Werewolf Review – Marvel’s Werewolf By Night (2022)

Over the Halloween season, I watched the new special presentation on Disney+, Marvel’s Werewolf by Night directed by Michael Giacchino, because I felt obligated to do so. It’s a werewolf movie and I watch all werewolf movies despite how much 99.9% of them are terrible and make me profoundly sad and/or angry, and it’s also Werewolf by Night, whose material I have enjoyed at times in the past (despite the name of his character; more on that soon).

This one wasn’t any different. I was really hoping it would be. I came into this one with high hopes, and they were dashed to tiny bits.

If you liked Werewolf by Night, then good for you! More power to you. I’m happy for your sake. But I didn’t like it at all, and if you’re going to be offended by the fact that I personally thought it was outright terrible and has no right to call itself a werewolf movie, please do not continue beyond this point. Because I’m not pulling any punches. Well, I might be pulling a few, but anyway, I am going to get a bit brutal here. This isn’t some kind of professional review. I am roasting this, and I am going to great lengths to do so, because this was cathartic for me.

Disclaimer: THIS REVIEW DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS and in fact contains A FULL SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION OF THE ENTIRE FILM.

The album cover for the music of Werewolf by Night, which falsely implies it is about a werewolf

Continue at your own risk of spoilers and ruthless savagery for this movie that should have been named Man Thing!


I will open first with the statement that I am a huge cinephile. A film nerd. A crazed movie fan. I’m the person who will talk to you about every behind the scenes thing and what lenses everyone was using and how they did every tiny thing. Going to the movies is my favorite thing on the face of planet earth, and I think film is the ultimate storytelling medium that mankind as a whole has always striven for since we were telling tales around the campfire as hunter-gatherers; it is the pinnacle of all storytelling that brings together almost every other possible medium; it is a true beauty to behold, especially with an audience of fellow strangers who, for one unifying instant, know each other and relate to each other through the story unfolding before them–

Anyway, my point is, I really freaking love movies.

With that out there, as this is my first time really posting a film review, I have of course in this modern era ended up reviewing something that is direct to streaming. I personally do not like streaming. Call me old-fashioned. I won’t get into all that right now, even though I could – for hours on end.

With ALL that said, let’s get back to the matter at hand: Werewolf by Night.

I have but one question to ask of this movie: why is it billed as a werewolf movie?

Why on earth is this showcased as a werewolf movie? Why did Michael Giacchino emphasize so much, and get my hopes up, saying that he, and I quote from this interview

I was having a conversation with Kevin Feige one day, and he said, “Well, if you’re going to direct, what do you want to direct?” And I was like, “Werewolf by Night. Absolutely” because they were comics that I used to buy when I was a kid. I still have the ones I did buy when I was a kid. I always loved that character and I just love werewolves.

That he “just love[s] werewolves”? The movie implies he just loves moss monsters.

I want to state up front and in bold this movie isn’t even about the werewolf. You can argue with me about that, but it won’t really change the fact that the word “werewolf” is never said in this movie. I mean, I’m not even kidding – even the word “wolf” is never said in this movie. The hero’s moniker is Werewolf by Night, the title of the movie is Werewolf by Night, all the promo material is covered in him in werewolf form and pictures of full moons and spooky trees and all those great things you want from werewolf pictures, but we get no sense of that.

There is minimal, vague discussion of what exactly Jack is or turns into, what his curse is, and how it works. It’s the barest bones. We get a mention of the moon, at least, but of course, that isn’t even what makes him turn in this instance, so that’s out the window. It’s just a spoken line.

There is no night and/or moon imagery that evokes those werewolf feelings, the werewolf never howls, there is no mention of wolves or werewolves, there is no mention of something like a werewolf’s bite or silver or anything stereotypically werewolfish at all that we would expect from such a big homage to classic werewolf movies and concepts (like The Wolf Man, which started all of the aforementioned tropes like silver and biting, etc – you can read all about that in laborious detail here!).

He could have turned into a polkadotted porcupine and it’d still be the same film.

So since this is billed as a monster movie, do we at least get monsters? Yes, we get two. We briefly get a snorting pig-squealing werewolf at the end of the movie, very briefly, more on that later – and we get Man Thing, the highlight of the entire film and everyone knows it.

Man Thing is the one with the interesting arc; he is the one who gets to do monster things, he is the one who gets to have the interesting and tense – if only very briefly, before it devolves into typical MCU silliness – monster scene where the audience might minimally entertain the notion that he will harm the main girl. Man Thing is even the one to save the girl’s life in the end of the movie. He also saves Jack.

