I worry sometimes that readers may think I share all of my protagonist’s beliefs. The fact is that I’m writing in someone else’s point of view (POV), and to make it feel real, I must reflect their attitudes, not mine.
Take wolves, for example. I believe they are magnificent creatures who fill a vital role in the environment. They keep the population of prey animals such as deer in reasonable numbers. Without a check to their population, deer can seriously damage the environment, destroying trees in their desperation to get enough to eat. Southern Indiana has long struggled with deer overpopulation. And yes, I was sorely disappointed to see Congress remove wolves from the endangered species list in April.
But my 8th century characters would think I was crazy, and that’s being charitable. For today’s ranchers, a wolf killing a cow is the loss of an investment. For an 8th century peasant family, losing a sheep–the source of clothing, meat, and tallow (for candles and soap)–is devastating. Peasants lived in dire poverty and often struggled for food. They may have depended on that one cow or that one sheep to get through winter.
And all social classes grew up with folk tales of the wolves’ evil. Just take a look at “Little Red Cap” (a.k.a. “Little Red Riding Hood“) and other stories collected by the Grimm brothers.
One manifestation of medieval loathing of wolves is Charlemagne’s order that cubs be poisoned or lured into concealed pits and that their pelts be presented to him, according to Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne by Pierre Riche.
I cringe at this cruelty. Yet I should not be surprised. What passed for justice is this era was brutal. A thief could lose an eye or a hand or be strangled slowly at the hangman’s noose. Someone accused of being a witch might be sealed in a barrel and drowned. A culture so unmerciful to humans cannot be expected to show mercy to animals, especially when they are depicted as villains.