Seton’s Depiction of Animals in “LOBO, The King of Currumpaw”

Seton emphasizes in his introduction that there is an unquantifiable relationship shared between man and animal based on inherent similarities within their natures. Seton writes: “…we and the beasts are kin. Man has nothing that the animals have not at least a vestige of, the animals have nothing that man does not in some degree share” (Seton, 465). This is curious when considered alongside his perpetual anthropomorphizing of Lobo, describing him as a freebooter, a werewolf, scornful (one must wonder if animals are truly capable of contempt), sagacious, diabolical, and capable of sentimentality. This becomes rather confusing when considering the meaning of making the king wolf seem closer to human than say an ordinary gray wolf. Was the author’s intent to bring humanity closer to animals or animals closer to humanity? I am willing to wager and proceed with the latter. It seems as if Seton was attempting to elevate the kingdom of Animalia closer to the unrealistic human civilization apart in the clouds that has been slowly built up in human consciousness to be the unquestionably superior and uniquely meaningful mode of existence. He seems to be attempting to bridge this “abyss of non-comprehension”  and dismantle the perception of animals as a “soulless”, behaviorist, “model of a machine” (Berger,5, 11). It is quite simple and neatly sidesteps any philosophical notions to simply regard animals as “animals”–a condition apart from humans–but grows quite complex when one considers for any span of time even the more obvious of shared emotional responses between animals and humans that make such a sweeping classification seem childishly inadequate. A good example of Seton’s challenging of the mechanical perception of animals [the perception that all animals are governed by the stimulus-response construct and like machines can be understood and predicted] is the example of Lobo and his pack slaughtering sheep for personal amusement. The empirical, scientific assertion would be that (stimulus) an animal is hungry (response) they feed yet here is demonstrated an example in defiance to this principle. The passage reads “These wolves had at least one pursuit which was merely an amusement; it was stampeding and killing sheep, though they rarely ate them” (Seton, 471). This behavior, this seeming dalliance, has no evolutionary benefit–to kill without reason–and would actually be rather detrimental to evolutionary fitness as it is understood yet Lobo and his pack act in defiance of the scientific principles developed and employed to subject animals to being “the objects of our ever-extending knowledge. What we know about them is an index of our power, and thus an index of what separates us from them” (Berger, 14). This “power” is repeatedly checked by Lobo who simply refuses to be poisoned or trapped and Seton seems to be pointing to that which cannot be explained by our knowledge of animals as if to say that our manner of understanding is flawed and by connection the nature of our current association with animals is similarly flawed. Lobo is repeatedly shown to be superior to the skills–to the “index of power”–of his pursuers and his depiction almost lends itself to the supposition that he is somehow “supercanine” yet the examples of his behavior are not so unbelievable as to invalidate the moral consideration of the work. A better (and perhaps more relatable) example of the behavior he exhibits being closer to human than a mechanized view would be able to accommodate is his sentimentality for the corpse of his mate, Blanca. I feel it is worth noting that canine monogamy is an existing behavior and that some canines bond for life. Such is the case between King Lobo and his mate Blanca. The passage reads “He had never really deserted her, but, knowing that he could not save her, his deep-rooted dread of firearms had been too much for him…when he came to the spot where we had killed her, his heartbroken wailing was piteous to hear…he would continue in the neighborhood until he found her body at least…” (Seton, 474). His search for her body serves no survival-oriented purpose yet he exhibits sentimentality in defiance of both the danger and the scientific perspective.  This can also be seen amongst dogs employed in some nursing homes where when they develop an attachment to a particular resident they will be mopey and refuse to eat for days after the resident has passed.

Sources sighted, Captain

Seton, Ernest T. “Lobo, The King of Currumpaw.” Wild Animals I Have Known. Gutenberg, 2009. 1-15. Print.

Berger, John. “Why Look at Animals?” About Looking. Vintage, 1991. 3-28. Print.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. You bring up some very interesting points in Seton’s work, however, my main problem with the story is the mysticism created around Lobo. I also felt as if Seton was trying to anthropomorphize Lobo in order to create sympathy in the reader. Lobo was an extraordinary wolf but his feats and abilities sometimes seemed beyond reality. I appreciate what Seton was trying to accomplish, but was distracted by the seeming exaggerations which made the story lose power and significance.

  2. I agreed with your analysis on the anthropomorphism of Lobo. What I found most interesting when reading is how Seton focuses so heavily on traits such as contempt, revenge and not as much on some of the more honorable traits that Lobo portrays such as love for Blanca. I find all of the anthropomorphism a bit out of hand since I do not feel that animals such as Lobo really possess any of these human-like traits but I did find it curious that Seton chose to focus on particularly negative human traits almost as if implying wolves seem to embody only the most cunning and poor qualities of mankind.

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