Saturday, January 17, 2004

Running forever through wolves and forests.

Today I had my photo taken, for an American Library Association Series of author photo posters. (The poster won't be out for months. You'll need to get something else in the meantime, like their Sherman Alexie poster. Or their Orlando Bloom READ poster. Or their P. Craig Russell Sandman poster.) The photographer explained that she was going to do a straightforward photo (which she took), and that later she wants take some more imaginative ones -- me looming from the darkness, me with paint or ink dripping from my hand, that kind of thing. And then she mentioned that she wanted to also take a photo of me as the mythological or literary character of my choice, and wondered who I'd like to be.

"Red Riding Hood's Wolf," I said, because I went perfectly blank, and that was the first thing that popped into my completely blank head. So I'm going to be Red Riding Hood's Wolf in a photo, although this may not be obvious to anyone except the photographer and me.

Afterwards, she asked why...

I honestly didn't know, so I started writing, to try and figure it out.

I think part of the idea of Red Riding Hood's Wolf (why her wolf? Possibly because I was given a Ladybird book containing the story of Little Red Riding Hood, when I was an infant, and that was the first time I'd encountered the image of a wolf standing on his hind legs. He wore a jacket, at least in memory he did, in the paintings, and was talking comfortably to Red Riding Hood, who was chubby and pretty, and much older than I was, and I could absolutely understand what he saw in her, and for me Sondheim's song "Hello Little Girl" was already beginning to come into existence, as text not subtext: obviously, this meeting was to be the start of a beautiful friendship, one that would last -- girl and wolf -- forever). The wolf in the story represents an awful lot of stuff -- the danger and truth of stories, for a start, and the way they change; he symbolises -- not predation, for some reason -- but transformation: the meeting in the wild wood that changes everything forever. Angela Carter's statement that "some men are hairy on the inside" comes to mind: as an image, in my head, it's the wolf's shadow that has ears and a tail, while the man in wolf form stands in his forest (and cities are forests too) and waits for the girl in the red cloak , picking flowers, to come along, or, hungrily, watches her leave...

There's a woodcutter, and an axe, but at the start of the story, the wolf is waiting again, and he's just fine.

When I was a boy, when I grew up I wanted to be a wolf. I never wanted to be a wolfman. I didn't really want to be a werewolf, except for a few years in my early teens. I wanted to be a wolf, in a forest or in the world.

Later, as an adult, I remember encountering the story of Red Riding Hood in its original form, a French version that predated the cleaned-up ways of telling the tale I'd already encountered, and the bleak sexuality of the story came through: when she encounters the wolf in her grandmother's bed, he eats and drinks her grandmother with her, then tells her to take off all her clothes and throw them on the fire -- she wouldn't be needing them any more, -- and, finally, she joins him in the bed naked. And then, with no more ado, he eats her. And there the story stops, sometimes with a direct moral -- not to talk to strangers -- and sometimes without it. The story disturbed me, and I put it into Sandman, in the Serial Killers' Convention story, where it represents a number of things at once, and is also itself.

The wolf defines Red Riding Hood. He makes the story happen. Without him, she'd just be another girl on her way to her grandmother's house. And she'd leave her goodies behind, and come home, and no-one would ever have heard of her. But he's not just her wolf: he's all the wolves on the edge of the world, all the wolves in all the stories, all the wolves in all the dreams of wolves; flashing green eyes in the darkness, dangerously honest about what he wants: food, company, an appetite.

And if I could be any literary figure, I think, today, I'd be strangely happy to be him.

If you asked me tomorrow I'm sure I'd pick someone, or something, quite different.