Maliff and the Wolf
Maliff en de wolf arose out of the journey which Hans Hagen made with his wife and daughter through Syria. The story, about shepherds with flocks, wolves, thirst and desert sands, evokes the atmosphere of his previous books Het gouden oog and De weg van de wind. In fact, dream and myth overlap in vivid, imaginative language, but time and place are undefined, and the story is written for younger children. The short sentences, which always begin on a new line, make it suitable for learner-readers.
Maliff is a shepherd boy. At night he and his father sleep by the fire with the other shepherds. Before he goes to sleep, the old shepherd, Rafik, tells a story about how the wolf came into the world: the wind made him like a glass blower ‘out of sand, the most precious thing on earth…’. This night, Maliff dreams that he is a lamb and that a cloud changes into a wolf. The wolf comes close to him… and licks him.
A few days later he finds a young grey wolf on the riverside. His dream comes true: the wolf cub licks him like a young dog. The grownup shepherds want to shoot the wolf because its mother, who is of course looking for her young, is a danger to the sheep; a beautiful drumskin can be made from its skin. But Maliff has already become attached to his wolf cub.
This conflict between Maliff and the shepherds makes the story tense. Rafik thinks of a way to save the wolf from being killed: Maliff must chase it away with his catapult. At night, however, it returns to Maliff, and creeps close to him. Then the shepherds find the skeleton of a female wolf, which evidently was the mother of the cub. Now Maliff may keep his wolf, on condition that he tames him. ‘If not, then I’ll have its pelt,’ his uncle threatens.
Maliff en de wolf shows that the shepherd’s life is hard; at night it is cold, and people and animals crave water. Maliff lives close to nature, in a world in which dreams and old stories are interwoven with daily life in a way that sometimes makes you shudder. For example: after his dream, Maliff says that he would really like to be a lamb, just once. ‘“And then I’ll be the wolf,? says Uncle Izar. And he grins, bearing his yellow teeth.’
The old narrator, Rafik, is a wonderful character who knows how to settle conflicts with a wisdom rooted in tradition. Maliff en de wolf is a marvellously balanced, serene story. It is informative, full of feeling and imagination, the atmosphere is striking, the excitement builds well, and Hans Hagen knows how to chose his words with care.