I have to very seriously submit that this show should’ve been called Man Thing.

This movie fell hard into the same pitfall as basically every MCU thing since Civil War: they try to do too much. Even in the span of 50 minutes or however long this thing was, they decided to split the bill among no less than three main characters: Jack Russell, Elsa Bloodstone, and Man Thing.

The end result is that the most we ever see of Jack Russell is him being a bumbling wimp who is so silly and dorky and “likable” that he can’t even stick a bomb to a wall because he’s just too “endearing.”

Let me start at the beginning.

I reviewed this film in full in an impassioned rant on my Discord server. I’ll be taking a few notes from that rant as I go on. So, let me give you some context, dear reader, in case you haven’t seen this film. What follows is all but a summary of the movie with my reactions and review.

For starters, I am afraid I have to open with the blanket statement of that I don’t understand why direct to streaming things today look like trash. The production value on this movie was supposedly very high, as it should’ve been, given it’s Disney, and they take in over 80% of all revenue from Hollywood at this point. Unfortunately, that didn’t save this movie.

Not only was the movie obviously filmed on digital cameras with painfully after-camera black and white and film grain and an extremely silly film burn to try to make you think it’s authentic (it isn’t, at all), but the sets look like minigolf courses that should’ve been condemned in the 80s and the after-camera effects are beyond bad.

There is this one point where Elsa breaks this old tomb open and these spiders are meant to crawl out. The spiders were so out of place and unaffected by the surroundings or the lighting. It was one of the most terrible blatant effects shots I have ever seen, and I watch a lot of movies.

I won’t harp on about the cameras and the effects and how the frame-rate makes it look like a soap opera. I’ll really try not to. I just don’t understand why all streaming products are so cheap looking, to the point of making some of the old direct to video obscure forgotten little two-man passion films you can find on Amazon Prime look almost amazing. Anyway, let’s move on.

The premise of the film immediately starts out weird and lame. There’s a big ritual monster hunt where the winner gets this nebulous MacGuffin called the Blood Stone that is an artifact for hunting monsters. It controls them or something with some sort of special effects red and white wooshes of light. A bunch of monster hunter weirdos show up at this big manor because Daddy Monster Hunter died and is going to give his Blood Stone to the winner of this ceremonial hunt.

The hunters present include Jack Russell, our titular hero, the supposed Werewolf by Night.

Sidebar: You may not know this about Werewolf by Night, but the character’s full name is Jack Russell. Yes, he is named after the freaking dog breed. Haha, so funny. He’s a werewolf, so let’s name him after a dog. This is so much worse to me than the typical trope of naming the werewolf after a wolf or wolf-related things (like Remus Lupin, Fenrir Greyback, Miss Lupescu, etc etc), because wolves are not dogs. Instead of shirking this and using the name of the new Werewolf by Night character from Marvel comics, Jake Gomez, which better suits the character as portrayed here anyway, they reused Jack Russell (although I do not recall ever hearing anyone call him “Russell” in the show, just Jack; I may not have been paying enough attention after a point to notice, if they did). That makes me sad because Jack Russell is a terrible, stupid name and no one should ever use it again, especially if they are trying to get anyone to take werewolves seriously, as Giacchino was supposedly claiming to be doing here.

Due to my vitriol about his name, I shall refer to him as Jack Russell Terrier from this point forward.

Back on track: Jack Russell Terrier shows up in his makeup and a fancy tie. We receive almost no information about his character. We’d love to hear more about him, as we assume he is the protagonist – or we would like to see him, maybe, being mysterious and intriguing.

We don’t see either of these things.

Instead, Elsa Bloodstone arrives, who steals the show from Jack and receives character establishment and development immediately. We are introduced to her and her background and her relation to Daddy Monster Hunter. It is quickly established we are supposed to like her, as she sasses the creepy old crone at the head of this entire ordeal, orchestrating the monster hunt, who is one of the cheesiest and most overwrought villains I’ve seen in black and white or in color.

We proceed to follow Elsa around more than we follow Jack Russell Terrier, overall.

Everyone proceeds into the weird maze hunting grounds, full of various traps, under the threat of being hunted by some great monster that has the blood stone stuck in him and thus must be defeated before the prize can be claimed. No, that monster isn’t a werewolf or the werewolf. That monster is Man Thing.

