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Talking about Short Story Club: November 2014

Zoe hat headshotZoe Gilbert provides a review of November’s Short Story Club on the ‘Peter and the Wolf’ by Angela Carter.

Based on a ‘strange but true’ tale from America, which is modern form of a folk tale, Angela Carter’s story tells of a boy’s encounter with his cousin, a girl who was stolen by wolves as a baby and has lived wild with them until she is captured and brought back to his house.

Our discussion bounded through topics such as feminism, freedom, language, rationality, structure, meta-fiction and more, so here are just a few things we discussed before we ran out of time.

The story has many elements of a folk tale, but readers noticed that it also uses both modern and biblical references – the cat ‘hissed like a pricked balloon’; the boy leaving the Alps at the end fears that if he looks back, he ‘shall turn into a pillar of salt.’ We discussed the effect of these anomalies in this folk tale-ish world. They reminded us that the story need not be set in the past, rather in a world that is different from ours, no more superstitious than familiar religions, and only a journey away.

This idea of different-but-real world came up again when we looked closely at the peculiar beginning and ending to this story. Carter leads the reader into the Alps with the vision of a traveller becoming accustomed to the sight of them such that ‘the landscape ceases to provoke awe and wonder’ and he sees them ‘with the indifferent eye of those who always live there’. This is echoed in reverse at the end as the boy leaves, and looking back at the mountain, thinks that ‘he had never seen it before as it might look to someone who had not known it almost as a part of the self’, after which ‘he saw it turn into so much scenery, into the wonderful backcloth for an old country tale.’ We felt Carter was reminding us that, just because this feels like a tale, it doesn’t mean it isn’t real to somebody.

And certainly, if there is one element in the whole story that feels absolutely three-dimensional and more real than anything else, it is the wolf-girl herself, who steps beyond the folk tale trope to become as fascinating to us as she is to the boy who finds her.

Join us at the Short Story Club in December – find out more here.