Dire Wolves have always been attributed to fierce, 'larger than life' wolf-like creatures. Ever since their discovery in 1854, many have placed the Dire Wolf in a grotesquely over-exaggerated category of gigantic monstrous saber-toothed, green eyed demons. Of course it never really was, but fantasy and reality blur in our minds when we think of this large predatory creature that ruled prehistoric history. Because canis dirus is now extinct, our minds run wild with illusion as we try to imagine the Dire Wolf in that harsh icy world.
In Norse mythology, Fenrir was a giant wolf bound by the God, Odin. He was destined to grow too large for his bindings and eventually kill his captor. The story goes that Fenrir grew so large that when he roared his upper jaws reached the sky and his lower jaws touched the Earth. However, Odin's son also had a prophecy. He eventually stabs Fenrir in the heart (or rips his jaws apart depending on which version of the story you read). This fierce giant wolf comes to our minds when we think about the Dire Wolf. Some even say that Fenrir was a Dire Wolf. However, the poem was written in the 13th century, well before anyone knew of the Dire Wolf's existence. But, could this story have been orally handed down through each passing generation only to be written about on some dark and stormy night? More realistically though, this famous poem was not about a wolf at all, but about the internal human suffering in each of us. An interesting article, Dire Wolves Within, on ancient Dire Wolf mythology coupled with the history of the use of language suggests just that. Nonetheless, this giant evil wolf has come to haunt our fantasies and fairy tales and many myths surrounding the Dire Wolf remain.
Common Dire Wolf Myths
Dire Wolves were enormous
While Dire Wolves were a bit larger than the Gray Wolf, overall they were much the same size, although heavier and stockier. Their heads were the main difference as they were much more massive, wide, and thicker with muscle than an average Gray Wolf. They were not the size of small horses or bears and certainly not 5 feet tall and 500 - 600 pounds as World of Warcraft suggests.
Dire Wolves had saber-toothed fangs
While Dire Wolves did have larger teeth than Gray Wolves, their teeth did NOT protrude out from under their upper lips any differently than a regular wolf's fangs. The saber toothed look of the prehistoric cat is NOT an actual fact of Dire Wolf anatomy.
Dire Wolves are mythical
Fossil evidence clearly shows that Dire Wolves were real predators roaming throughout North America at one time on Earth. Role playing games have perpetuated this myth, using the name "Dire Wolf" to describe enormous, vicious wolves in several games and novels. Dire Wolves were very much real, but after dominating the ice age world for around 100,000 years, they quickly died off and were never seen alive again.
Dire Wolves were significantly more ferocious than modern wolves
Dire Wolves were no more aggressive than modern wolves. It would seem that paleontologists have been able to analyze bones (bone growth analysis) to discover that although Dire Wolves could be vicious toward one another, they also found that heavily injured Dire Wolves lived much longer than they would have on their own. This leads many to believe that these wolves took care of their injured when they couldn't otherwise. This does not lend itself to more ferocious than modern wolves. According to some scientists, Dire Wolves ran in packs of 30 or more, this alone would be more intimidating, but there is no evidence they were ferocious man-eating beasts.
Dire Wolves evolved from Gray Wolves, or Gray Wolves evolved from Dire Wolves
While Dire Wolves and Gray Wolves did evolve from a similar ancestor, Leptocyon, over 5 to 6 million years ago, the Dire Wolf was the direct descendent of the Armbruster's Wolf (Canis armbrusteri) while the modern Gray Wolf is descended from the Hare-eating Wolf (Canis lepophagus). Thus, the Dire Wolf is a completely different species from the Gray Wolf.
Giant wolves used in modern stories: Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft, and the Narnia series.