‘Wolf Planet’ by Oz Hardwick
‘Wolf Planet’ is subtitled ‘A Space Age Folktale’ and called an experimental prose poetry micro novella. It opens, ‘Ahead of schedule, we’re entering the realm of science fiction, strapping ourselves into reclining chairs, watching screens fill with a planet that looks something like the Earth we remember, but less detailed, less hospitable. Entering into the spirit of things, we adopt expressions of heroic concentration and end each sentence with Over.’ Once landed on the earth-like planet, it appears abandoned and very much urbanised.
Readers follow an unnamed narrator, a kind of everyman, who refers to an unnamed ‘you’ and the Big Bad Wolf – more ‘Three Little Pigs’ than ‘Red Riding Hood’ – ‘’On a bench on a corner, the Big Bad Wolf sits, blowing on rigid fingers bitten from hands that have fed him. It’s so cold that he can hide his yellow grin behind his own breath. He hands me a tourist guide that shows nothing but exit roads and the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, crosses himself, then crosses the street whistling “Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam,” his rough paw slapping a child’s tambourine.’ The narrator visits what looks like his childhood home, steeped in memory, then visits a friend who lets him and the wolf in. The role of ‘you’ is to listen rather than interact.
The prose has a dream-like quality as readers are taken on a dystopian journey where the present merges with the past and memories are fragmented, all with the ever present Big Bad Wolf, that is until it gets dark. The wolf always disappears before the moon rises. Here the wolf feels more like a conscience than a character, a presence that tags along and answers questions with stories. He cannot read but can remember. When the narrator askes ‘Who saw the first humans on that untidy planet?’, The wolf replies, ‘The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker? I can’t see it myself. Though, if I squint just so – his left eye snaps shut like a bank vault, his right is a needle’s prick in a princess’s thumb – you all look like butchers to me.’
The wolf’s reply is a mix of nursery rhyme (Rub-a-Dub-Dub), fairy tale (Sleeping Beauty or Aurora) and snub (‘you all look like butchers to me’). The nursery rhyme has three men adrift, drawing stares from onlookers at the oddity of three men sailing. Sleeping Beauty was cast under a sleeping spell when she pricked her finger. The sense of dream meeting present time strongly comes across. With the last phrase, is the predator recognising another or is ‘butchers’ being used in the sense of sloppy work?
The story doesn’t follow a plot or narrative arc to a conclusion. The micro novella holds its own logic, readers don’t doubt the world they have been introduced to and immersed in. It asks a lot of questions. On the surface it can be read as a dystopian tale. ‘Wolf Planet’ also stands up to further scrutiny and themes of urbanisation, memory, the blurring of reality and states of consciousness and environmentalism emerge. Readers are free to read into it whatever morals they choose. Oz Hardwick has created, as the subtitle suggests, a folktale for the current age, one that intrigues, probes what makes us human and why we need stories.