A Philosophy of Werewolves

 

One of these days, I keep telling myself, I will write the quintessential werewolf story.

There are quintessential tales for golems (Frankenstein) and vampires (Dracula) because those stories offer more than mere entertainment. They dig into the darker side of human nature not just for cheap scares but to make us reflect on pride, lust, and daring.

One aspect that raises a good story to a great story is layering of themes. A simple novel picks one idea and runs a plot through it. A great epic folds the story onto itself time and again, like Damascus steel. For that reason, I can share the heart of my hypothetical novel without spoiling it.

The werewolf represents Man’s struggle against his baser animal nature. A beast’s life is driven by undeliberate impulses. The self-critical mind is pivotal in human nature, but is not in itself humanity. We are essentially both mind and body; both reason and irrational or subrational feelings. An unemotional person is called robotic, stone, or inhuman for good reason.

Emotions are necessary. They are the fuel that impels us forward. Reason tampers and directs that force. But without passion we idle in contemplation and endless planning.

Emotions provide not only impetus but confirmation for our logical choices. Joy is the peace born of harmony between what is and what should be, between what we long for and what has become. It is the reward for right living.

Along the vast and nuanced spectrum of emotions, anger and sadness are the other most fundamental. Anger pushes us outward and sadness draws us back in. Anger demands correction to perceived injustice. Sadness slows us down to reflect on what is lost or missing. These darker passions, when moderated and guided by reason, eventually return us to joy.

But passions can overwhelm reason and wreak havoc before they subside. That is the heart of the werewolf! Like an addict, the werewolf falls prey to an insatiatable hunger and rage. In living for lust, it is driven wild by it — never free of it. Satisfied by the power of fury, it embraces anger eagerly, habitually.

You see, there are two ways to arrive at harmony and fleeting happiness. The first is to better oneself and one’s environment to a state of grace. The other is to debase oneself into a mere animal — a ravenous reflection of the chaotic and brutal world one finds oneself in. A person can hope to repair life to manifest one’s beautiful dreams. Or that person can surrender to a broken world… and enjoy breaking it.

A measure of harmony, and so satisfaction, can be had by adopting ugly desires and habits to match ugly circumstances. Lies can be comfortable when they accord with lying company. This universal temptation is why Christians are advised to be in the world but not of the world.

For a werewolf story, as for stories of addiction or sin, a happy ending is one in which the beast finds hope of becoming something greater. Though those wayward impulses remain, as do the consequences of reckless indulgence, there is yet a measure of peace to be grasped by making a garden of the wilderness. The wild within ourselves must be tamed — directed and often subdued, but also honored and occasionally loosed.

This is part of June 2019’s Group Writing project on the topic of Hot Stuff

There are 23 comments.

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  1. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Just make sure that the hero of your story is perm-a-press. I prefer a wash-and-werewolf.

    • #1
  2. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Just make sure that the hero of your story is perm-a-press. I prefer a wash-and-werewolf.

    That’s awful!

    • #2
  3. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    So… Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? 

     

    • #3
  4. B. W. Wooster Member
    B. W. Wooster
    @HenryV

    Sounds like a winner!  Look forward to it’s publication and subsequent rave reviews!

    • #4
  5. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    I’d recommend reading Andrew Klavan’s Werewolf Cop. It is based on a German serial killer who had supposedly sacrificed his soul to get shapeshifting powers.

    • #5
  6. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Are you trying to say that I was a Teen-Aged Werewolf isn’t the quintessential werewolf story?

    • #6
  7. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    I would  recommend reading Larry Corriea’s Monster Hunters International: Alpha, too. The main character is a werewolf who has learned to control the wolf aspect.

    • #7
  8. Michael Brehm Coolidge
    Michael Brehm
    @MichaelBrehm

    Lycanthropy was a fairly common accusation at witch trials back in the day. Those accused of being a werewolf were usually said to be in league with a black man in the woods (the devil) who gave them either a belt of wolf’s skin, or a magic ointment they used to make the transformation.

    The trial and execution of Peter Stump is a particularly gruesome account of one such trial. (you can find the gory details online easily enough if you’re strong of stomach.) Stump was a German farmer back in the 1500s who got his name because he was missing his left hand. The beast in the woods that terrorized the town was missing it’s left paw, and that led the authorities to accuse, torture, and ultimately convict him for being a witch, a cannibal, and a werewolf.

    Of course, some doubters will say he was simply an innocent farmer who got caught up in the religious wars between the Catholics and the Lutherans that wracked the Holy Roman Empire at that time, but who can say with certainty?

    • #8
  9. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

     

    • #9
  10. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Where wolf?

    Edit: Got to get to this stuff earlier.

    • #10
  11. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    With so much weight afforded to feelings these days, whether it’s eagerly taking offense or “falling in” love or doing whatever “feels right” at the time, it’s important that people understand that feelings and conscience are not magical compasses that always point to truth. Desires and emotional responses can be disordered. 

    There will always be reasonable room for debate about what constitutes truth and disorder. But it should not be extraordinary to hear one’s feelings dismissed as unjustifiable. People can be angry or sad or happy for silly reasons.

    If we want to keep the freedom to discuss such errors, we must reject the comfort of indifference while objections are minor. If we call nothing freakish or wrong, deviance will become more fanciful and disruptive with each generation. 

    • #11
  12. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    My problem with most werewolf literature and cinema is that it is largely deriviative. There is no reason for a writer to adhere to the rules established by earlier writers, but most inevitably do. I enjoy it when a writer introduces a new parameter, as when in one of the Dracula films Van Helsing uses to candle sticks to form a cross which Dracula simply grabs and destroys since it is obviously not a  blessed crucifix.

    One of the best werewolf books I have read in recent times is The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. His follow up books are not as good, but they are still readable. Another really good book, if you don’t mind a comic turn is Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand. 

    For me, Lon Chaney’s Wolfman will always be the best cinematic version. The more recent attempt to redo it failed miserably largely due to the fact that Chaney had enormous humanity which was never lost in his character. You could empathize with his nightmare. The new version completely lacked that. Benecio Del Toro’s Larry Talbot had none of that gentleness in him and so failed to better the original.

    • #12
  13. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    With so much weight afforded to feelings these days, whether it’s eagerly taking offense or “falling in” love or doing whatever “feels right” at the time, it’s important that people understand that feelings and conscience are not magical compasses that always point to truth. Desires and emotional responses can be disordered.

    There will always be reasonable room for debate about what constitutes truth and disorder. But it should not be extraordinary to hear one’s feelings dismissed as unjustifiable. People can be angry or sad or happy for silly reasons.

    If we want to keep the freedom to discuss such errors, we must reject the comfort of indifference while objections are minor. If we call nothing freakish or wrong, deviance will become more fanciful and disruptive with each generation.

    Fine words from the guy trying to co-opt my entire sense of self for ‘literary purposes’. It is oppressors like you that have forced lycanthrope-Americans to live in the moonshadows for centuries. Don’t think you can culturally appropriate my otherkin-ness and get away with it. I’ve already mailed your info to the several VWFTQ groups and we’re going to watch you with feral eyes! 

    We’re not getting Anne Riced again. Not this time. 

    Sincerely,
    Fluffy 

     

    • #13
  14. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Eugene Kriegsmann (View Comment):
    For me, Lon Chaney’s Wolfman will always be the best cinematic version. The more recent attempt to redo it failed miserably largely due to the fact that Chaney had enormous humanity which was never lost in his character. You could empathize with his nightmare. The new version completely lacked that. Benecio Del Toro’s Larry Talbot had none of that gentleness in him and so failed to better the original.

    Wolf with Jack Nicholson did it best, I think. But Chaney’s is certainly the more sympathetic character. And whereas the original film maintains that it’s a curse, Wolf ultimately embraces the wild side. 

    Thanks for the book recommendations, all. The tale of Jekyll and Hyde does hit similar themes, but it’s a short story that could have dug deeper. 

    • #14
  15. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    I had forgotten about Wolf. I loved that scene in the bathroom. Nicholson’s dementia made him a natural for that role.

    • #15
  16. Richard Finlay Inactive
    Richard Finlay
    @RichardFinlay

    Werewolves are part-time humans, part-time wolves, but dogs are full-time humans/wolves.

    (Per Terry Pratchett in Men at Arms.)

    • #16
  17. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Larry Talbot in Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October is a pretty sympathetic werewolf.

    • #17
  18. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Eugene Kriegsmann (View Comment):

    I had forgotten about Wolf. I loved that scene in the bathroom. Nicholson’s dementia made him a natural for that role.

    “The worm has turned and he’s packing an Uzi.”

    • #18
  19. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    This post plays on the emotional sense of June’s “Hot Stuff” theme. Would a vampire or a golem better fit July’s “Chill Out?”  Please stop by and sign up to share your own angle on the topic, however loosely construed.

    • #19
  20. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Eugene Kriegsmann (View Comment):

    I had forgotten about Wolf. I loved that scene in the bathroom. Nicholson’s dementia made him a natural for that role.

    “The worm has turned and he’s packing an Uzi.”

    Wolf focuses on the benefits of animal passion. It contrasts passion in the heart of a gentleman with the passions of an evil man. 

    In the beginning, Nicholson’s business is under threat and he meekly accepts it with a fatalistic attitude. The wolf’s passion gives him the thirst for justice and the ambition to fight for what he wants. Spader’s character is a careless opportunist before the bite, so passion only makes him more brutally careless of other people. 

    Cleverly, Pfeiffer’s character first thinks all men are predators and Nicholson must insist that he is a gentleman. All he seeks is “some small measure of civility from my hostess.” With the wolf’s force, he is thrilling but devoted. Spader’s character treats women as objects before the bite and attempts to take them as objects after. 

    IMDB offers this quote from the doctor in whom Nicholson’s character confides: 

    Dr. Vijay Alezias: And it feels good to be a wolf, doesn’t it? Power without guilt. Love without doubt. 

    Emotions can be like drugs flowing through one’s system. Generally, they amplify conscious thoughts. But in extreme doses emotions become an adolescent thrill ride without consideration for consequences. The future dims and only the present remains.

    When only instincts and desires guide one’s actions, the core of one’s character — as shaped through a lifetime of deliberate choices — becomes a point of life or destruction. 

    • #20
  21. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    Desires and emotional responses can be disordered. 

    I’m writing some new books on Augustine’s take on that.

    • #21
  22. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    I would recommend reading Larry Corriea’s Monster Hunters International: Alpha, too. The main character is a werewolf who has learned to control the wolf aspect.

    You beat me to it.  And I think Terry Pratchett has some fun with werewolves, but I don’t remember which books. @amyschley probably does.  I also like Jim Butcher’s Full Moon.

    • #22
  23. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    I would recommend reading Larry Corriea’s Monster Hunters International: Alpha, too. The main character is a werewolf who has learned to control the wolf aspect.

    You beat me to it. And I think Terry Pratchett has some fun with werewolves, but I don’t remember which books. @amyschley probably does. I also like Jim Butcher’s Full Moon.

    Several in the Sam Vimes series.

    • #23

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