The fiction I’m working on at the moment involves werewolves. I hadn’t revisited the premise in a while (this is a reworking of a very old piece), and I knew that I needed to look up modern views on wolf pack hierarchy because the “alpha wolf” notion has been discredited. It wasn’t a huge part of my plot — and had no bearing at all on the romantic aspect — but it was there in the subplot, and I wanted to fix it. Five minutes on Google gave me a wealth of information, which I’ve incorporated, and I think it improved the story quite a bit. Yay for research!
So I’m sort of amused that not one, but two blogs I follow published articles on this topic last weekend.
First, Foz Meadows wrote The Truth of Wolves, or: The Alpha Problem. It’s fantastic. She takes down urban fantasy authors not for perpetuating the old science — that part is, in her view, entirely forgiveable — but for using the alpha/beta/omega structure as an excuse to write romantic heroes who are sexist assholes.
More specifically, we get the Alpha Problem: endless tracts of sexism, misogyny, female exceptionalism, rigid social hierarchies maintained through a combination of violence and biological determinism, inescapable mating bonds, and a carte blanche excuse for male characters to behave like cavemen (and for female characters to accept it) on the slender justification that, as alphas, it’s both in their nature and what’s expected of them. And the thing is, I love urban fantasy, and I also really love shapeshifters. But it’s not often these days that I get to love the two things in combination, because apart from not being able to deal with the sheer profligacy of the aforementioned problems, I also can’t get past the fact that the logic on which they’re predicated – the logic of wolves – is overwhelmingly inaccurate.
A day later, io9 published a similar piece, Why everything you know about wolf packs is wrong. This digs into the literature a little more and focuses entirely on the wolf packs, leaving it to the commenters to draw the connections to current urban fantasy.
The sheer alpha-ness of the alpha heroes is starting to overshadow my enjoyment of Patricia Briggs’s work. I adore the Alpha and Omega novella especially… but yeah, very much predicated on some discredited science. I’m amused to see via the io9 comments that Kelley Armstrong (whose series I haven’t kept up with recently) handled this by saying, more or less, “Yeah, but werewolves are different,” and moving on with the story. That’s an awesome retcon.
The question remains… was everyone else Googling wolf pack structure the same day I was?
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