Recently I’ve been putting together a course on Monsters, and in compiling the topics week by week, I had a moment to pause. Whereas many monsters have seminal texts – Dracula being one example, what exactly constitutes the seminal text for the werewolf? And anyway, why do we need one? There have been some good stories where the themes and characters are decidedly wolfy, such as Little Red Riding Hood, a werewolf is a different thing. Unlike the vampire or Frankenstein’s monster, it isn’t a fixed form, and continually exists in binary form – wolf or human. Despite some of the more recent literature trying to claim that the wolf effect lasts all month long, and can be ‘felt’, the simple aesthetic fact is that only one night out of the month does a hairy snout become a feature of your appearance. Although, as with other monster tales, the story of ‘origin’, ie how they got the ‘curse’ is often told, and the loss of innocence that comes with transformation. Werewolves are unlike other monsters in that they eschew many of the traditional human aspects such as appearance yet remain imbued with a desire for hierarchy (the wolfpack).
In many ways, it can be said that Louis-Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde is the epitome of the werewolf tale. It details the glorious divide between the public and private, the civilised and the primal and the division of self that comes with being something other than human. After all, vampires may have been human once, but these memories are echoes, which distort with time, and remain untouched in the past. Werewolves instead have to continuously relive the human experience, altered by their secret identity. Hiding the monstrous becomes a focus of the narrative, unless of course, the story is set in a world populated by other supernaturals, such as Nightwatch, or even Harry Potter.
The fact that there isn’t a seminal werewolf text (and if I’m mistaken, please feel free to tell me) may be a good thing. Writing and reading a lot about vampires, particularly media texts, there’s only so many times you can read the ‘history’ of the figure and it mention Dracula before you want to tear your hair out. He was not the template for the vampire, only a mixture of folklore and Stoker’s imagination. But that’s all these monsters are. Figments of our imaginations.