It’s WEREWOLF WEEK on Horror Bound! Why? Because WHY NOT?! Werewolves never get as much love as Zombies or Vampires and we’re here to bring them more attention. All of this week we’ll be pumping out werewolf themed content. Join us all over social media as we celebrate!
It’s werewolf week here at Horrorbound and I thought what better way to put my multiple history degrees to work than by taking a look at the history of the werewolf mythology and lore. As a writer and fan of horror, it often seems as though the genre is not always taken seriously by critics and reviewers. For example, when Jordan Peele’s Get Out was classified as a comedy when the movie is so clearly a horror movie, it felt as though the Golden Globes liked the movie, but were trying to distance themselves from nominating a ‘horror’ film for best picture. While I think the tide is turning in the mainstream and horror is no longer as shunned as it once was, there is still a stigma attached to it. Because of this, elements of the genre do not always get the same critical, academic analysis as they would in non-horror areas of television, movies and fiction. However, many of the elements and tropes of horror could and should receive a thorough and deep analysis. While I don’t think I can provide an analysis as deep as a topic such as the werewolves deserves, I hope that I can provide a bit more information regarding them that was not always readily available to the masses.
All that being said, I think it is important to start this analysis of the werewolf genre with a personal story about my own first encounter with the trope. As with probably many people around my age, Michael J. Fox informed most of my early understanding of werewolves through his role in the move Teen Wolf. I remember going to the children’s room in the public library to check out books when I was younger. When we made this weekly trip, my mother allowed us to borrow a single VHS tape (yes, I know I’m dating myself) along with the books we hoped to read that week. There was a chance this was the only movie rental of the entire week, so the choice was made with the utmost care. There were other movies that I borrowed on occasion, but many times the movie of choice was Teen Wolf. Once (only once) it was Teen Wolf Too, but the original Teen Wolf was a huge hit. What is not to love about Teen Wolf? The wolf was cool, he was popular and he was a tremendous basketball player, to seven-year-old Joe, there was nothing more I wanted in life. And this was my first encounter with werewolves. And to be honest, it was probably the most defining interaction I had with the werewolf trope for a long time. There were of course random kids dressed up as werewolves for Halloween and a werewolf character on the Halloween episode of a cartoon here and there, but none of those left the lasting imprint that Teen Wolf did. As I got older, I became more interested in the darker side of things and started to watch a little bit more horror and read a lot more horror and with that, came a new understanding of a different type of werewolf that was not only not funny, but also, didn’t seem to have any interest in basketball or van surfing.
The actual origin and creation of the werewolf myth is actually tremendously difficult to nail down. It is most likely that the werewolf myth began with the oldest known prose writing The Epic of Gilgamesh. In the story, Gilgamesh turned down a woman who wanted to sleep with him because in the past she had turned another one of her lovers into a wolf. There are similar tales in Greek mythology of Zeus turning boys into wolves and Nordic myths of a father and son turning into wolves for ten days. While these myths exist, there is only a slight connection between these stories and what we think of today as a werewolf.
As time passed, the werewolf myth actually has a lot in common with witch myths of the same time period. During the late-middle ages and the early modern era in Europe, women were often killed after being accused of being witches. Around this same time, though not as prevalent, some were also accused of being werewolves. As with the witches, there was no evidence but both men and women were brought to trial and executed for their supposed crimes. This was typical throughout Europe during the late-middle ages, but the majority of the witch trials and the werewolf trials took place in and around the southern parts of Germany.
Naturally, the idea of a human who would turn into a wolf and kill other humans was a fearful one. Because of this, many serial killers were thought to actually be werewolves. This was especially true in France during the sixteenth century. Infamous killers were brought in and claimed to have had a special ointment that changed them into wolves and said that it was the wolves who did the killing, not the men themselves. The idea of making killers into monsters is something that has gone on for years and helped to perpetuate the werewolf myth.
The werewolf myth has persisted from those early stories and legends of actual werewolves and made its way from a way to explain unbelievable stories to being found mostly in fiction today. Throughout the years there have been movies and TV shows and novels surrounding the idea of werewolves. For me, the book that took the werewolf from what it was in my mind as a kid to its more fearsome counterpart in the world of horror was Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf. It is a short book but it hits all the right notes and tells a story the way only King can do. The book takes place over the course of a year and chronicles the attacks of the werewolf with the passing of each full moon in that time in a small town. When I first read Cycle of the Werewolf, I was just coming into my own as a reader of horror. It was the first book that really opened my eyes to what a werewolf story could be. That book helped me see the werewolf as something other than the funny wolf in Teen Wolf, to a fearsome monster. Then I saw the movie Underworld. As a kid if you told me there was a movie about a vampire/werewolf war, I would have thought it was a cartoon. But this movie and its subsequent sequels were anything but that. They were dark and featured great action sequences and put werewolves in a prominent role within the movie. For me, that was the final switch in my thinking of werewolves. After that I didn’t immediately think of Michael J. Fox when someone mentioned a werewolf.
There is more media now covering the myth of the werewolf than there has ever been. Between movies and books alone there is a tremendous amount that must be consumed to fully understand how far the idea of the werewolf has come since it was first put down in print in the Epic of Gilgamesh. However, all of these werewolf stories, the short ones the long ones, the funny ones and the serious ones, all form together and continue to add more and more chapters to the myth of the werewolf which has been with us for thousands of years and will continue to persist well after we are gone.
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