Monday, 20 October 2014

Halloween Horrors Part II- Werewolves

So, the next member of the Major Horror Triumvirate to be tackled is going to be the Werewolf.

Now interestingly the Dictionary has a definition of Werewolf which challenges a lot of the Pop-folklore which has arisen from the many and varied films.

A person fabled in folklore and superstition to have been changed into a wolf by a bewitchment/curse or said to be able to assume the form of a wolf at will... In the Ancient Persian callander the eighth month was called Varkazana- October-November, literally "the month of the wolfmen". 

Now, please not the underlined point there. It doesn't mention the full moon at all. In fact the only reference to the Lycanthropic transformation being triggered by the full moon which I could find (which wasn't tied to the modern cinema era) involves sleeping outside on a particular Wednesday or Friday night in the summer with the full moon shining directly onto your face.
No one mentions being turned into a wolf/hybrid by force once the moon is full.

So, bear that in mind as we move into the world of the Werewolf.

OK, so what makes a werewolf? 
In short, a Werewolf is a person who can become a wolf-like creature or a wolf either through the magic of a curse of because of the moon...because that's what the moon does to certain people. Makes them wolves.

Oh really? And the sun makes vampires I suppose. 
Don't be daft. The sun makes Boggarts. However, the moon does have a strange effect on people. A very strange effect. If you ask anyone who works in the police or A&E they will tell you that their pick up and entrance rates go up around the full moon. It's a well known phenomenon in certain circles. And it makes a strange sort of sense.
The moon controls/causes the tides, its gravitational pull does that, or it's the moon's sex appeal to water doing it. Either way, that minx the moon does that to the largest bodies of water on earth and we squidgy humans are largely water, the moon is going to have something of an effect on us it is fair to assume.
Now bearing that in mind it is quite straight forward to guess that the moon might have something to do with Werewolves and their transformation.

How does one become a werewolf
Normally by being bitten by one, or being cursed. Other choices also include putting on a wolfskin belt/onesie or being bored and running around with a wolf hat on and howling at the moon.

What are the drawbacks
Well, depending on what variety of Lycanthrope you are dealing with anything and everything from being forced to transform under the light of the moon, full or not, right the way through to uber painful and/or permanent transformations.

What are the bonuses
Well, anything from increased sight and smell and hearing to increased agility and strength as well as rapid healing/immortality from anything short of silver...or dismembering and incineration, which works for more or less anything.

Are there any perks?
Did I mention the immortal bit? As well as the whole having a tail thing.

Do I have to become a wolf?
Why, no! Not at all, you can be anything you like! But if you are bitten by a Werewolf then some sort of wolf shape is traditional. The thing is that if you can change at will, as is often claimed, then you would be able to hold the transformation process at will...more or less. Once that becomes possible then you can choose how much of the wolf you would like.

Why wolves instead of bears or birds or badgers?
Anthropomorphic tendencies.

You what?
People like to give their qualities to animals and sometimes even to inanimate objects. The thing is that wolves are already very like people. They have rigid social structures and are dedicated and cunning predators. Qualities that early man saw and emulated. Early man studied the way wolves hunted and copied them, then they mystified the wolf. Golden eyes and all the rest.

How do you stop/kill a werewolf?
Well, if you can then lopping the head off is always a good option. Most things tend to struggle without the head. Traditionally however it should be a silver bullet. Preferably to the heart.

Is it permanent?
Well, death tends to be. Lycanthropy is usually permanent as well. Unless it is caused by a curse which is somehow lifted.

Werewolves in fantasy
So, having covered the basics of what they are etc we can address their general absence from the Fantasy genre.

Like the humble/stumble Zombie generally (with one or two exceptions that I have come across) Werewolves seem to have been sidelined into Horror-only. Usually set in our universe and stuck firmly there.

What could be more fantastical than a person who can change their shape? Well, having said that quite a lot and shape-changing is an area of magic that does pop up occasionally. But rarely is Lycanthropy mentioned. Which I find very odd, especially given that the father of modern fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien mentions werewolves in his epic creation story, The Silmarillion. Now, fair enough, they didn't quite make it into LoTR except as a brief footnote fund in the novel sized appendix, but come on, there has to be some more examples of Werewolves in fantasy out there.
And when I say Werewolves in fantasy, I don't mean fantasy about them, possibly set in our universe,because that is it's own genre, otherwise known as horror.
What I mean is the Dark Lords out there could be missing out on some seriously nasty shock troops!

Example time (parachute trousers are optional for example time)

  • Sorebum-"I really need that annoying band of freedom fighters flattened. They appear to have wiped out the Zombies I sent to wear them out and I don't want to waste more or try my crack legions. I need to hit them with something hardcore and vicious. hmmm..."
  • Henchman 6- "Lord of all darkness, what about the Werewolves?"
  • Sorebum- "Aha! I've got it, I will use the Werewolf Brigade!"
  • Henchman 6- "An excellent plan, my lord."
  • The Werewolves are committed after dark (these being the "change when you want" type of Werewolves) they sneak up toward the band of heroes.
  • Round dawn they attack. Dawn being the best time for sneaky attacks as everyone is a bit sleepy and generally not at their best, especially after a day of Zombie fighting. 
  • The tired heroes are battered by the ferocious assault and several are greviously injured before they can retreat.
  • Dark Lord Sorebum cackles and rubs his hands in glee at the news of the injured heroes.
  • On the next full moon (something has to kick off the change) the injured heroes change into Werewolves and run amok.
  • Sorebum-"Yes, I think that worked out rather well in the end. Pass the cocoa please Henchman 6."
  • Henchman 6- "Yes master."