Novel Openings Case Study #5: The Secrets of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst

I was not the first wolf to promise to be the guardian of the humans. That pledge was made many years ago in a time of great hunger, when a wolf named Indru met a tribe of starving humans. It was so long ago that wolves had just become wolf and humans were not yet quite human. The humans stood on two legs as they do now but had not yet lost their fur. They had not learned to control fire or build sturdy dens, and they had not learned to make throwing sticks that could kill beasts many times their own size. They were not nearly as good at surviving as were Indru and his pack.

Observations

This is the sequel to Hearst’ first book in The Wolf Chronicles: The Promise of the Wolves. Like the first book, Secrets of the Wolves begins with a prologue. The first person draws the readers in–for some reason I heard it like a voice-over at the beginning of a movie. It opens the narrative by situating the readers in the middle of it, linking the story to the ancient legends that have played a part and are still playing a part in the lives of the characters + creating a richly layered timeline in which past events are still influencing the present. It paints a picture of the beginning of wolf and mankind, contrasting what it was like during the ancient times and what is happening now. The humans are obviously more established, more evolved and much more knowledgeable than their prehistoric selves. At this juncture, what kind of relationship will they have with the wolves? Even if you haven’t read the first book, you can infer that the survival of both species depends upon how well their relationship develop as of now.

Analysis

Though not directly stated, the central conflict is already quite evident. If you keep on reading for a few chapters, you will learn that one of the major “plot goals” that the story promises to fulfill is that wolves and mankind must learn to live with each other. Therefore, this prologue is a great opening since it introduces the context for the current story so that effective plot goal can take place with great narrative pull. Like the first book, it also creates a sense of interconnectedness between the various space-time within the story world, enhancing the expressions of its theme that will gradually accumulate later on in the story (all creatures must live in balance, we are all connected, we all belong to nature and must work together, etc).

I thought about why a “voice-over film opening” is effective: “I was not the first wolf to promise to be the guardian of the humans.” I think it must be because that it is a statement that hints at the many undercurrents of the story that will take place. “I was not the first wolf.” So there were characters before you who were driven by the same desires and goals. Did they succeed? Did they fail? Are their victories or failures the reason why you have also made that pledge? Also, why did you make that promise? Why do you want to guard the humans? Why must the humans be guarded?

It’s loaded with interesting questions and before I knew it I was already in a narrative quicksand (in a good way), freefalling into the ancient wildness where humans still hunted and gathered and ran with the wolves…which brings me to my next section.

Hook

Curiosity. It’s a sequel, so the majority of the prologue is actually spent “reminding” you of what has taken place in the first book. I needed that because it’s been almost a year since I read the first novel, so that was a nice “previously on Wolf Chronicles” moment. Other than that, it is intriguing opening that called back my love for the first book–reorienting my mind so I am once again running alongside the wolves + softly washing over me with a wave of questions that melted me into the pages.

On a side note, the storytelling doesn’t have a lot of long-winded sentences. It’s action-packed and to the point–true to a wolf’s worldview since the story is told from Kaala, a young wolf from the Swift River pack.

On another side note, the story itself begins with an epic chase scene. How could I not continue!? Right after that, the stake was immediately introduced: make peace with the human within one year, or all of you wolves and humans can die. Already I am rooting for the main characters and rooting for the story. Already I want to see them succeed. I could only keep reading so I can find out what happens. How could I not keep reading!?

Once again, bravo to Dorothy Hearst. Her books never disappoint.


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