Book Review: A Wolf at the Gate, Mark A. Van Steenwyk & Joel J. Hedstrom (2015)

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

A Retelling of the Legend of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

According to legend, the wolf of Gubbio was a lone wolf who terrorized the Umbrian city of Gubbio in 1220. The wolf began by attacking and eating livestock; over time the hostilities escalated, to the point that the wolf was feasting on humans as well, both hunters and innocent civilians alike. The wolf seemed invincible, or close to it, and he so frightened the people of Gubbio that they refused to leave the relative safety of their walls. When St. Francis arrived, the city was effectively under siege.

An Italian Catholic preacher, Saint Francis of Assisi is widely known today as the patron saint of animals and the environment. In this vein, St. Francis is said to have brokered a peace accord between the wolf and the people of Gubbio: if they agreed to feed the wolf, he would stop attacking the city. The oath was widely accepted – even considered a miracle by many – and, upon the wolf’s death, he was granted an honorable burial within the city limits. This site later became home to the Church of Saint Francis of the Peace. During renovations in 1872, the skeleton of a wolf was reportedly uncovered under a slab near the church wall.

A Wolf at the Gate is a retelling of this legend from the wolf’s point of view. Born into royalty, the red wolf (so named for the unusual color of her fur) assumes leadership of her pack upon the death of her parents. Taught to fear and avoid humans at all costs – “They are violent and greedy. They aren’t like any of the other beasts in the forest; they want to own it all.” – the wolf stubbornly ignores her pack’s insistence that they should leave their forest home in search of new lands, lands not yet spoiled by humans. The wolf’s leadership is challenged and she loses. Left alone in the forest, her rage and thirst for vengeance grow.

(More below the fold…)