Long story short, shenanigans happen, during which we discover Man Thing is a sympathetic character despite being a big scary monster and that Jack Russell Terrier is here to help him. Throughout these events, we see Elsa and various characters being badasses to assorted degrees – except Jack Russell Terrier, who is established as basically a bumbling and incompetent fool, making us wonder why on earth he is here and how on earth he expects to even help his monster friend.

Why is Jack Russell Terrier such an idiot who is capable of doing absolutely nothing, even following direct and simple instructions? Is this supposed to make him likable, I must wonder again? It really, really doesn’t work, and it’s terrible writing.

I want to emphasize yet again that Man Thing is clearly the highlight of this film. His interactions with Elsa were the driving force of the movie, which is what you might expect from a movie about a werewolf and a girl – if the werewolf was that driving force, not the Creature from the Black Lagoon turned into a moss monster Shambler from World of Warcraft.

The real protagonist of the film (screenshot from World of Warcraft)

Man Thing goes by the name Ted because lol humanizing should also be funny because this is Marvel. Elsa encounters him just as he effortlessly slays one of the other hunters; she says his name, he soften up at her. This would’ve been a great scene to have with the werewolf to establish that he is both terrifying but human and sympathetic. That might have even happened if this had been a werewolf film, but it is not.

I want to emphasize something else again: the werewolf gets NO buildup in this entire movie.

Not even a passing mention. Not even a vague indication, a hint, something creepy to make the audience tense and excited for when the werewolf finally shows up. I’m 100% all for building up to the werewolf instead of immediately throwing him out to the audience with no establishment or foreshadowing of his power, but this film did not do that at all. It threw him out very briefly at the end of the movie without any buildup, so the audience just sits around waiting and wondering why this movie is named after a werewolf.

Next, they help Man Thing escape by blowing up a wall. Jack Russell Terrier takes about four solid minutes to do this because he is, again, a butterfingers idiot who can’t follow simple instructions. They should’ve sent George of the Jungle or else Elsa should’ve done it herself. I guess it’s supposed to be funny, but it isn’t.

After Man Thing escapes and Elsa gets the stone off his back, kind of in that order, Jack Russell Terrier decides that he should walk up to the stone for no blessed reason at all.

Why would he do this? He knows the stone affects monsters. This was established. He knows he is a monster. Why on earth is he so stupid? I had such a hard time even liking a character of his absolutely unbelievable levels of stupidity, and some of my favorite characters are the endearing ones who are really trying their best but aren’t that great at things. If that’s what they were going for with this, it didn’t work, especially not here, where he screws himself and Elsa over as efficiently as possible just because he was so stupid he had to go touch the stone he knows is going to hurt him in some not fully established way, when he is supposedly experienced and good at this whole gig.

But no, he pokes it and is sent flying across the set by some unknown force and curls up in pain while all the monster hunters descend on them at once, magically not only discovering their location but reaching them barely seconds after the explosion, all through the power of diminishing runtime.

The old lady then drops a terrible line, cackling as she says, “I wonder what breed of evil you are!”

This angers me for several reasons. First of all, I have always found people wondering what kind of monster someone turns into to diminish the impact and power of all shapeshifting monsters as a whole. If your story has a character standing around waiting to see what kind of “werecreature” the guy writhing in pain and screaming – and probably begging for them to save themselves – is going to turn into, that lessens the overall impact to the point of losing all interest. No one here seems concerned at all that Jack Russell Terrier turned out to be a monster, they’re just amused by it and tittering wondering what kind of fancy creature he might turn into. There’s no buildup and certainly no specific werewolf foreshadowing or establishment of fear and power.

Then, suddenly, Elsa and Jack Russell Terrier are in a cage.

Now we hit what was, frankly, possibly the worst scene in the entire movie: the one that is actually supposed to establish the werewolf. Jack Russell Terrier talks nonspecifically about what ails him and Elsa briefly makes a weak effort to be disturbed by it. Jack Russell Terrier scratches his ear in a way that looks sped up by effects, and I guess that this is our hint that he’s the headlining werewolf that supposedly features in this movie during the last 18 minutes because lol dogs scritch.

There were a few times my soul almost flew from my wretched mortal form while watching this film. This was one of them.

Then Jack Russell Terrier suddenly descends upon Elsa and starts snoofling all over her, snuffling in a very cheesy, weird, stupid, and frankly very awkward and uncomfortable way, because lolo he’s a werewolf so gotta get sniffs! And he is saying, “I need to remember you” and saying to look at him.

