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“Wolfstongue” by Sam Thompson – The New York Times

wolfstone, By Sam Thompson. Illustrated by Anna Tromop.


Cyrus, the protagonist of critically acclaimed British novelist Sam Thompson’s first children’s book, Wolfstong, cannot speak. Either way, he doesn’t speak very well or speak very well. “People spoke to him and waited for an answer, but the words he was trying to say got stuck.” Not sure.school kids make fun of him. they call him silence.

But do you know who can speak? Fox. they will do it all day long. They will pull you away from your freedom, your family, your identity, and even your life. There are many books that rehabilitate foxes and free them from their Aesop-era reputation as cunning schemers. “Wolfstongue” takes them back to their drifting roots. These foxes aren’t great.

Cyrus’ story begins with a wolf, not a fox. The two meet by chance on the bike path after school. Alone as usual, Cyrus is terrified of this big, ferocious beast, but the wolf only needs to remove the (rather Isopian-esque) pin from his front paw. He somehow leads Cyrus to the forest that surrounds them, magically woven into the city Cyrus lives in. Silas thinks he’s been taken to another world. Wolf corrects him. “There is only one world for him,” he says. “Your race lives here too. Most of the time you just don’t realize it.”

The wolf’s name is Isengrim. It was the fox who gave him that name, and that was the beginning of all his troubles.

One of the themes of this novel is the power of speech in every sense of the word. For foxes, language is a means of manipulating other animals, a means of imposing a fox-like will on them. When the fox was named his Isengrim, they gained power over him.

Wolves, on the other hand, are not meant to talk. Language robs them of their power. “Until the fox taught the fox the words for sorrow and fear, they did not know what sorrow and fear were. But now they knew it and began to lose their strength because of it.”

The fox enslaved the wolf and put it to work building a vast underground city. Isengrim flees with her pregnant companion Hersent, with foxes hunting them. The wolves are looking for a human child they call her Wolfstongue. So that we can live like wolves. Free from words. Cyrus, the only human child on the scene, is an obvious candidate, and speaking is not his forte.

“Wolfstongue” unfolds from Cyrus’ point of view, giving the book an inner feel. He’s not a hilarious, joking point-of-view character (the brooding, old-fashioned black-and-white drawings in the book by Norwegian illustrator Anna Tromop enhance the mood). His story has some tough choices, and Thompson’s writing vividly conveys the power of nature and wildness to overwhelm an introverted city boy. Light — brushed away like a sheet of dust. … swaying shadows and foliage interlaced with birdsong to create a vast stillness, a radiance of sound louder and deeper than silence and an endless whisper-drop. “

But “Wolfstongue” is not only natural. Like George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” The dynamics of oppression and resistance that play out among animals mirror those between humans. When Cyrus goes to the woods, he sees the same thing in the war between wolves and foxes, fought on a large scale in the schoolyard. As Isengrim wisely said, there is only one world for him.


Lev Grossman’s latest intermediate novel is The Golden Swift, a sequel to The Silver Arrow.


wolfstone, Sam Thompson | | Illustrated by Anna Tromop | 224 Pages | Little Island | $16.99 | Ages 8-12

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