On Werewolves

Since childhood I have been enthralled with monsters. In the course of my lifetime, I have viewed hundreds of hours of monster movies. I watch them all the good, the bad, the God-awful. I have read hundreds horror stories, old and new, devoured folklore from a variety of cultures, and bought comic books and role-playing games. I know of the Crawling Eye and the Monolith Monsters. I can tell you the difference between a manitou and a Wendigo. I know how to deal with a Fir Darrig, but I digress. Of all the monsters, only one has struck a profound chord within me–the werewolf. No other monster has captured my imagination as fiercely. While I cannot recall when or where I first encountered werewolves, I vividly recall when the seed of my obsession was planted. It began with a nightmare.

Wolf Shepherd by Doré

At the tender age of eight, I experienced a powerful nightmare of a werewolf clawing at my bedroom window. It was one of those dreams that felt so real that it couldn’t possibly be a dream. Lying in my bed, I heard the heavy, bestial breathing and the horrendous sounds of sharp talons carving into the wall.

I was convinced that by opening the curtains I would come face to face with a snarling visage of fangs and fury. Frightened out of my wits, I did the sensible thing. I hid under the covers and yelled for my dad. Yawning, he arrived to uncover the reason for his disrupted slumber. When I told him, he sleepily replied, “If there is a werewolf outside right now he is probably freezing his balls off. Now, go back to sleep.” Once dad departed, I remained awake wondering how on earth the werewolf’s balls could be cold since they were surely covered with thick fur.

That morning, after bolting down breakfast, I ran outside to seek evidence that it had been no dream. I needed to see the jagged claw marks on the house I was so certain were there. There were none. Ironically, instead of relief that my experience had only been a dream, I was disappointed.

A little over a year later, I was home from school sick. Mom was at work and dad had long since moved out of the house. Alone, I watched TV on a 12” black and white set. In those days daytime TV was mostly reruns, but at 1 PM Dialing for Dollars came on with Pat McCormick. That particular day it was a horror movie that ignited my love affair with the loups-garou.

The Werewolf is one of the better werewolf flicks with a decidedly different take on the werewolf legends. This low-budget B-movie is better than some of today’s high budget werewolf films. It’s worth a watch if you can catch it.

On that day, for the first time, I saw the creature of my nightmare realized. I watched hypnotized, studying the monster as if a naturalist. I was hooked.

Off and running, I eagerly watched any and all monster movies, always scanning the TV Guide for another werewolf flick. Those were the days of Creature Features with Bob Wilkins. Thanks to him I saw The Wolfman and Curse of the Werewolf.

A few years later, my dad gave me Monster Tales, one of the greatest books I ever read as a kid. Among some excellent monster stories was an iconic short story titled Werewolf Boy by Nic Andersson. It is a taut first person revenge tale of a young medieval boy versus a vicious duke. Suddenly, I had another source for werewolf lore–books!

My hunger for werewolf tales demanded to be sated. The school librarian didn’t have any werewolf fiction to offer me, but our school did have a non-fiction book about werewolves. Non-fiction? As in not made up? Intrigued, I checked out The Werewolf in Lore and Legend by Montague Summers. As soon as that was finished, I went straight to the public library and requested Sabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Were-Wolves. By my 13th birthday I was well studied on the subject of Lycanthropy. While other kids my age could tell you who played Right Field for the San Francisco Giants (Bobby Bonds) I had no idea. I did, however, know who Peter Stubb was.

What is it about werewolves that seduces me? I love the dichotomy of man and beast and the purity of their union. The werewolf possesses the best and worst traits of two animals that when combined create the perfect monster. It has the intelligence of man, the predatory instincts of the wolf, and the savagery of both.

This combo seems straightforward, but it’s amazing how often I am left disappointed by how werewolves are depicted. Generally there are quite a few physical manifestations of werewolves that I enjoy. While I appreciate wolf-men, my physical preference is for the hybrid style of The Howling.

Physicality aside, however, it’s the portrayal of werewolf behavior that leaves me wanting. I don’t like my werewolves running about like rabid dogs any more than I like them playing high school basketball. Nor do I think werewolves are serial killers, “Green Commandos” or German Shepherds on steroids.

In my mind werewolves are the embodiment of unrestrained violence, but that violence should be guided by an intelligent mind. Typically the human side is where the storytellers invest their time, creating compelling characters such as Larry Talbot and David Kessler.

Lucian from Underworld ©2003 Screen Gems

Several current onscreen werewolves are pretty awesome. George Sands of Being Human is a terrific werewolf as are the Lycans of Underworld, but they still fall short of my ideal vision.

Thanks to Twilight there are a lot of hunky werewolves running around. Sexy does sell. I have even read some of the werewolf erotica. Yes there is such a thing, books like Leader of the Pack by Leighanne Phoenix and In the Dark by Fairleigh Grayson. Maybe it’s just me, but as badass as the authors make the men out to be, their werewolves feel neutered. As for werewolves with psychic powers, I hate them! I admit that am a picky son of a bitch when it comes to my lycanthropes.

