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Wednesday, November 26, 2008


The literary werewolf

Well check this out. Ages ago I wrote an essay on the history of the literary werewolf, which I've likewise for ages been meaning to find a way of putting on my blog, foiled by my pathetic technical skills.

But it's online! So if anyone's interested, go read it. :-)

Extremely interesting. Frankenstein's monster seems a unique case, though, in part because he is unique. I don't know that we have a genre of Frankenstein's monster stories--just retellings of the same story.

The thing that has struck me as odd about many werewolf stories is that authors tend to ignore one of the most basic behaviors of wolves: they're social animals; they operate ideally in packs. You and Tanya Huff both put your lycanthropes into social contexts, which makes more sense of them, IMO.

I'm also wondering about how our culture's current worship of the dog, coupled with the fact that wolves really aren't a threat anymore, impacts our reading of werewolf stories. It's difficult to read a well-constructed werewolf character without at least some sympathy for the wolf part. (As a human being, of course, s/he can be a complete jerk.)

In making those remarks, I've focused on precisely what you might describe as the less significant part of the werewolf's double life: the fact that he transforms into a particular type of known animal. But taking Mr. Hyde as a prototype (and I'm not quite sure I go along with that), aren't many of Batman's villains cast in a Mr. Hyde type mold? Morally negative versions of Peter Parker--ordinary men who somehow developed some beastly characteristic but, unlike Parker, are either so controlled by that characteristic that they can no longer function in society or yield to the evil entirely. (Parker, of course, does not actually become a spider, nor oes Batman's Penguin become an actual penguin, so perhaps that comparison fails from the start.)

Anyway, very interesting essay. Much to think on, there.
I've printed out the essay, so I can re-read it and think about it a little bit more.

I think you have a very good point about there not being a archetypical werewolf story, akin to DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, although I would argue that the vampire (the risen dead who preys on the blood of the living) and the golem (the product of our magic / technology that escapes our control and turns on us) are at least as old as the werewolf.

I am also a bit bemused by the (apparent) conflation of the Wild Man and the Werewolf. (I may be misunderstanding this -- like I said, I read the essay quickly, online). I think that the Wild Man (or even the Beast Within) is a very different creature; that the essence of the Werewolf is that he is the Wild Man disguised as Socialized Man, and the dichotomy, and the deception, are somehow central to this myth.

(Even in the world of your novel, people were expected to keep their bestial sides under careful control, and anyone who wandered out as a free wolf would have to consciously break the rules to do so)

Oh, and I was glad to see that the trope I played with in my one werewolf story (the Werewolf as Sin-Eater) apparently HASN'T been done to death. Yet.

More thoughts after I have a chance to properly digest the essay. And this turkey.

(Word verification: "carks" a centuries old gambling game played by vampires and werewolves with the knucklebones of zombies -- the trick is that the playing pieces keep trying to wander off on their own...)
A bit off-topic, most likely, but I find myself wondering about connections between the werewolf and another recently discussed type: the "Man of Vengeful Peace." In each case, a normal, peaceful man displays a wild, savage side--and that on a fairly specific cue. In each case, something lurking within is let out, not by will of the man himself.

(Verification word: "Folon"--a very silly legendary French lawmaker.)
Verrrrrry interesting. I've wanted to write the Definitive Werewolf Novel since I was about sixteen, but I've never really managed (even to get started). The most successful attempts borrowed heavily from Beauty and the Beast and its associated tropes.

The thought process (which didn't go in quite the same direction as yours) did spawn a number of short stories, though. Probably the most interesting of them was an inverse werewolf story, in which the beast is hunted and harrassed and pursued until finally, in rage and desperation, it transforms into a human.

Today's word is karright, which is the joyous cry of werewolf surfers the world over.
As a hardcore werewolf fan, firstly let me say "awesome!" I wrote an essay at uni on werewolves as a metaphor for adolesence, which was very well received but is now unfortunately lost in the ether. Sigh. But this makes me want to re-write it...
I'm curious as to why you see the Mary Sue problem as specifically strong in werewolf fiction, but not so much in vampire fiction. Unless I'm misreading you? The modern vampire fantasy seems rife with Mary Sue potential, full of angsty sexy beautiful immortals as it is. (I'm afraid here in the U.S. we're still in the throes of Twilight's popularity, and a more Mary Sueish/Gary Stuish vampire fantasy you could not hope to find.)

Word verification: "splovo", which sounds very close to Cleolinda's coinage "fursplode", which is apparently what werewolves in the Twilight books do when they get too close to vampires.
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