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The Horror of the Werewolf

Ryan Parkinson, Kyle West, Michael Delahoyde (and Jill Missal, Wolf Song of Alaska Volunteer)

 

The ferocity of the wild wolf has long been threatening to humans, for in many ways wolves are a direct threat [or challenge] to man's [puffed up notion of his own] dominance. Not only do wolves prey upon animals that are raised by humans [for themselves], such as sheep or cows, but more so, wolves act out in ways that are a threat to the human social structure; they act without conscience. [Rubbish: they threaten humans' self-image because they too form a social structure, but a more efficient one.] These animals will act in ways that are pleasing to themselves, which is viewed by people as sinful or evil. [They operate well in packs, and humans can't.]

The distinctive features of the wolf are unbridled cruelty, bestial ferocity, and ravening hunger. His strength, his cunning, his speed were regarded as abnormal, almost eerie qualities, he had something of the demon, of hell. He is the mysterious harbinger of Death. (Summers 65)

The reputation of wolves is notorious, even in the Bible: "Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves" (Matthew 10:16). Throughout a wide variety of cultures wolves are an enemy and viewed as evil [always cultures where wolves share our own lust for other animals we feel we own all rights to].

Werewolves, or wolf-men, have been fabled and dreaded monsters in numerous cultures throughout the world for centuries[the same ones as above, in which wolves themselves are already demonized]. In many examples of werewolf literature, werewolves are created by a severe sickness.

You many recognize [werewolves] by these marks: they are pale, their vision feeble, their eyes dry, tongue very dry, and the flow of saliva stopped; but they are thirsty. (Summers 39)

Werewolves were originally viewed as very sick people who no longer had control over themselves: werewolves were people acting without conscience. Many believe "that all human, indeed all animal, behavior is aimed at obtaining a maximum of pleasure and a minimum of pain, or even asserts that the desire for pleasure and the fear of pain are the main motives of all our actions" (Eisler 23). This is true for humans in the case of severe sickness and loss of mind. The werewolf in literature is the person who acts out in such a way, the way that a wolf would act [if the denigrating stereotype of the wolf were true].

As the legend of the werewolf has evolved, the werewolf has become more wolf-like. This evolution has brought the idea of a physical metamorphosis from man into wolf. In original literature and stories, the metamorphosis from man to wolf happened through a superficial application of costume, such as using a girdle or wearing a wolf skin (Summers 112). The horror in this concept is not the shape, or changing of shape, of the werewolf, but rather the uncontrollable behavior. The change is the great horror when depicted in horror films. In current films, the metamorphosis is often the most horrific moment of the entire picture. Physiological changes are actually observed occurring, including bone structure, skin texture, and emergence of fangs. Hair grows over the body, the nose protrudes, fangs enlarge, and pointy ears emerge from the head. The difference between the original werewolf and the werewolf of current films is not the behavior, for it has been relatively constant. Rather, the difference is in the physical metamorphosis.

The characters and myths of werewolves have long been present but to this day remain extremely vague. No one knows exactly what the werewolf is and why it is so horrific. Perhaps this ambiguity is due to the fact that the werewolf does not have a solid textual incarnation, but rather occupies legend and lore. The werewolf has never had such clear description in the way that Mary Shelley depicted the Frankenstein Monster and Bram Stoker defined the vampire with Dracula. Werewolves simply are creatures possessed by a demon, very sick, or who, through some physical way, accrue the virus that leads to the cursed transformation. [Wagner the Werewolf of the Victorian potboiler notwithstanding,] there is not just one definitive werewolf.

Despite efforts in film to create the horror of metamorphism as the primary terror of the werewolf, the real horror is in the mystery of the creature. When one's intentions or motivations are unknown, the results are feared. Dracula is horrific due to his nature, but at least his intentions are known. But werewolves will act out in ways that please themselves at the moment. This behavior and the lack of conscience are foreign [or at least disturbing] to all dignified humans, and therefore the werewolf is alien, evil, and horrific.

Sources

Eisler, Robert. Man Into Wolf. NY: Philosophical Library, 1951.

Summers, Montague. The Werewolf. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1966.