They could have made that not terrible. Really, they could have. I can appreciate the sentiment. But they chose not to do that and to make it just a little bit painful to behold. They could have made it tense and emotional, made it a slow buildup of trust between the two characters. He approaches her reluctantly, tries to explain himself, and slowly begins to take in her scent; she asks him wtf is wrong with him, etc etc. It intimidates her but he isn’t trying to intimidate her. She can see how nervous and serious he is about this dire situation, about this dangerous thing he turns into…

But no, instead, he just launches himself over there at her and starts rubbing himself all over her and snuffling and it’s just so bad and poorly written, I can’t even emphasize it enough.

In comes the weird cult of monster hunters who are so over the top cultish that, at this point, it makes you want to turn the movie off and pretend you and everyone else in the world didn’t watch it, because you’ve lost all hope. But since the werewolf is finally about to appear, you continue giving it a chance.

Old Evil Lady waves her red lantern Blood Stone around and it shoots after-camera effects at Jack Russell Terrier, who writhes on the floor.

I will give props to what follows, so here is some brief positivity! We cut to Elsa watching in horror as Jack Russell Terrier snorts and squeals like a truffle-sniffing pig. His shadow on the wall depicts the transformation scene. This was the only good idea in and good thing about the entire movie (other than the idea to make the werewolf using practical effects/makeup, which I do appreciate).

And then we finally have the movie’s namesake werewolf, right here at the end of the film. Again, this could have been perfectly fine, because I love buildup, but there was no buildup to the werewolf, so it didn’t actually work out at all.

Why, though, does the werewolf sound like a squealing, snorting pig? It really bothered me.

At any rate, someone left their fog machine on suddenly in the cage because classic horror has the very good idea of not showing you too much of the monster too immediately and they wanted to emulate that somehow.

Again, I want to express appreciation for having werewolf makeup and using practical effects for the werewolf, instead of CGI. Big props for that. That was a bold move in today’s day and age and one that Giacchino didn’t have to make.

The Evil Old Lady steps closer to the cage and gets grabbed. Why did she do this? Who knows. Does this raise concerns that she was bitten? No, but if this was a werewolf movie, maybe that would’ve happened.

The previously established weird cadre of monster hunter characters who weren’t killed by Man Thing then come up and shock Jack Russell Terrier Monster (he wasn’t called a werewolf, so I won’t call him that either) until he releases Evil Woman. Then the very impressive named and unnamed monster hunters manage to lose Jack Russell Terrier Monster in a very evenly-lit room as Jack Russell Terrier Monster tears free of the cage, which is probably the only impressive thing he ever does, and climbs around the walls (and somehow they continue to never see him).

Why is the lighting in all modern movies so even and bright, by the way? It’s weird.

Anyway, Jack Russell Terrier Monster proceeds to cut down some cannon fodder. Elsa easily escapes the cage and starts battling and dispatching the actual named, established villain characters, while the werewolf is left with faceless nobodies to kill in an attempt to be impressive, which isn’t impressive at all.

Long story short, a not terribly exciting fight scene ultimately ends with Old Lady cornering Jack Russell Terrier Monster with the Blood Stone and overpowering him because he sucks. Elsa comes and seemingly kills the old lady, saving the helpless werewolf monster, who – I must say again – clearly sucks.

She then cautiously approaches Jack Russell Terrier, who jumps up and charges her, pinning her. We get a good look at his decent but not fantastic monster makeup (again, at least he wasn’t CGI) in what is supposed to be a brief emotional connection, which isn’t really well done, and then he runs away.

Yeah, he just leaves.

But then the Evil Old Lady stands up yet again and gets ready to kill Elsa. Man Thing appears and saves her.

Yes, Man Thing is the one who shows up and saves the girl and then follows his lost puppy Jack Russell Terrier after a gag exchange between him and Elsa, because lol Jack Russell Terrier is just such a handful! He’s so silly!

This also firmly establishes Man Thing as the cooler, more powerful character, the more mysterious character, and the character who has a better emotional connection to Elsa despite spending less time with her. It’s all very weird.

Switch to color, so we can see that Man Thing’s practical effects aren’t actually that good or impressive and that the classic films still did it better. Jack Russell Terrier, now back in human form, talks to him and they have a cuppa with lil smiley faces on them because lol this is the MCU so it must be funny.

The end.

Conclusion: I say again, why wasn’t this movie just named Man Thing?

The werewolf who was never called a werewolf or treated as a werewolf had absolutely no buildup as a monster, no interesting scenes, no establishment, no development, wasn’t even named – I could go on. How in any way was this even a werewolf movie? Why did they let the werewolf get sidelined so horribly in what was supposedly his own film?

I’ve heard people present the lame excuse that they didn’t have enough runtime. No, they did. This movie is barely not the same length as The Wolf Man (1941) that basically established all of modern pop culture werewolf media thereafter, including the comics that supposedly formed the basis for this movie. And the movie did Man Thing decent justice. It just focused on pretty much everything but the werewolf.

Watch at your own risk, I guess. You might even enjoy at least a moment or two of it.

But I didn’t.

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Werewolf Fact #68 – The Importance of The Wolf Man (1941)

It is virtually impossible to overstate the sheer importance of one single piece of media on the general perception of werewolves today.

This piece of media came from a time when going to the theater was a riveting experience, when movies chilled you, when you watched in awe and wonder, captivated by the practical effects that, to you, as you were fully engrossed in this storytelling experience, were reality. With no famous literature about werewolves having created a foothold of concepts, as Dracula by Bram Stoker did with vampires, and with only forgotten films and stories too strange to resonate with the common people about werewolves before it, this movie alone was allowed set the bar and establish all expectations for all werewolf media to come…

I’m talking about one of the classic Universal Monsters pictures – I’m talking about The Wolf Man (1941).

Other than it’s very fun filmmaking and great use of many different oldshool film tricks and, of course, practical effects, as well as its original Universal Monsters film charm, The Wolf Man is a timeless classic for another reason: without it, modern day werewolf media wouldn’t even be half the same.

Sure, there were other films that came before (though very few) that may have or certainly did influenced it, like Werewolf of London from 1935, but that doesn’t change that Curt Siodmak’s work with his original screenplay for The Wolf Man solidified almost all of our baseline modern werewolf concepts in popular culture. So just how influenced by folklore was he, anyway?

He was certainly influenced somewhat, in many obvious ways, but you may be surprised to learn just how much of our modern werewolves we see during Halloween and all around Hollywood and even, today, in many popular books, games, and other media, have The Wolf Man to thank for more than one major element – or at least derivatives of those major elements.

As a DISCLAIMER I first want to say that I absolutely adore The Wolf Man and almost (but not quite) everything it did for werewolves in media. My favorite werewolves will always be the ones that run close to what Curt Siodmak came up with, because I just love it. It’s a great story full of drama and sympathy and horror and tragedy. I personally prefer my werewolf hero to be different, and to end up different, but that’s an aside.

I just want to make a point here that I am NOT saying “not folkloric = bad,” and I don’t ever mean to infer that in every single situation. I love a lot of Hollywood werewolf concepts and I use many of them, myself, because they’re my favorites. I am merely pointing out what is and isn’t folkloric or original about the film (while probably lavishing praise upon its concepts because, again, gosh, I just love these concepts if they’re actually handled well, they make for such a great story!).

Let’s get into the film (you can find a link to watch this film legally and for free on the Internet Archive at the end of this post, by the way!)…

Even as early as the first shot in the film, after the opening credits, we are treated to some of Curt Siodmak’s original werewolf concepts. This is found not only in the description of the lycanthropy around one Talbot Castle, but also in the addition at the bottom of the fictional encyclopedia entry on lycanthropy that says “the sign of the Werewolf is a five-pointed star, a pentagram.” This is patently untrue in folklore, of course, and that’s just another thing Siodmak made up for the movie.

Sidenote: I appreciate the lines “Oh, another dog.” “No, that’s a wolf.” Wolves aren’t dogs, kids. Although Gwen isn’t exactly right about Red Riding Hood being a werewolf story… Anyway, details.

We come next to the poem. The one that Gwen first recites to Larry in the shop, and we hear it throughout the film, as it becomes extremely important…

Even a man who is pure at heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf with the wolfsbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright

This poem was entirely made up by Siodmak. As was, as you might imagine, this business relating to pentagrams being the werewolf’s symbol and one he sees in the palm of his next victim’s hand.

By the way, whatever you do, please don’t go picking wolfsbane like they claim to do in the movie. Just saying.

