators on our gathered flocks. Wolf was a story to scare our children with, the dangers of roaming through those dark forests – and what a field day those twining, tendrilly, loamy, mushroomy forests offer symbolically to post-Freudians. And what symbols the voracious, hungry wolf, confidently rampaging through those forests might hint at, lurking in hairy fashion under our buttoned up clothing. Whose are those slavering bloodied jaws?
Who could forget the transformation scene from American Werewolf in London
It’s no wonder that one of the staples of gothic horror fiction is the werewolf. Man (and woman) rips through the civilised and restraining veneer to become a creature of howling unrestrained desires at the full of the moon. Not our fault, of course, instinct overcame and possessed us. Jekyll and Hyde, each one of us.
But the wolf fascinates, because they are creatures of more than just the savagery we like to tar them with. Wolves are fiercely loyal to their pack. They are the tenderest of parents, the most intelligent of hunters, they symbolise a power, an honesty, a freedom. They live on the edge, and we envy and fear them for that. There are those who hate and fear them, and are opposed to re-wilding. And there are those who perhaps yearn for them. We half fear, and half long to find our untamed, unconfined wolfishness.
The unearthly sound of wolves howling is one of the most popular recorded soundscapes. We respond to them in a way beyond intellect. And some of us want, however foolishly (we might be made mincemeat) to run with them, to run, run, run with them
And what do you know – wolves are good for us, wolves are very very green indeed. I’m indebted to another blogger, Jilanne Hoffman, for reminding me of this wonderfully charged and wondrous video, narrated with such enthusiasm by George Monbiot.
The rose might appear to be the antithesis of the wolf. Although wild roses exist – we have tamed, named, brought them into the garden, into order, pruned and civilised them. They smell sweet, and, we might think, are a million scent miles away from the musky animalic odour of wolf.
Interestingly, the wild rose is also known as the dog rose, Rosa Canina – so we can see a botanical wolfish connection. I wonder where that connection to dogginess came from. Does it refer to the fact that delicate though the petals of a rose may be, the plant can fiercely defend itself, sharply stabbing with its little canine tooth shaped thorns?
But, to go back a little to the rose, now beautifully cultivated in gardens, possibly shapely, possibly highly scented. However, that succulent, seductive, rose perfume is actually rich in some extremely musky, urino-faecal odour notes, containing pheromonal notes (that’s what acts as the chemistry of desire to pollinators) the indoles. Indoles occur in faeces, (nice!) and have a faecal note – but at very low concentrations – are perceived as floral. Some of the most heavenly and expensive essential oils and floral absolutes – for example, rose, orange blossom, jasmine, contain indoles. The whiff of sex adheres to roses. Roses are, of course, above all other flowers, the flower that symbolises love, sexual love, the I love you gift of lover to lover. But roses are not only symbolic of sexual love and Eros.
In Christianity, the Rose is synonymous with the Virgin Mary, and symbolises spirit incarnating, surrender to the divine. The rose with its thorns also symbolised Christ’s wounds. In Sufiism, the connection between rose and love became translated to symbolise the desire for union with the divine.
Roses, particularly red roses, symbolise the heart, heart’s blood – and by a sideways jump, adopted into the red rose of socialism, the red flag of the people, deepest red, shrouding oft the martyred dead.
Stirringly sung here, by Pól Macadiam with solidarity poster accompaniments
And the Rose can be militant and warlike too, in English history, where the Plantagenet succession battles between the Yorkists (White Rose) and the Lancastrians (Red Rose) were known as the Wars of the Roses. This delicate flower here standing for strife and conflict, later the heraldic Tudor Rose, a composite of the white and red, symbolised the end of the Plantagenet conflict. Henry Tudor (Henry VII) was a descendent of the Lancastrian side, and marriage to Elizabeth of York, and the children of that marriage, marked the formation of a new dynasty.
Henry VII’s son, he of the six wives, created a kind of revolution in the religion of the land, mainly because of his following that doggy-rutty-overwhelmed by deepest desires. That man well in touch with his inner werewolf, I feel. Not to mention how fervent ideological belief led to the potential for further over-throwings and rebellions, if not quite revolutions, in the generation of the children of that much marrying king.
Which gives me the sew-up to the Romanovs, and yet more blood, yet more brutality.
I think all I can say on that, whether dwelling on the history of the bloodiness of Roses Wars, the Tudor succession, or how blood itself (haemophilia) contributed to that Russian Revolution is a quote from the Scottish play, used to justify further bloodshed. Something I feel drives escalations of all violence
I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er,
I am so sorry–this post has turned out to be dour and bloody. I should at least offer some refreshment!
Glass of bull’s blood, anyone?
To lighten things a little, before you all leave the morning after the night before birthday party early, do at least have a nice bunch of roses. I will make certain the wolves stay in their pens till you all get home, and that the ghosts of queens with severed heads and others somewhat bloodily despatched stay within doors
Blame those visitors doing their searches, not me, ‘twas they that started me thinking along these roads
And I can’t resist one of my favourite chanteuses, the magnificent June Tabor, here with the driving rhythms of Oysterband. Staying with an earlier, bloody connection between Russia, (by way of France) and Roses, the flower symbolises the United Kingdom, in the folk-song Bonny Bunch of Roses. Here, from their album, Ragged Kingdom, the driving rhythms can accompany your journey home, clutching your bonny bunch of roses-oh!
(Apologies to Welsh listeners, who might or might not feel a little aggrieved at how the song-writer’s need for metre and rhythm has done strange things to ‘our United Kingdom’ to quote the current political-speak)