The current work is part of the author’s ecosemiotic analysis of Norwegian/Scandinavian wolf management in the period 1855-2010. In Norway, as in several other countries, wolf management is controversial. For some on the countryside it has come to symbolize the ignorant hostility (and imperialistic tendencies) of the urban elites. There is a wide gap between perceptions on the conservation side and in the antagonistic camp, and the proper role of folklore – which is considered by wolf ecologists as unscientific – has never been agreed upon. Field observations confirm that the political and cultural strife has little basis in actual wolf ecology – sheep, for instance, which play a marginal role in Scandinavian wolf diet, are currently major players in popular imagery (and, ironically, management policies) only.
As symbols have grown and developed, cultural representations of wolves appear, at least in part, to have decoupled from ecological reality. In what ways have our conceptions of wolves changed from the extermination campaigns of the 19th century to the conservation efforts of our generation? To what extent have wolves, in modern times as well as earlier, symbolized human traits, religious ideas etc., and to what extent have they represented actual phenomena of nature? By offering a series of examples of animal representations involving wolves – in fiction and popular culture, in myths and in legends – I will inquire into these questions, aiming at approving our understanding of how human cultures has co-evolved not only with wolves, but further with a rich human imagery of these creatures, the infamous ancestors of man’s best friend.
Keywords: Animal representations, cultural imagery, zoosemiotics