4 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Werewolves
Anne Rice is coming to Houston on March 21 to do a signing of her new book, The Wolf Gift, at Murder by the Book. We haven't read her latest, non-Jesus book thoroughly, but a brief flip through reveals the same awesome, trashy pulp style she used on the underrated Ramses the Damned. It's full of all the blood and sex that made her famous, not a bad beach-day read at all.
So maybe we're being a little pissy by pointing it out, but it seems like no one has any respect for the origins of the European werewolf that most of our films and books are based on. So much of it is just plain invention without any basis in legends from the dark ages. Since we're the kind of person who has Sabine Baring-Gould's authoritative treatise on the history of werewolves in our bathroom reading pile, it falls to us to clear up these misconceptions. Things like...
Wolf Gift, like pretty much every other book and film since The Wolfman, gets going when an attack by a mysterious canine figure triggers a transformation from man to manbeast. Sometimes the plot involves a struggle for a way to stave off the coming change, or sometimes it's all about a character's embrace of the primal. Whatever the case, you'll be hard pressed to find a fictional universe with werewolves that doesn't follow the premise that at least some forms of werewolfism are spread through bites.
That idea is only as old as 1941. That's when it shows up for the first time in the Lon Chaney Wolfman. The appeal is tied in to the same appeal as a vampire's bite, namely that the victim is an innocent. It enables us to identify with a character that is in a set of extraordinary circumstances. That's why it has remained so popular, but in traditional werewolf mythology, the only thing you get from a bite is a case of either death or festering infection. The innocent-victim thing is certainly a load of dogshit because...
The other thing about the appeal of the bite, or in a lot of modern fiction heredity, as a cause is that it allows you to sympathize with the character. After all, you can't blame someone for being attacked, and you certainly would feel like an asshole for calling someone a monster for the circumstances of their birth. You'd be a lot less likely to throw in your lot with them if you knew that both causes are lies from the father of lies.
Most court accounts of people accused of being werewolves involve a voluntary transformation either through pacts with Satan or through magical charms, which was obviously considered demonic by the courtly authorities. Please bear in mind this wasn't magick with a "k." This was magic designed to straight-up murder people. Transformation was usually the result of a salve, or a wolfskin belt. Once caught for their predations, the devil usually took away their magical artifacts, which was their explanation for why they couldn't transform any more.