In all three of my modern fantasy novels, the protagonist, Bradan, faces horrific threats, but he also has one constant and fearsome friend: the wolf Tintagel.
Bradan named him after King Arthur’s supposed birthplace.
As I write my on-going series, I want a wolf that embodies nature’s mysterious, atavistic, and implacable qualities. I don’t want typical fantasy clichés. Tintagel isn’t a werewolf; he’s perfectly happy being a wolf. In fact, he’s contemptuous of people. Sometimes, he’s even contemptuous of Bradan. Also, unlike many fantasy animal companions, this wolf doesn’t start out fierce, but then become mellow and cuddly as the story progresses. He’s ferocity incarnate from beginning to end. His essential character never changes, never softens. And Bradan is always on sufferance.
It was a singular wolf. Tintagel had once been part of Gwyn’s pack, the hunter of souls, when that grim figure had set his animals loose among the corpses after a battle to gather dead warriors’ spirits. The wolf also might be related to Fenrir, the Norse demon-wolf. Tintagel had been Bradan’s companion since youth, but, despite the wolf’s centuries of loyalty to him, Bradan still shivered when he awoke at night to see the animal’s sapphire eyes staring at him. (from The Lords of Oblivion, Amazon link: https://amzn.to/3xugjtI )
In the early 6th century, the wizard, Merlin, introduces Bradan to Tintagel in The Lords of the Summer Season (Amazon link: https://amzn.to/3vmeJZk ).
The huge beast sat nonchalantly on its haunches beside the wizard with the rising sun outlining the pair in rose-violet light. “You made a friend—sort of,” the wizard said. He looked amused. So did the wolf. “Don’t take him for granted,” Merlin continued. “Ever. He’d eat your flesh in a heartbeat and do worse to your soul.”
Now Bradan stared at the wolf. His earlier impression of utter savagery was confirmed. Full morning had come, but the creature sucked up the ambient light like a vortex drawing all the illumination near him into a shadowy netherworld. Even without hearing of the creature’s former vocation as a sort of ghoul chaperoning souls to the afterlife, Bradan found the wolf a fearsome entity.
“This is my new helpmate?” Bradan asked.
“It’s good to have allies in disordered times,” Merlin said. “How could it harm you?”
“Well, he could tear my head off.”
“Come on, pet him,” Merlin said. “He may bite, but we’ll hope for the best. Based on what’s he’s seen so far, he’s scornful of your forestry and tracking skills. You’ll need to be stronger to impress him.”
Despite his demonic nature, Tintagel has surprising approval amongst medieval churchmen.
“That beast is the devil’s pet,” the monk said.
“He’s my pet,” Bradan said. “And he saved us today. “Besides, York’s bishop rather likes Tintagel, as does Iona’s abbot.” (from The Lords of Powder, Amazon link: https://amzn.to/3dUcXJ1 )
Perhaps the wolf’s one humanizing feature is a sardonic sense of humor – usually at Bradan’s expense. But then again, who really knows what this beast thinks? That’s part of his charm.
(image by Kristendawn from Pixabay)