On My Mind: Wolves, Magda Digby

Why do we so fear wolves? They are predators, yes, but so are cats, and many of us live with cats, indeed sleep with them curled into our warm bodies. Eagles, hawks, and owls are also predators, yet most people I know, though in awe of them, don’t fear them, don’t see them as threats. Granted, domestic cats and birds of prey cannot knock over an adult human, but they can do serious harm. Yet it’s the wolves…

I’m thinking about this not only because of my work in progress, but also because the battle between farmers/ranchers and wolves is a thing in my state, and it breaks my heart.

Here’s a thoughtful piece of writing about that fear by James Roberts in the ezine Zoomorphic: http://zoomorphic.net/2017/10/in-the-eyes-of-a-wolf/
“Wolves mourn their dead. Some wolf mates return over and over to the place where their partners were trapped or killed. Others leave the pack and spend the rest of their days wandering in a state of growing starvation before they too die. Some wolves, when relocated by helicopter in an effort to shrink pack numbers, travel many hundreds of miles back to their home territory, risking being killed by other packs or by starvation. Some have even been caught again, then again relocated and this time have simply given up and died in their transport cages. Wolves create their own cultures. There is much we humans have forgotten we share with them. There is much we still have to learn from them.”

I tend to agree with Farley Mowat: “We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be –the mythologized epitome of a savage ruthless killer – which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself.”

And this: “…in the wolf we have not so much an animal that we have always known as one that we have consistently imagined.” –Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men

They are exquisitely beautiful beings, loyal to the pack, mating for life.

In medieval England the wolf was considered an enemy of foresters (i.e., the king’s hunting grounds) and the wool trade (monasteries grew rich on the wool their flocks produced), so the goal of wolf hunts was to rid the realm of their presence. In Aleksander Pluskowsky’s book, Wolves and the Wilderness in the Middle Ages (Boydell Press 2006) he notes that “the last reliable reference to wolf trapping in England is dated to 1394-6, from Whitby Abbey in East Yorkshire, where the monks paid 10s 9d for tawing fourteen wolf skins” (30).

So… there might have been wolves up on the moors in the late 14th century…

Also much on my mind: John Thoresby suggested to Magda Digby in A Vigil of Spies that she might cease referring to herself in third person, that she had surely done sufficient penance for her youthful errors. Would she attempt to change her speech pattern in honor of his memory? I’ve been debating this with myself ad nauseam. I’d be curious to know what you think.



16 Comments on “On My Mind: Wolves, Magda Digby

  1. hello Candice & hope your well,

    I love the conundrum that you have raised about Magda. If it helps I would love to offer a view about her, though I would never assume to suggest the nature of the character that you have created.

    She seems a strong independent woman who holds to her own beliefs at a time where conformity was expected. Despite this at the death of her son she observed the Catholic rights yet still discretely followed her own. While her own beliefs are never mentioned it is suspected that she holds ones different to the established church. Maybe under Thoresby & her service she had some security, & her service to the people of York was recognised & appreciated although it subtlety. Yet with the death of the great archbishop her position could be under scrutiny with a new archbishop. Would she comply, or would she continue to serve the people of York and beyond? While a lone wolf, could it be said a leopard can’t change its spots, for years she has held her own against the established church despite the threats of the new religious orders. Could she change after so many years of service to the people of Yorkshire.

    Hope this helps & many thanks for reading,


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Chris. You’re right about how she honored Potter’s desire for a Christian burial, and that everyone who enjoyed the protection of Thoresby would be wondering how they would fare under Neville’s archbishopric. It’s a very unsettled time in the Northern Church. Yet Magda stands in her own wisdom. Much to ponder.


  2. Dear Emma/ Candace,

    In answer to your posed question, I have long loved the Owen Archer sagas, which have developed and catalogued the lives of all the main characters. Magda Digby is a woman to be much respected, and admired for her somewhat Herculean efforts to help her fellow life travellers, both human and animal.

    Although she came to a point in her dealings with Thoresby wherein she found a level of respect for the man within the panlopy of his ‘professional’ life and responsibilities, I do not feel that she would alter her entrenched speech patterns. I am not sure that it is within her to do so. Magda is very much a woman who has steered her own ship through life and she is secure within the knowledge of her skillful work. It would be too much of a fundamental change for her.

    Finally, I believe that in referring to herself in the third person, Magda underlines her belief that the knowledge and healing capability come from a higher source, and that she acts as the conduit. She declaimed in this manner because she does not want praise for her work – successful results are sufficient.

    Best regards, and may the next Owen Archer book come to us soon. Always happy to act as an extra proof reader if you need extra eyes. I did attain a B.A.(Hons) in History, and have a love for it… and the Owen Archer books.☺

    Kind Regards,


    Get Outlook for Android

    Liked by 1 person

    • I smile as I read this, and all the comments, remembering how surprised I was when Magda took on a larger role beyond The Apothecary Rose than I’d intended. But she felt–not convenient, but necessary. Thank you, Alison, and thanks for the offer.

      (No need to address me as “Emma”. I’ve retired the pseudonym. Never wanted it in the first place. Marketing… )


  3. The irony in your question is that “today” speaking of oneself in the third person would be taken as a sign of egotism, nto of an awareness of one’s weaknesses.

    This one event, which Thoresby referred to as her sin, was rather a singular event that made her aware of the continual battle she would face as a healer; so no, I do not think she would ever revert to the first person when referring to herself.

    I also wonder if this may have been the first time Archbishop Thoresby had “seen God” in other than a liturgical framework?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, Bob. I hadn’t thought of what speaking of oneself in the third person means in this crazy moment. I love your last question. Thank you.


  4. I agree with everyone else, I’d rather she didn’t change her speech mannerism, but somehow changed the reasoning behind it and let go of the feeling of guilt. Third-person speaking is actually used for self-humiliation, but it can have other meanings: feeling oneself part of a greater whole (as in Eastern religions), and just being quirky/eccentric/having an ironic outlook on life. To put it simply, I wish she didn’t switch to first person, but rather found peace with herself in the third person 🙂


  5. I personally think that she would NEVER switch to first person, the “third person” is an inalienable part of her; IMO, even if she died and became a ghost or a guardian angel of York, she would still speak in the third person. But yes, it would be great if she was happy and no longer remorseful.


%d bloggers like this: