enter the werewolf

Well, it all started here when Alex Bledsoe talked about what he really thought about the vampires in the Twilight series. As always, Alex delivered a very thoughtful post, not just on the Twilight series, but on the subject of vampires as a whole. Then in my wanderings, I came across this post by James Long at his blog, Speculative Horizons, where he wrote about a Twilight fan’s rant regarding the movie, The Wolfman. Obviously, the young lady felt the werewolves weren’t realistic, because they didn’t present the cuddly team Jacob werewolf look of Twilight, among other issues.

While I’ve never read the Twilight series nor seen the movies, I did get to see Wolfman last night. The movie conveyed the essence of the werewolf theme beautifully, and no, the werewolves portrayed in Wolfman were not beautiful wolf-like creatures. They were beasts and loners. Murderers.

You see, expectations regarding the vampire, what a vampire is and does, are quite universal. Whether your vampire is lurking with Count Dracula, Edward Cullen, or Baron Rudolfo Vladimir Zginski, the vampire is about sex. This treatment goes far beyond Stoker’s Dracula, back into the Eastern European legends of the vampire (see the most excellent The Darkling: A Treatise on Slavic Vampirism by Jan Louis Perkowski). The werewolf, on the other hand, wasn’t a seductive creature at all, but a murderer, pure and simple.

While doing research for my third novel, I scoured the Internet and books for clues as to the nature of a werewolf. In doing so, I stumbled across an essay, “The Name of the Beast: A Consideration of the Historical Werwulf,” by Robert Dunbar. This is an excellent starting point for anyone’s research into the history of the werewolf. Of course, it was apparent in the essay, as most of us already know, that the consistent theme in werewolf lore is that of transformation, of allowing the beast within a man to show his face to the world.

Men who claimed to be werewolves during the Middle Ages exulted in their murderous passions. From the introduction of the werewolf in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the werewolf is portrayed as a violent creature spawned to replicate the soul of a destructive man.

According to Metamorphoses, the god Jove took human form to visit the king of Arcadia, a man named Lycaon. While the devout prayed, Lycaon made sport of the event and devised tests to assure himself that Jove was, in fact, a god. First Lycaon tried to murder Jove in his sleep. When this tactic failed, Lycaon ordered that the throat “of one that laye in hostage there, which was an Epyrote: / And part of him he did to rost [roast], and part he did to stewe.”* Then Lycaon served Jove this cannibalistic dinner to see if Jove could tell the difference between the flesh of men and the flesh of animals. Somehow, in Lycaon’s mind, this would prove whether Jove was a god pretending to be a man or a man pretending to be a god.

Needless to say Jove was a god pretending to be a man, and he realized what Lycaon had done. Less than delighted with the whole affair, Jove destroyed Lycaon’s house and condemned him to become “a ravening Wolfe: whose shape expressly drawes / To that the which he was before.”* Jove declares that Lycaon’s “cruell heart in outward shape doth well it selfe bewraye [reveal].”*

Jove transformed Lycaon into a wolf so that his physical body would reflect his murderous soul. So you see, at the very start, the werewolf was not a nice guy, not in his heart, and Jove made sure the world saw Lycaon in his true form.

Enter the werewolf. A violent, capricious beast, unable to mask the horror within himself. His human nature must reconcile himself to the violence he commits on others when he loses control. His life is a constant war of conscience. Yet the werewolves in Meyer’s Twilight series seem to embrace their inner nature and have learned to tame and manipulate it.

Personally, (and this is certainly my opinion, nothing more) I enjoy stories that show the werewolf battling his inner nature to suppress the violence within himself rather than tales that have him glibly running about in a convivial pack atmosphere. Somehow, this bland acceptance of his nature emasculates the werewolf into a teenage boy, who postures and preens in imitation of men. There is no depth to such a creature, in my mind.

A man who recognizes his capacity for violence, such as Lawrence and his father Sir John, do in Wolfman, must then decide whether to exult in that murderous nature or destroy it, though it may mean his own death. Well. There, oh yes, there we have conflict. To overcome such discord of the soul is what separates the man from the boy.

So when you strip it all away, it comes down to expectations. Young adult genres will have milder versions of the werewolf for their younger readers, but adults generally prefer the Wolfman version. Neither version is good or bad, it simply boils down to personal preference.

So how do you like your werewolves served? How do you see the themes of transformation in werewolf lore? And if you write dark fantasy or horror, how do you enjoy exploiting the themes of transformation in your work?

*Nims, John Frederick, ed. Ovid’s Metamorphoses: The Arthur Golding Translation 1567. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2000.

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About T. Frohock

Please visit my web site at: www.tfrohock.com
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21 Responses to enter the werewolf

  1. Glinda says:

    Great blog entry, Teresa! The links to the Alex Bledsoe and Twilight fan rant pieces were fantastic. Twilight fans are indeed pretty obsessed about this stuff. As someone who has been into fantasy and horror since I was a child, it is really funny to hear a teenager tell you that you’ve got it wrong!

    And while I love vampires, werewolves and other shapeshifters for what they symbolically represent, I do sometimes lament the fact that no one seems to want to date and have relationships with humans anymore, LOL!

