I The Animal

The animal in us all, including the story of the Wolf Boy and Frankenstein.

by Tony Crisp

This feature originally appeared in the Australian magazine SIN


The story of Frankenstein is in part at least depicting a person suddenly awakening as a full adult, with all the difficulties of adapting to who they are and what the world does with them and they with it. In this situation, the preparation and de-briefing of childhood never took place, so the wonder and shock were deep.

Another sort of awakening is played out in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, where the civilised doctor is confronted by a violent animal-self running out of control. It is a classic story because it depicts something we all meet in one form or another – the animal within! Considering that one of the great animal urges is to fight over territory, modern warfare as irrational as it is, makes one realise how important it is to meet the animal within and ease it into our ‘civilised’ self.

But there is an even older story in which an animal wakes up and realises it is a human. This story is portrayed in its incredibly varied forms by the animal headed gods of many ancient cultures, and in the animal bodied gods of mythology. The drama of such stories lie in the pain and confusion arising from having self awareness while still remaining an animal.

I believe this is one of the greatest well kept secrets, the pain we went through in early childhood when we were artificially woken up to self awareness – you know, having an ego with all the conflict and eternal anxiety, fear of death, pain of love, that goes with it. And what I mean by artificially woken up is that children never exposed to language do not attain self awareness. They remain in a guilt free world of a present day Eden where there is no right or wrong, evil or good. Apparently not even time ruins that unspoilt place of the soul.

The Wolf Boy

A headline in the Daily Star on April 17 1991, at the time the film Dances With Wolves was popular reads: “TRAGIC BOY’S DANCE IN WOLF’S LAIR.” It goes on to say:

A tragic orphan brought up by a pack of wild wolves will never be able to live like a normal man, say doctors. The boy who REALLY danced with the wolves was aged about seven when he was found 29 years ago in the wastes of Southern Russia by a team of oil explorers. He howled like a wolf and savagely bit one of the oil men who christened him Djuma – the Wolf Boy.

Professor Rufat Kazirbayev said doctors had battled to re-educate him to act like a normal human being – but failed.

So where is the being who existed before we learnt to talk? Does it hide in dark corners of our mind keeping out of sight? Perhaps it only comes out at night when we dream. In fact most of us meet this animal not only in the dark hours of our sleep, but also when events surprise us and for moments we drop the circus training we went through as a child. Even if the meeting is wonderful as in the following dream, it is still difficult to accept our own potent untamed self. Maybe because it wants us to be so honest and passionate.

When the horse saw me it ran to me and become very excited and loving, rubbing against me and licking me with a very long tongue.  I was both pleased and slightly threatened. Threatened because it was so intense. At one point though we rubbed against each other with a degree of sexual pleasure.

The Many Brains

Some recent studies of the brain by Paul  Maclean suggest that anatomically we have in fact more than one animal in us. Our brain, like an ancient dwelling that has been added to over the millennia, has three levels. The oldest, the brain stem (medulla), is like the brain of very ancient creatures, the reptiles. In us it deals with just what it does in them – flight and flight, reproduction, territory and ritual behaviour. From this comes rigid behavioural response to an event. Next is the part of the brain we share with other mammals such as cats and rats, the limbic system (cerebellum). Maclean sees this as dealing with the fine sense of caring for young, social relationships such as heirarchy in animal groups and fine survival skills. Overlying these two like a mantle is the cerebrum, the large part of the brain that gives us the potential for human characteristics such as highly developed language and reasoning skills.

The skills and information linked with the cerebrum add to and extend the impulses from the other two ‘older’ animal brains we have. So usually we modify and augment our internal animal. But occasionally the cerebral influence gets distracted or knocked out by drugs, such as alcohol, or exhaustion. Then our animal can live through us again without having to hide in the obscurity of sleep. At such a time we might make love for the first time in our life with total passion, sensation and abandonment of guilt. A sudden extra awareness as if with sharpened senses might arise, enabling us to precisely read another persons body language and non-verbal communication.

But there is a darker side too. A young man of usually gentle behaviour, whose work in his home town in USA, was to spray peoples lawn with a powerful weedkiller, abruptly murdered one of his clients. He had suddenly, and quite out of character, wanted to urinate while working. Instead of finding a toilet he had peed in the customer’s garden. She had come out and complained to him, whereupon he killed her.

Findings show that one of the chemicals in the weedkiller produce a diuretic effect making one want to urinate. It also acts on the brain, and possibly inhibits the cerebrum and cerebellum. If that is so, what the young gardener was left with was his reptilian responses without moral judgement.

So if you want to say hello to your natural self, better not walk alone into that garden of Eden where it dwells, free of morals, words and time. Better take your cerebrum with you.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved