There…Wolf

Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolfman

There is something seductive about power, and the werewolf, the ultimate representation of savagery, is one of literature’s most primitive displays of animal rage and power in its darkest aspect. This ancient horror, recounted by the likes of Herodotus, Virgil, Ovid, and Pliny the Elder, has probably been part of our lore long before there was written history. The terror generated by the beast taps into the same unease we feel when we consider the likes of Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dalmer.

While we are unable to fathom that sort of savagery, we know that without warning we can change from observer to prey.

Some argue the werewolf acts out of pure animal motive, feeding off the exhilaration of the hunt. Perhaps, but as a horror writer, I think the best depiction isn’t the werewolf as PETA poster child, but rather as a manifestation of our darkest nature, hunting not for food, but for the thrill of inciting terror and for the pleasure of the kill. The werewolf is Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekyll.

From a literary standpoint, there are few stories or novels where the werewolf has managed to shine. You won’t find a werewolf equivalent to Dracula, for instance. Larry Talbot, (the character portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr. in Universal’s The Wolfman), is hardly a memorable figure. The name is not a staple in outside the horror community, and often not even within the horror community. Even  Stephen King’s werewolf novel is hardly considered a horror classic.

As a member of the urban fantasy community, appearing in such books as Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, or the Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, werewolves tend to wear a different hat (or is that wear a different fur?). Instead of being a representative of our inner-animal, they take on the role of the proletariat to the elitist vampire community. In these appearances, vampires are rich, sophisticated, and smooth. The werewolves are laborers, lacking the vampire’s silky charms.  Even the Twilight rivalry of Jacob and Edward can be dissected from a class struggle perspective.

Of course, if we begin to look at the werewolf/vampire dichotomy from this point-of-view, some interesting thematic statements can be culled from the above books, some perhaps unintentional on the part of the author. Where the thematic statement is unintentional, as it probably is in the Stephanie Meyers’ books, it says a good deal about the author’s political and cultural world views. And no, I’m not going to go into such a dry disssection here, but it is certainly worth a future discussion in another venue.

—Stewart Sternberg

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