What’s cooking at my home office these days? As usual, my inner chef has been inspired by art and books, and lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about wolves. Wolves have an insatiable appetite so tonight I’ve created a verbal menu to delight your inner book gobbler.
Illustrator Liisa Kallio is known for her delightful children’s books and her broader palette of colours. In her ongoing exhibition of charcoal drawings it is interesting to see how she employs the spectrum of grey, white and black. Her new work reminds me of an exhibition that I’ve always found fascinating; Entre chien et loup – at dusk (2008-2011), choices from The Saastamoinen Foundation Art Collection curated by graphic artist, painter and writer Hannu Väisänen at EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art. The large-scale mounted collection resisted a solely black-and-white approach, aiming for the richness of shades.
Liisa Kallio, Animal Hands, 2020.
Liisa Kallio, The Animal, 2020.
The EMMA exhibition’s catalogue (2008) features an essay by Hannu Väisänen, providing major insights into the topic of the achromatic shades. The French expression entre chien et loup literally means “between dog and the wolf”. It is used to describe the twilight moment between dusk and darkness—because at that time in the day, one can’t see the difference between a dog and a wolf. It is the moment when “someone is writing or reading and does not really know whether it would be better to switch on the headlights yet.” It’s important to note that this expression has nothing to do with the “hour of the wolf”, with it’s completely different connotation of anxiety, death and tenseness. However, the Big Bad Wolf is a generic archetype of a menacing predatory antagonist in literature. There is also a long list of different fictional wolves such as Akela and Raksha in Rudyard Kipling‘s stories, the wild wolf-dog hybrid in Jack London‘s White Fang, and Maugrim, a Narnian wolf in the novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.
Liisa Kallio, Peter and the Wolf, 2019, mixed media and digital painting.
Another wolf-related treasure from my bookshelf is The Wolves in the Walls—an award-winning book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, published in 2003. The story is inspired by a nightmare of Gaiman’s daughter, then aged 4. In the story the protagonist, Lucy, hears wolves in the walls of her family’s house, but her family does not believe her until one day when the wolves come out of the walls. Even the book design and the high gloss laminated cover already look a bit dated, it is still notable for Dave McKean’s art, which utilises many different techniques, including photography, computer-generated imagery and drawing. The illustrator met author Neil Gaiman in 1986 and he has collaborated on many projects with him since.
This week, I’ve bumped into those funny little “would you believe it” types of coincidences more than once. For example, while having a coffee outside with a neighbour, graphic designer and illustrator Jussi Karjalainen, he mentioned about an illustration from the French illustrated Weekly, Le Petit Journal (25 Jan 1914), depicting a wolf snatching a child.
Photo retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
The wolf has long been a highly contested symbol, associated with such a broad range of qualities and behaviors as to be rather obviously about human nature as well. We are the wolf, in short, even as we see the wolf as enemy. And now that wolves are an endangered species, contemporary writers sometimes subvert this archetype and position the wolf as the sympathetic character. This carries the message that no one is all good or all bad, and we can’t tell someone’s intentions from looking at them.
With great joy I have finally got my hands on the brand new picture book Wolf and His Gardener, written and illustrated by Marika Maijala. As it happens, the original Finnish title of the book is Suden hetki —“Hour of the wolf”. It is a story about what it’s like to be lonely, and how everything can change when one dares to open up to a new friendship. In the story Wolf makes friends with his gardener, who happens to be a dog. Last year I followed the first steps in plotting the picture book and presented the sympathetic protagonist, Wolf, first time in the A-Z Journal Vol 1. The delicate coloured book has been edited by Leena Virtanen and is published by Etana Editions, an independent alternative Finnish children’s book publisher. I ordered the book from their webshop last week and recommend it highly to everyone who is interested in the themes of loneliness, contemporary illustration, children’s books—or wolves, for one reason or the other.
The charmingly modest Marika Maijala has become one of the leading Finnish illustrators. Wolf and His Gardener is her 2nd very own book and it is maybe even better than the first. There is certainly something enchanting about Maijala’s world, and just like her previous book, I found myself drawn into the story. It has warmhearted twists and turns to keep the reader’s interest, and after all, who wouldn’t love almond buns? Maijala’s handprint is recognizable, agreeable, sometimes so artistic, always so charming. I especially liked the illustrations about Mr Wolf wandering in his nocturnal castle during full moon night. With its ghostly hallways and verdant gardens, the scene reminds me of Misselthwaite Manor. Read illustrator Marika Maijala’s interview, where she talks about her process, in the A-Z Journal Vol 1.
I started reading the story as the last rays of the evening sun flickered on the walls, and sometime between the dusk and the darkness, when the light was entre chien et loup, the story ended. The expression has a certain faded charm—just like Marika Maijala’s illustrations.
Photo retrieved from here.
The icing on the cake
American culinary icon M.F.K. Fisher‘s ‘How to Cook a Wolf’ is a guide to living happily even in trying times. The book deals with domestic stresses during war time in the days of ration cards; includes more than seventy recipes based on food staples and features sections such as “How to Keep Alive” and “How to Comfort Sorrow.” Since state of emergency make it impossible to adhere to many of the structures of normal time, it is easy to abandon decency. For Fisher, the temptation to give up is strong, something she refers to as the “wolf” at the door. Instead of giving into depression, despair and frustration, she asks that we cast aside the wolf by staring him straight in the eye and enjoy what we have. Throughout the book, she talks about wisdom and joy and satisfaction. Fisher believed that ‘our three basic needs [are] for food and security and love’, and she was one of the first writers to use food as a cultural metaphor, describing the sensual pleasures of the table with elegance and passion. In 1963, a British-American poet W.H. Auden wrote in his introduction to her book ‘The Art of Eating’, which is is a compilation of her earlier work: ‘I do not know of anyone in the United Sates today who writes better prose.’ In 2020, Fisher’s words cheer me up and make me feel comforted. “The wolf has one paw wedged firmly in what looks like a widening crack of the door. Let us take it for granted that the situation, while uncomfortable, is definitely impermanent, and can be coped with,” Fisher wrote in 1942, though she might as well be writing today, or tomorrow.
Further reading and inspiration
Barnett, Mac, Klassen, Jon: The Wolf The Duck & The Mouse. 2017.
Campbell, Lindsay: Ten Top Chefs Share What They Are Cooking While in Isolation. Smithsonian Magazine. Apr 8, 2020.
Gaiman, Neil, Dave McKean: The Wolves in the Walls. 2003
Hemulin kirjahylly: Lastenkirjalauantai: Marika Maijala: Suden hetki. hemulinkirjahylly.blogspot.com. Apr 11, 2020.
Lewis, C.S.: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. First published in 1950. In Finnish: Velho ja leijona. Otava 1960.
London, Jack: White fang. First published in 1906. In Finnish: Susikoira / Valkohammas. Elisa Kirja 2015.
Maijala, Marika: Wolf and His Gardener. Etana Editions 2020.
Mason, Simon: Mouse Bird Snake Wolf by David Almond and Dave McKean – review. The Guardian. Jun 21, 2013.
Mitts-Smith, Debra: Picturing the Wolf in Children’s Literature. Taylor & Francis Ltd. 2010.
Muir, Robin: M.F.K. Fisher. How to Cook a Wolf. Luncheon Magazine. Issue 4, AW 17-18.
Väisänen, Hannu: Koiran ja suden välissä. Selections from Saastamoinen Foundation’s art collection. Exhibition list 12 Nov 2008. EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art. 2008.