The Wolf Wilder demonstrates something far more impressive than dog whispering [Review]

The Wolf Wilder demonstrates something far more impressive than dog whispering [Review]

The Wolf Wilder
By Katherine Rundell
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 6258 2

If a lion tamer teaches big cats how to adapt to being told what to do and not kill its humans, you can probably work out what animal wilders do: they take an animal that has been domesticated and retrain it to forget the unnatural nature of living with humans, and return to life in the

In pre-revolution Russia, owning a pet wolf was a great status symbol. Tsar Peter the Great (1682-1725) had seven pure white pet wolves following him around in his elegant palaces. Gangs of wolf sellers used to hunt down newly born pups in the forests and sell them for high prices to the rich and aristocratic families of St Petersburg.

But a wolf cannot be trained to live alongside human beings like a dog. Eventually it will show signs of needing to return to the wild. It may even turn on its owners and kill.

But Russian aristocrats believed that killing a wolf when it was no longer wise to keep it as a pet brought bad luck. So instead, a servant would chain it up, and take it into the forest to a wolf wilder, who would teach it to hunt, and fight and become the wild animal it should be.

Feo, the protagonist of Katherine Rundell’s The Wolf Wilder, and her mother live in a wooden house deep in a forest in the snowy wilderness of rural Russia. Feo’s mother is a wolf wilder; it is dangerous work, but both Feo and her mother respect the wolves that are brought to them. Even though there have been a few accidents – bitten fingers, gouged limbs, scratches – they have enjoyed a successful “wilding” rate, and many wolves have been returned to their natural way of life,and forgotten the impact humans once had on them.

Feo’s best friends are three almost-wilded wolves, Grey, White and Black, that live on the edge of the forest in a ruined chapel. They have an unusual but close friendship, and life is great, until one day, one of the wolves kills an elk that belongs to the Tsar.

A vengeful Tsar gives the Imperial Army’s General Rakov the job of stopping the practice of wolf wilding. Feo’s mother is arrested and taken off to prison. Feo has no choice but save her and protect the wolves from being killed. She sets off through the cold, harsh forest on a perilous rescue mission. Luckily, she has her wolves to show her how to survive.

The Wolf Wilder is a book like no other you will have read before. It is a beautifully written and evocatively told story of courage and adventure that has the feel of an instant classic on every page. A compelling and highly original read.

John Millen can be contacted on

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Forget dog whispering: wolf wilding is a far more impressive feat


To post comments please
register or