Next up we have the fact that Larry’s bite heals overnight. This is certainly folkloric in nature, to a degree (more on that later in my overview/rundown), but it’s just as feasible that Siodmak hadn’t heard those legends and just wanted to make his werewolf scary and powerful – and because the healing wounds relates to the silver concept that he himself made up. By the way, I absolutely adore the rapidly healing wounds.

Another aside: this movie is such a joy to watch. I hadn’t seen it in years until I started writing this post. Many, many years, despite knowing it like the back of my hand and studying it all my life. It’s so incredible to watch all the classic werewolf elements we know and love unfold on the screen in their original form. It helps that I’m a massive cinephile movie nerd weirdo anyway and movies are my favorite form of entertainment by an extremely wide margin, despite enjoying many kinds of entertainment.

Anyway, next up for werewolf lore, we have Frank’s dog barking at Larry – because the dog knows he’s a monster. It’s not uncommon in many stories for animals to sense things people can’t, but this is also something else we often see highlighted in werewolf media to follow.

Something to note about silver in this film is that Larry is obviously still carrying his silver cane around even after he’s been bitten by the werewolf. It obviously isn’t burning or harming him even after he’s been bitten and his wound healed, unlike a lot of werewolf media today (admittedly, including my own works), in which silver can cause a werewolf pain just to the touch, even in human form.

Next up we hear about whoever is bitten by the werewolf becomes a werewolf. This, I want you to know, is speculated to have been started sometime in French werewolf legends – some scholars hold to that. But even if it wasn’t originated by this movie (I honestly kind of think that it was originated by this movie), it was certainly popularized by this movie and sticks in the modern psyche thanks to this film alone. Yes, there was a time when lycanthropy may have been associated with rabies, and that may even be where Siodmak got the idea, but no matter what, that concept is timelessly popular solely because of this film.

Next up we have the buildup to the single most important moment in any werewolf movie… the transformation scene.

This film, as you might expect, also established the importance of the transformation scene. Really, such a scene has been important in werewolf media and highlighted even since Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but this movie really emphasizes the horror behind a man becoming a monster. And it’s so right to do so.

After all, what is most unique about werewolves and why do they stick with us so strongly? It’s the transformation. The idea that a man can become a monster and then return to a human form – and be cursed to live out a life turning back and forth. That’s really the heart of any werewolf story. That’s how it all begins. That’s the backbone.

So anyway, the transformation scene in The Wolf Man is of course excellent. We see Larry undergoing all the stages of the werewolf transformation as all werewolf media will follow after it – he freaks out, he runs home, tries to find seclusion, he looks at himself, looks in a mirror, tries to notice any changes… because he at once doesn’t think it’s real but also is certainly starting to believe it, with everyone freaking out so badly around him, especially the gypsies.

Larry’s first transformation begins and ends in his feet, as they don’t want to show us the werewolf himself yet – they build up to it, and we first see him in the dark forest. The werewolf feet are of course famous as a result of being our first glimpse of the famous wolf man.

Larry goes to a graveyard – a favorite haunt of werewolves and many other folkloric monsters – and kills a guy, biting his throat out. It’s noteworthy, of course, that Larry doesn’t leave humanoid wolf prints. He leaves wolf prints, to the point that everyone assumes it is a wolf, not some kind of monster.

Larry then finds a pentagram on his chest, about where the werewolf bit him or so. He realizes he left a trail and starts covering it up, only to discover the detective is tracking him. Again, the pentagram thing is not in werewolf folklore at all.

The rundown of lycanthropy that Larry’s father gives to him is actually a pretty good one. He isn’t wrong about finding werewolf legends almost everywhere, and it did become recognized as a clinical disease in much later years, around or after the Renaissance. He’s also right about it being Greek, in a way, given the assorted Greek werewolf legends, though we can never really know where it “originated,” per se, as werewolves are a universal legend. And, fittingly, he of course thinks it’s all in the mind – when it very much isn’t, not in this film. Silly practical fellow.

Even at this point, Larry still doesn’t seem wholly convinced that he is a werewolf. This seems to be highlighted in the following scene, when the werewolf gets caught in a trap, and Maleva arrives in time to rescue him. She returns him to his human form – and he has no idea where he is or what is going on. He doesn’t remember: another werewolf element established by this movie.

Larry outright tells his father everything, but of course, his father doesn’t believe him. Not all werewolf media followed the trend of being modern enough to be about people who outright don’t believe in the werewolf legend, of course, but this is still a popular trope.