    • Thanks, Glinda, for such a wonderful laugh! We mortals are a rather dreary bunch when put up against such fantastic creatures, aren’t we? 😉

  2. ali says:

    This is a great article Teresa, and I’m totally with you. I enjoyed the werewolves with a twist in Twilight, but I really love, and prefer, the internal-battle themes of traditional werewolf stories.

    • Hi Ali, I’m glad you mentioned liking both. There’s nothing wrong with Meyer’s werewolves, because they fit the audience they’re intended for, someone looking for a twist. Most people are like you and know the difference.

      Although I must admit, there is some teensy-weensy parental part of me that wonders what was that young lady doing watching Wolfman? Granted, we watched the unrated version on the DVD, but I can’t imagine that the R-rated version was any less violent.

  3. Rick says:

    I wish you’d written this before I finished my werewolf novel and sent it to my publisher! I’m going to check out that essay. Thanks for the link.

  4. kat magendie says:

    I love the “good old fashioned” werewolf….the tortured soul werewolf. I’d love to write something about a werewolf and maybe one day I will, though that is out of my genre, as I don’t write fantasy or horror. This is an excellent post, Teresa — well written and well thought out and researched.

  5. Hey Teresa,

    For me, I’ll take either kind of werewolf, pending the writing. If the writer can make a believable world/character, one that’s engaging, you can give me a mean mamagama werewolf, or a soulful, ‘I hate my bad side and I’m really quite gentle’ werewolf! It’s just gotta be good!

    Personally, werewolf stories with a touch of humor (ala American Werewolf in London) are awesome! Why do werewolves always gotta be so darn serious anyway? 😉

    Excellent post!

    xoxo — Hilary

    • I like the Werewolves of London too! They were nasty but the whole thing was campy in a fun way. I’m not sure why werewolves are so serious, but I think it has to do with those pesky homicidal tendencies they tend to harbor! 😉

      Thanks for popping in, Hil!

  6. I’m a sucker for the internally conflicted werewolves myself, which of necessity does tend to make them a serious bunch.

    As for the Twilight beasties, I wonder if the seem to grow into their natures so easily to provide contrast to Edward. I haven’t read the books, but from the movies, Edward seems to have the market cornered on self-recrimination.

    • Hi, Jan, I’m not sure about the Twilight characters at all. All I really know about the characters and the story, I’ve picked up from other blogs and Wikipedia, so I’ll trust your assessment about the Edward/Jacob contrasts. It sounds feasible.

      I do know, just from some comments I received on my own work when I put it on OWW, is that most people in the twenty-first century see wolves as they really are: pack animals that actually live in a nurturing society whereas the Medieval view of the wolf was very different. They saw the wolf as a terrible beast. So I do believe that there is a difference in perception from that angle too.

  7. erikamarks says:

    Wonderful post, Teresa. Years ago I worked with a wonderful agent on a manuscript (called BAD BLOOD–what else, right?) that I had written about a female executive who is bitten by a wolf on vacation with her lover and subsequently changes, modeled after Jack Nicholoson’s character in WOLF. I liked the idea of exploring a female character who is struggling with a certain duplicity (this one obviously brought about by a chemical change) and trying to work through contradictory impulses in the controlled world of big business. The novel never saw the light, but I enjoyed exploring the themes it raised…
    All that said, I would have to admit I far prefer the more intense portrayal of the werewolf, the one who is deeply tormented by his impulses, certainly a more adult interpretation, as you suggest.
    Thanks for raising a great subject!

    • Hi Erika, what an interesting idea. I hope you’ll get a chance to expand on it or write something new with it. I’d like to read a good story with a female werewolf. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. authorguy says:

    Hi Theresa,

    This is a great post. When I was writing my own novel on werewolves I wasn’t interested in the werewolves themselves, because they are simply ravening beasts and killers. Not much dramatic potential there. My focus was on the people who become the beast, including some who like it and some who don’t. I’ve discussed that novel and its origins at length on my blog, http://authorguy.wordpress.com

  9. Nora Weston says:

    Excellent post! Even though I write in the horror genre, I’ve never written a story about werewolves. They do interest me quite a bit and I prefer them to be filled with angst, forever trapped between their human and beastly selves. I think many people can relate to a creature torn between good and evil, because that is also the predicament mankind has to deal with. Now that you’ve made me curious, I’ll be reading about them well into the night! 🙂

    • Hi Nora, thanks for stopping by! I think werewolves get treated like the red-haired stepchild of horror sometimes — they’re in the back of everyone’s mind, but that’s about it. This is my first story with one, so I’m curious how it all will turn out. 😉

  10. bethhull says:

    An author friend sent me this link – I’m revising a werewolf novel now, and the werewolf history you posted here is thought-provoking.
    One thing to consider (I read in one of your above comments that you haven’t read the Twilight books) is that the wolves in Twilight aren’t exactly werewolves. Yes, they change back and forth from human to wolf, but their origins are far different from the European werewolf; they originated as protectors of their tribe.
    But you’re right: they aren’t as interesting as the characters who struggle with their dual natures. And I want mine to be fascinating. Thanks again for the information.

    • Hi, Beth,

      I really appreciate you pointing the difference between the Twilight series and the classic European werewolf.

      Good luck with your own werewolf novel. I’ll be by to visit your blog when the dust settles from our trip.

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