Published by Yen On on May 21, 2019
When Hana falls in love with a young interloper she encounters in her college class, the last thing she expects to learn is that he is part wolf. Instead of rejecting her lover upon learning his secret, she accepts him with open arms. Soon, the couple is expecting their first child, and a cozy picture of family life unfolds. But after what seems like a mere moment of bliss to Hana, the father of her children is tragically taken from her. Life as a single mother is hard in any situation, but when your children walk a fine line between man and beast, the rules of parenting all but go out the window. With no one to turn to, how will Hana survive?
I watched Wolf Children for the first time a few years ago. I was at uni at the time. I played the DVD on my blue laptop, setup on a desk in my uni accommodation. I was probably putting off finishing an essay at the time.
I cried when I watched it and I have not watched it again since (because I’m a wuss). It had an impact on me and just thinking about it evokes all the thoughts and feelings I had when I watched it. I have owned the book of the film for a few months but I only got around to reading this novel recently. I wish I had picked it up sooner because it was a truly lovely reading experience.
Wolf Children is about one young mother’s journey bringing up her two ‘wolf’ children in a way that allows them to choose their own path in life. The children are posed with the question of how they want to live through the guise of whether they, Yuki and Ame, want to live as humans or wolves.
The storytelling is almost dreamily gentle which works well with the deep messages and questions it poses.
Whilst this story does cover the separate journeys Ame and Yuki follow to find themselves and their place in the world, their narrative threads are interestingly secondary to Hana’s as they fall under the umbrella of her story though she would likely see it the other way around.
At its heart Wolf Children is about Hana’s struggles and her dogged pursuit of her self-defined purpose to give her children freedom of choice. Early on in the novel, when faced with bringing up the children alone, she sets the objective for this stage in her life: “you can choose to be what you want” (p.41) she tells the children. She tells them this as she makes the decision to move away from all that she knows to give them the space they need to grow up safely and make that decision independently. This gets challenged later as she realises the cost of their decisions to herself, particularly in regard to Ame.
Sure, there’s clearly a supernatural thread to this story. Hana has prophetic dreams before she meets the children’s’ father and of course there’s the wolf transformation element. But the supernatural stuff is not what’s really important. It’s more about what that wolf transformation represents. To me it functions as a lens or filter to the realistic story beneath that of a mother fighting to give her children a choice and then finding the strength to let them go when they make those decisions.
From here on in I’m going to discuss some spoilers for the ending so turn away now if you don’t want to be spoiled.
Hana’s anguish in the final chapter as she watches Ame depart into the woods is to me the most heart-breaking part of this book. Throughout the book we see her staying strong in the face of adversity time and time again which makes her breakdown near the end so much harder to witness. Her partner’s death early in the story is deeply tragic. The resilience she shows to get through that and stay strong is worthy of respect. And we get to see her slowly earn the respect of the rural community she becomes a part of, which is heart-warming.
But then she wants one thing for herself. Her wish to keep Ame from the woods and the animal community he has found there is her one true act of selfishness and it’s hard to accept that she can’t have him and stay true to what she promised him when he was young. From losing her father to her partner it seems to be a cruel world that would take her son as well. Letting him go to be a wolf is the right thing but it is also clearly the hardest thing.
“But I still haven’t don’t anything for you,” (p. 164) she cries to him. But as readers we know that is far from true. His freedom to be in a position to make the choice to live as a wolf (the way that feels right to him) fulfils the objective she set herself as a mother. This is his answer to the question she posed to him and Yuki earlier in the novel: “How do you want to live? […] As children or as wolves?” (p.40). Her work is done.
Hana is a good person and her story is beautiful. It is just as dreamily told in writing as it is in the film. There’s a peaceful, dawdling nature to the narrative. Contradictorily Ame and Yuki seem to grow up and mature in the blink of an eye- which replicates how the time would have passed for Hana.
All the emotions in this novel ring true and real. I love it to pieces and it gives me the courage to watch the movie again.
To sum up in a few word, Wolf Children is: Beautiful, heart-breaking, a dream.