Archive for January, 2012

That Whole Alpha Thing…

We are family


Okay, pet peeve of mine in werewolf literature (and dog training, but that’s another topic)–  there really is no such thing as “Alpha male/female” in wolf hierarchies, at least not as we think of it in popular culture.  Wolf packs are basically just nuclear families.  Yes, the breeding pair is dominant, in the same sense that Mom and Dad are dominant (literally so, because that’s what they are).  Generally speaking, in a typical wolf pack, you’ve got the breeding pair and the various offspring ranging up to three years old.  Typically, the kids get anxy at around 12-24 months old, then “disperse” away from the pack in order to find a mate.

What does a wolf pack do when they meet a random adult?  Typically, warn it off, and if that doesn’t work, kill it.  Occasionally, they will adopt a non-threatening wolf of up to three years old.  The only time we see fighting for dominance is in the occasional super pack of up to forty odd wolves.  These are comprised of multiple families, and the breeding pairs will fight among themselves for dominance.  I suppose a human analogy might be a church social.

So where did this whole alpha dominance meme come from?  Zoo studies.  Think about it–  we’re talking about unrelated animals thrown in together in an unfamiliar environment from which they can’t escape.  In these populations, we do see fighting for the top, betas who can’t be arsed about the whole thing, and omega scapegoats (who would disperse in the wild, given a chance).  That, coupled with our own monkey prejudices about group dynamics (Chimps  have a very linear dominance hierarchy) is where all this comes from.

But really, it makes as much sense as trying to base our perceptions of family dynamics on prison yard behaviors.  “If Dad won’t let me borrow the car, I’m going to shiv him…”

A good study on actual wolf social hierarchy here:

The Early Vargr

I’ve been asked “so, what was up with that Icelandic Edda bit, anyway?”  Good question, especially in a world where everyone and their second cousin writing about werewolves tosses out some variant of the root word “vargr”, which just means “wolf” in Old Norse.  For the world of Legacy, however, there’s more to it than just pulling out a cool sounding synonym for wolf.  Wolves had a huge place in Norse myth.  For one, Fenrir son of Loki is the monster that will eventually eat Odin all-father at the end of the world (and yes, the same one bound by the one-armed hero Tyr).  In turn, the offspring of Fenrir, Skoll and Hatti, chase the Sun and Moon across the skies.  So we’ve got wolves representing destruction at the same time they’re responsible for driving the heavens.

Well, that’s myth.

But in everyday lives of the Vikings, we find “vargr” as a synonym for outlaw–  which means someone outside the boundaries/protection of law.  Kinslayers, murderers (defined as not killing someone legally– lots of way to do that, though) often found themselves labeled this way.  But they could be found useful in battle or exploration:  take Eric the Red, a murderer who founded Greenland.  Was he labeled “vargr?”  I haven’t found anything that mentions that, so perhaps he wasn’t.  Or perhaps he wasn’t a true vargr.  Perhaps we’ve just been defining the word too narrowly.  What if, instead of just one or two rogue vikings, the Vargr were  a whole group of people who lived outside the law of the Viking world?  And perhaps they were called wolves for a reason.

And those wolves–  excuse me, outlaws– might be useful when it came time for war.  We read contemporary descriptions of the berserks driving themselves into a bestial rage.  Of course, the modern historians say, poetic license has them becoming “as beasts”.  Clearly, that means they fought like animals, not that they literally became them.  And the references to them assuming the skin of bears or wolves (bear-sark literally means bear skin), well, of course they were wearing skins of animals to frighten their superstitious opponents who would naturally confuse a wild warrior in a wolf suit with a real wolfman (verr-wulf meaning just that).

We’re far too sensible these days to take such things literally.  Unlike the men who were actually there.


It can be hard to write a werewolf/vampire YA these days.  Folks look at it and say “Oh, lord, a Stepanie Myer wannabe.” I suppose when Ms. Myer started shopping Twilight, folks looked at it and said “Oh, lord, another Anne Rice wannabe.”  But I digress.

My point, and I do have one, is that genuinely terrific novels in that genre, with deeply moving scenes and terrifically complex characters often get overlooked.  Hopefully, this won’t happen to Darkride, a terrific little read that had me locked into my seat until it was done.  Well, fine, I took bathroom breaks.  Not to share.

Again, this is not yet another teen were vs. vamp romance. It’s terrific fun (favorite line: “I just want you to know I had a nice time at the dance.  You know, before the werewolf attacked) but still made this adult actually cry during one particularly poignant scene (Old Yeller has nothing on…well, no spoilers here) It’s not grim, but Ms. Rede spins a story set in a real world, one that has tough choices and no perfect answers. No cheap emotional shots here, just well crafted characters that you will find yourself caring deeply about.

I’ll also say that it was nice to see a paranormal YA romance that espouses strong values about love and family. There’s no falling back on the stupid parent cliche, there’s genuine deep love between the teens and the adults who care about them. As Ander says, we all need a pack.

Bottom line, a must buy for the teens in your life.  But you’ll want first dibs on reading it.

Darkride by Laura Rede, available on Amazon

Happy New Year!

Hey everyone, just wanted to give a shout out to all my werewolf loving readers (and anyone else who’s dropped in, of course!).  2012 will be bringing a planned novel length sequel to Legacy, where we’ll get to find out more about the ancient world of the Vargr.  Are Marissa and Antoine going to stay together?  And does anyone think that a tough old vet like Mike is really going to shrug when the girl he loves disappears in the middle of the night?  Stay tuned!

But in the meantime, let’s start the year off with a wolf puppy.  Everything is better with puppies.


Howling in the New Year