The Coolness of Werewolves: Guest Post by Ashley Meggitt
The past, as L.P. Hartley says in his novel The Go-Between, is a foreign country, and to skit off that a bit we could say the long past is an entirely different world. It’s a world where there is no science, where folklore and folk psychology rule, and where the story is king. It is here that the werewolf was created, bought to life around campfires to help understand events that at the time were unexplainable.
It seems that the first stories of men turning into wolves emerged 100’s of years BC and came from encounters with nomadic tribes such as the Neuri from Scythia (now Russia). Herodotus (a Greek Historian - 425 BC), for example, describes the Neuri as magical men who changed into wolf shape every winter. He is almost certainly describing the clothing they used to keep warm, and it would not be far-fetched to think this may have included wolf pelts.
The path to werewolfdom was considered by the early storytellers to be through the moral quality of an individual’s character. Plato (Greek Philosopher) tells a story of a “protector-turned-tyrant” of the shrine of Lycaean Zeus, in which he suggests that anyone tasting human entrails would be transformed into a wolf. This protector who does taste human flesh is called Lycaon (the mythical king) and later Latin texts, and Ovid in particular, point to Lycaon’s transform into a wolf as predicated by a display of immoral behaviour, murderous intent, and cannibalism. Ovid also describes the transformation thus:
He tried to speak, but his voice broke into an echoing howl. His ravening soul infected his jaws; his murderous longings were turned on the cattle; he still was possessed by bloodlust. His garments were changed to a shaggy coat and his arms into legs. He was now transformed into a wolf.
Ovid’s description of transformation and associated lack of morality is the origin and subsequent template for modern werewolf stories.
So far though, it doesn’t seem too cool to be a werewolf.
Moving from the past world, through the past as a foreign country (noting numerous murderous events blamed on the werewolf), to the present day and, much like the transformation of man into wolf, we find there has been a transformation of the immoral wolfman into a bit of a hero. While not all modern depictions of the werewolf have strayed far from the original concept, many have removed the immoral, murderous aspect, as a prerequisite for werewolfdom and deliver instead a version of the werewolf that is powerful, honourable, and a force for good. Within mainstream literature (and film) featuring the modern werewolf the Twilight Saga is perhaps the best known. A more complex beast is presented in films such as the Underworld series which shows us a more edgy version of the werewolf, while J.K Rowling and Terry Pratchett have the behaviours of the werewolf directed by the moral lines taken by their human antecedent.
It’s definitely getting cooler to be a werewolf and I suspect that there are now many books in the genre that give us empathetic werewolves – agents for good over evil, guardians of morality instead of vessels of immorality, and protectors of those in need rather than tyrants that would rather eat you. With that in mind then, if we add that being able to turn into a beautiful creature such as a wolf, with its awesome sense of smell, its physical strength, its strong family instincts, its excellent hearing, and its enhanced sight then we are getting into pretty cool territory. Not just that, as a mythical version of the animal, werewolves are generally impervious to most weapons, have long lives or, in some versions of the animal, are immortal, and are damn good at fighting vampires, then we have to acknowledge that they are indeed cool.
Also, let’s face it, providing they are not trying to eat you, they are the ideal creature to cuddle up to on a cold winter’s night – furry and warm, intelligent, and protective. You can’t say that about vampires now, can you?
Ashley Meggitt lives near Cambridge, UK, with his wife Jane. He left school to join a psychedelic rock band when he realised that sex, drugs, and rock and roll was a thing. Subsequently he went back to education and became head of IT for a Cambridge University College. In recent years Ashley has retrained in psychology and is now an associate lecturer in sports psychology. He is studying for his PhD. He also holds an MA in Creative Writing. The Dark Chorus is his debut novel.
Check out what Mr. Meggitt is up to at https://ashleymeggitt.com/