A quick personal history of werewolves, part one

April 18th, Waning Gibbous.

I realized that I had actually missed my deadline, and I said I would stick to my weekly posts, so a bit of backstory will do.

As I read through recent werewolf scholarly work, I noticed that there was a common theme, especially among female scholars. They all identified an “aha!” moment that fascinated them. Chantal Bourgault de Coudray talks about her fear and attraction to the French horns in “Peter and the Wolf.” A few, like Renee Ward, have been especially drawn towards Remus Lupin in Harry Potter,  and the character’s intersection with werewolf lore on multiple levels. That is my own origin story, which I will save for a later date.  But before that, I went through a Universal Pictures phase, long ago, when I was a teenager.

I imagine many people have a horror phase, which sometimes they grow out of. I’m very unpromising material for a werewolf researcher, as horror overwhelms me and I don’t like violence or gore. When I was young, though, there were various tv creature double features, which showed the old Universal Pictures horror movie lineup, along with some later entries from Hammer Studios. I probably saw them all. Somewhere in my parents’ basement lay stashed a set of Tomb of Dracula comics, issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland and Vampirella, and a really execrable play I wrote, all of which died when the basement flooded, alas. Dracula isn’t even my favorite character in Dracula. My favorite character is Renfield. Gross, but true.

In any case, I certainly saw The Wolf Man fairly early on. The Wolf Man is low on horror content. What it has, and to me, what all good werewolf stories have, is melancholy and distrust of the self. It’s not about the rampages, and it’s certainly not about the makeup job (hey, they did the best they could). It’s about Larry Talbot frantically warning his nearest and dearest against him, his determination not to let them get close for their own sakes, and the verse that the old woman recites:

The way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own,

But as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea,

so tears run to a predestined end. Now you will have peace for eternity.

No happy ending is possible for a werewolf, who is both the hero and the monster. They go down together, like Harry and Tom Riddle off the walls of Hogwarts in exactly the way they didn’t in the book. This may be why I didn’t predict a happy ending for Remus Lupin, either.

But that’s a story for another day.

The moment that seals Larry Talbot’s doom. Note the silver-headed cane in his hand. He kills Bela Lugosi with it, and eventually it’s going to kill him. It’s a wolf-headed cane, and that’s what it’s for.

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