Sunday 27 October 2013

Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron

Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron by Mary Losure, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780763656690
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The first sight of the wild boy who would be later known as ‘the savage’, was recorded as being in the mountains of Southern France in 1797. Initially seen by a couple from the village of Lacaine, naked and digging for roots in the ground, he was  tied up by two woodsmen and carried to the town square where he remained for days on public display. He somehow escaped and returned to the forest.

Little is known of how the boy came to be in the forest, for the past of other children discovered in wild places that are recorded in history, lack the same information:  a boy living with wolves in Germany, 1544; a boy discovered with bears in Lithuania 1661; the boy living with a flock of sheep in Ireland (year unrecorded), and ‘five wild girls and five wild boys found in various places throughout Europe during the 1700s’. These children were classed by scientists as belonging to the species Homo ferus, (Wild Man).

Wild boy’s life is not thoroughly documented as the written reports are scientific studies and do not give a great deal of personal information. His time in a ‘civilized’ environment was difficult, for compassionate people tried to give him a home but he suffered at his separation from the natural world and always escaped back to nature. Professor Pierre-Joseph Bonneterre, a priest-scientist of natural history, tried to teach the boy but saw him only as a specimen and in his reports named him the Savage of Aveyron.

The Savage was later named Victor by Doctor Itard. Abbe Sicard, the famous ‘miracle worker’ who ran a school for Deaf-Mutes, and who took Wild Boy in to try and teach him, granted permission to Itard to concentrate on teaching Victor how to speak. For this he received a yearly payment by the government. For five years Itard succeeded in teaching him many things, but not how to speak.

This is a moving document of a boy who represents all the children found in the wild over time. It is also a subject rarely approached due to lack of documentation, therefore little is known of these wild beings except that they were never completely ‘civilized’. It appears that their passion for the wild places was indelibly imprinted in their psyche and nothing could remove their longing for freedom, the natural world, and the elements, which they saw their place of belonging.

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