Werewolves

Tagged: Theme

This class of Supernatural Creature – along with Vampires and other mythic Shapeshifters – is endemic in the overlapping Fantasy subgenres of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. The condition of being a werewolf, able to transform from human to wolf and vice-versa, is more "scientifically" known as lycanthropy; the more general term theriomorphy extends the transformation to other animal shapes.

Jack Williamson wrote an excellent werewolf story, Darker Than You Think (December 1940 Unknown; exp 1948), in which lycanthropes are seen as members of a distinct race, genetically different from Homo sapiens though superficially identical; the hero who discovers the truth turns out to share this awful but thrilling heritage. This story, like many others of its kind, has a symbolic relationship with split-personality stories like Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), in which the more primitive, amoral, beastlike part of our evolutionary heritage is able to emerge and take on a shape of its own. All such stories can ultimately be traced back to a dualistic view of Man, manifest in Christian doctrine as the idea that humanity on the one hand suffers from Original Sin, but on the other hand has an aspiring spirit which is a gift from God.

A related, only barely fantastic treatment is Guy Endore's The Werewolf of Paris (1933), which sees lycanthropy as a Psychological distortion, perhaps hereditary: no literal transformation from man to wolf takes place. Compare Theodore Sturgeon's similar handling, in Some of Your Blood (1961), of the Vampire. Another variation on the theme is Algernon Blackwood's "The Camp of the Dog" (in John Silence, Physician Extraordinary, coll 1908), whose wolf – though physically substantial – is a kind of unwitting astral projection rather than the result of lycanthropic transformation.

There are many werewolf and quasi-werewolf stories by established sf authors. James Blish's "There Shall be No Darkness" (April 1950 Thrilling Wonder) links lycanthropy with artistic talent and offers a biological rationalization, as does Randall Garrett's "The Breakfast Party" (November 1953 Mystic as "League of the Living Dead"; vt in Takeoff Too!, coll 1987). The protagonist of Gene Wolfe's "The Hero as Werwolf" (in The New Improved Sun, anth 1975, ed Thomas M Disch) is one of the few still-human survivors of a utopian future where the genetically fit have been bred into placidity and health – superhuman sheep, as it were – while the descendants of the abandoned remainder live a tragic, hole-and-corner life, surviving cannibalistically on the super-race responsible for their condition. Whitley Strieber's The Wolfen (1978), though primarily a thriller, provides a rigorous cryptozoological rationale for werewolf myths in terms of a perfectly natural animal species, but one that is rare, intelligent, furtive and hence unknown to orthodox taxonomy. Of the above, "There Shall be No Darkness" was filmed as The Beast Must Die (1974; vt Black Werewolf) and The Wolfen as Wolfen (1981) directed by Michael Wadleigh.

A witty Feminist subtext informs Suzy McKee Charnas's Hugo-winning werewolf story "Boobs" (July 1989 Asimov's), in which the lunar cycle controls both menstruation and transformation into werewolf. In Comics, Alan Moore makes the same female-moon connection in his Swamp Thing episode "The Curse" (1985). Tanith Lee's several werewolf stories, including "Wolfland" (October 1980 F&SF), Lycanthia, or The Children of Wolves (1981), "Bloodmantle" (November 1985 Asimov's as "Blood-Mantle") and Heart-Beast (1992), also have womanly subtexts; "Bloodmantle" has Red Riding Hood as a kind of victor, as she is again in Angela Carter's metamorphic Fabulation "The Company of Wolves" (April 1977 Bananas; rev in The Bloody Chamber, coll 1979), filmed as The Company of Wolves (1984) directed by Neil Jordan.

Other sf (or at least more or less science-fictionalized) werewolf tales and productions include: The Mad Monster (1942), perhaps the first film with a scientifically manufactured werewolf; The Undying Monster: A Tale of the Fifth Dimension (1922) by Jessie Douglas Kerruish, filmed as The Undying Monster (1942; vt The Hammond Monster); The Werewolf (1956), where the transformation is a side-effect of an experimental Drug; I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957; vt Blood of the Werewolf), with lycanthropy induced by Hypnosis; Clifford D Simak's The Werewolf Principle (1967), featuring a human space explorer adapted by Genetic Engineering to take on the shapes and personae of encountered Aliens, one of which happens to be wolflike; Larry Niven's "What Good Is a Glass Dagger?" (September 1972 F&SF), with a reverse-werewolf protagonist whose natural form is the wolf and who will revert to this animal state when the Magic (here viewed science-fictionally as a non-renewable natural resource) fades; The Orphan (1980) and its two sequels, by Robert Stallman, positing an Alien origin for werewolves; Moon Dance (1989) by S P Somtow; Michael Weaver's trilogy collected as Wolf-Dreams (omni 1989); The Werewolves of London (1990) with its increasingly philosophical Scientific-Romance sequels The Angel of Pain (1991) and The Carnival of Destruction (1994) by Brian Stableford; Wolf Flow (1992) by K W Jeter; Tom Holt's comic Barking (2007) and Blonde Bombshell (2010) – the latter rationalizing the werewolf (here, weredog) transformation in terms of tweaking the outward physical form during Matter Transmission; and Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling sequence beginning with Slave to Sensation (2006).

Relevant anthologies coedited by Martin G Greenberg are Werewolves: A Collection of Original Stories (anth 1988) with Jane Yolen, The Ultimate Werewolf (anth 1991) with Byron Preiss (Greenberg anonymous), and Werewolves (anth 1995) with Ed Gorman (anonymous). [DRL/PN]

see also: Max Brand; Gary Brandner.

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