The Dire Wolf
The species that is known as the dire wolf is a large and powerful ancestor of modern wolves and dogs which is now extinct. It has, however, left a rich legacy in myths and legends across many northern countries where it once roamed as one of the most feared predators of all time. This paper traces the way that the dire wolf has been represented in myths and legends of the past, and also in the stories, films and computer video games of the modern world.
The exact species which gave rise to all the legends is the Canis dirus and it lived in the Pleistocene Epoch (2.6 million to 11.700 years ago) in both North and South America (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2012, p. 1). It was considerably larger than the modern gray wolf, and had a bigger skull with a smaller brain. Like the modern wolf, it had light limbs suitable for covering long distances. Fossil remains have been located in various sites and scientists are able to form an accurate picture of its stature and likely habits.
One of the earliest mentions of the dire wolf in fiction is found in the old Nose myths about gods and magical creatures which reflected the harsh landscapes of Scandinavia in the tenth to thirteenth centuries. The dire wolves in this tale are given names such as Fenrir, Sköll and Hati and they are endowed with supernatural powers. They are respected for their power to punish people, and they threaten even the Norse gods, since Fenrir kills the god Odin in the Edda story and has to be tied up by a magic rope to await the twilight of the gods (Larrington, 2008, p. 98). For this reason wolves in Norse fiction were both admired and feared. In American fiction the wolf is likewise a creature of mystery and power, and the dire wolf is the most fearful imaginable version of this species. In the Western genre countless films and stories feature the lonely sound of the wolf, calling out to its kind and instilling a sense of fear and foreboding in human beings, both for...
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