It is the werewolf’s transformed state where the creativity gets lazy. All too often, the werewolf is treated simplistically as a savage beast in a blood frenzy. Certainly that is true and in line with legends. What is forgotten is the intelligence behind that savagery. That is what needs to be explored more fully, what is going on behind those burning eyes.

Treated simply like an angry wolf, or worse, as a man in a wolf body, the werewolf falls short of its full potential. Blend the cunning and violent natures of human mind and feral wolf add the advantages of opposable thumbs and upright gait, and flavor with the heightened senses of a wolf and suddenly things become far tastier. Of recent films, the remake of The Wolfman comes closest to demonstrating my idea of how a werewolf behaves. Yet I really didn’t care for Benicio del Toro’s mopey Larry Talbot. My ideal werewolf remains unrealized.

Recently I’ve come full circle and returned to nonfiction to satisfy my lycanthropic needs. Lovely day and age this is for any monster fan! With the Internet at my disposal I have discovered werewolf lore I never imagined existed. For example, I learned about the companion warriors to the infamous berserkers of Norway, the Ulfhednar. These savage warriors wore wolf skins into battle instead of bear pelts, yet were equally as terrifying as their better-known comrades in arms.

Among the more surprising finds was the Benandanti, medieval werewolves who fought witches in Hell to save their village’s crops. These were the original good-guy werewolves, the Hounds of God. There was an inquisition of one such “Good Walker” named Theiss in Livonia circa 1692.

Additional research into historical documents revealed more stories I had never heard of. Within these accounts lay the seeds of inspiration. Instead of looking for someone else to tell me a great werewolf story, to create my perfect werewolf, I have decided to write one for myself. It is based on a medieval account that has set my imagination afire.

That book shall have to wait to be written for I’ve another tale I’m bursting to tell—the story of Khajj. As I write the Soulbinder’s Covenant with my coauthor, the werewolf in my imagination will not remain quiet. It calls to me, howling in the dead of night, stalking through my mind’s dark forests with uncanny cunning and remorseless fury. When my fearsome tale is told, it will reawaken the monster within the werewolf, just as Narcisse has re-sharpened the fangs of vampires with her novella An Endless Hunger. It’s time the werewolf got his balls back (and trust me, they won’t be freezing)!

  • Zully Bartley

    Nice M! Can’t wait since I have been entranced by werewolves as a youngster also. My mom and dad introduced me to those films and legends of werewolves along with vampires…

    • My dad was a monster fan. Among my favorite childhood memories are spending lazy Saturday mornings watching old Hammer films. He was a huge fan of slasher films, took us kids to see the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” when I was 14. He has a real love of Wes Craven films such as “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes.”

      I find slasher films interesting, actually did my senior thesis in college on victim stereotypes in slasher movies. Yet as much as I enjoy those films (“The Devil’s Rejects” is my fav) my heart has always been with monster movies – especially the old Universal films.

      I get the love affair people have with vampires, I have always been a huge fan of zombie flicks, but the werewolf is the undisputed champion for my affections.

      Films are fun, but the real thrill is in unearthing real accounts from humanity’s past. The werewolf has a rich and compelling history.

      By the way – I saw “The Cabin in the Woods” this weekend and LOVED it! Highly recommended! See it spoiler free, see it soon!

      Bonus Trivia – the very first horror movie I remember watching was Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” I was around six at the time and secretly watched it in the kitchen of my mom’s best friend while they were visiting in the other room!

    • My favorite legendary creature remains the satyr, but all in all I think I can lumped in with “those” vampire people. In college I wrote a thesis on the historical significance of vampires in contemporary media. Nothing tops a good lamia! I’m mostly OK with hunky vamps but as of late they’ve bred like rabbits. An Endless Hunger was a bit of a stab at glittering vampires. I like my monsters monstrous.

  • Zully Bartley

    Yes I like all horror type movies yet like you I remember Saturdays being spent watching The Wolfman with Lon Chaney, and Count Dracula with Bela Lugosi tops!

    Funny that The Birds was my Fave of Hitchcock films to I still catch it once in awhile. Yes I heard about Cabin In The Woods I want to see it. I truly liked the bloody horror/slashers of Hostel movies…Yea I can be a bit deranged !

    • Hostel huh? A worthy entry into the horror genre. I watched more than my fair share of slasher films, still think John Carpenter’s Halloween is the best of all. “Real people” horror movies like Devil’s Rejects and Psycho are cool, but I will choose a monster flick every time. After werewolves, my favorite horror movie genre is ZOMBIES! Again a youthful experience that scarred er – inspired me!

      I was eleven years old the first time my mom, step-dad and sister went on a trip while I stayed home alone. That Friday night at 11:00 Creature Features with Bob Wilkins came on and it was the very first time ever he was showing George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” with limited commercial interruptions. So all alone in the house I watched it. Long story short, every single light in the house was on, doors were barricaded and I stayed awake with a baseball bat and an army helmet. I wasn’t going down without a fight!

      Even then I knew I was being silly, but it sure was fun scaring the hell out of myself with my imagination. Something I still do today. I am weird in that I enjoy my nightmares, I usually turn them into horror movies where I usually win. Usually.

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