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The wild boar appears to us as something straight out of a myth. But as Jeffrey Greene learned, these creatures are very real, living by night and, despite shrinking habitats and hordes of hunters, thriving on six continents. Greene purchased an eighteenth-century presbytery in a region of ponds and forests in northern Burgundy, between the Loire and Seine Rivers of France. He soon discovered he'd moved to one of the most densely populated boar areas in Europe. Following the gift of a side of boar from a neighbour and a dramatic early-morning encounter with a boar-hunting party and its prey, Greene became fascinated with the animal and immersed himself in the legend and the reality of the wild boar.
Although it has no natural enemies, the boar is in constant conflict with humans. Most societies consider it a pest, one that wreaks havoc on crops and livestock and destroys golf-course greens in search of worms. Boars also create a hazard for drivers, causing over 14,000 car accidents a year in France alone. They have been the object of highly ritualized hunts, dating back to classical times. The animal's remarkable appearance (it can grow larger than a human and the males sport prominent tusks called 'whetters' and 'cutters') has inspired artists for centuries; its depictions range from primitive masks to works of high art such as Pietro Tacca's Porcellino and paintings by Velazquez and Frans Snyders. The boar plays a unique role in myth too, appearing in the stories of Hercules and Adonis as well as in the folktale Beauty and the Beast.
Jeffrey Greene's search for this formidable animal takes him to Sardinia, Corsica, Tuscany and even the American South, where he explores the boar's feral-pig counterparts and descendents. The author introduces us to a colourful cast of experts, from museum curators and scientists to hunters and chefs (who share their recipes) and the inhabitants of chateaux who have lived in the same ancient countryside with generations of boars. They are all part of a journey filled with wonder and discovery about these majestic animals the poet Robinson Jeffers called 'beautiful monsters'.