Next we have yet another popular trope – restraining the werewolf so that he can’t escape. Larry’s father does this to protect him and in an effort to prove to him that the werewolf isn’t real. Obviously, it doesn’t work. Restraining a werewolf isn’t exactly ever easy, now is it?

Again we receive emphasis – a werewolf doesn’t even care about ordinary weapons, like normal bullets. The weapon in question absolutely must be silver to even affect it. And that is, of course, how Larry’s father ends up killing him using his own silver cane – the one Larry begged him to take with him – and the hunters’ bullets didn’t hurt him at all. Really, he doesn’t even seem to notice them.

And so the werewolf is killed – tragically, of course – beaten to death by his own father. This establishes yet another trope that werewolf media has scarcely left behind: the werewolf always dies. That’s certainly one of my least favorite elements this movie established about so many werewolf stories and especially films forever afterward.

So here’s the basic rundown, the tl;dr if you will. The Wolf Man popularized the following elements in media…

  • Silver – The fact that the werewolf can only be killed by silver – as Maleva says, a bullet, a knife, or silver like the silver-headed cane – comes from this film. Yes, that huge of an element of werewolves and of culture in general, including the sayings about something’s “silver bullet,” all originate with this movie. The silver, as mentioned, doesn’t burn the werewolf’s skin on contact, but the silver is required as a weapon to actually kill him. It’s also so very important to emphasize this concept came solely from this movie. Curt Siodmak said so himself, not to mention the fact that it’s never been in folklore. Some people hold that the Beast of Gevaudan included a silver bullet vs a werewolf (not that I consider that a werewolf legend, anyway, per se), but the idea that the Beast was slain with a silver bullet comes from a novel published in 1946: Henri Pourrat’s Historie fidèle de la bête en Gévaudan. The idea of silver slaying werewolves comes from this movie. For more info, see my werewolf fact specifically on Silver.
  • Wolfsbane – Now, the wolfsbane itself didn’t really interact with the werewolf in this movie other than to signal when the werewolf would turn. But this did, of course, start an association between wolfsbane and werewolves. For more info, see my werewolf fact on belladonna and wolfsbane.
  • Quickly healing wounds – We see the werewolf’s wounds – Larry’s bite, namely – heal “overnight” in the film. This is definitely a reigning trope about werewolves forever after, and one of my favorite ones, to boot. For more info about this sort of thing, check out my werewolf fact on Powers and Abilities.
  • Pentagram association – The idea that the pentagram is the sign of the werewolf, and that the werewolf has a pentagram on him somewhere, as well as that the werewolf sees a pentagram on the palm of his next victim, was entirely made up by Siodmak – though some may argue that pentagrams can be related to werewolves solely by association with witches and witchcraft in the later years of the Renaissance/Early Modern period. I think it’s very important that we differentiate between werewolves and witches (as the people back then did, themselves), however, so I don’t buy into that theory.
  • Werewolf bite spreading the curse – This is, obviously, a huge element popularized by this film. So many things have one becoming a werewolf via a werewolf bite – which is very fun, by the way. I love this trope. For more info about it and other methods of becoming a werewolf that are much less common (because they weren’t in this movie), see my werewolf fact on How to Become a Werewolf.
  • Bipedal werewolves – Obviously the movie included a wolf werewolf as well (except it was very clearly played by a dog), but this movie popularized too the idea of bipedal werewolves. It’s not exclusive to the movie – there were werewolves that weren’t 100% just wolves in folklore, too, despite what you may hear. For more info on that, see my werewolf fact on Physical Appearance. This is also associated with the werewolf fact Hands and Claws.
  • Turning at a certain time of year – This one didn’t really catch on. However, as will be noted after the end of this list, that doesn’t mean that The Wolf Man didn’t still decide when it is werewolves do transform…
  • The werewolf hunting humans specifically – It’s noteworthy that the werewolf is never shown actually eating anyone, only killing them, but this movie certainly helped establish the idea of a werewolf specifically hunting people, which they didn’t generally do in folklore. For more info about how folkloric this is or isn’t, see my werewolf fact on Did Werewolves Eat People?.
  • The werewolf as evil – Directly related to the previous point, the werewolf inthis film is absolutely evil, as it seeks out specific people to hunt and kill each night. This is not really folkloric, and sadly, this movie absolutely helped establish werewolves firmly as villains – even if the human cursed to become the werewolf is sympathetic. I have a lot of werewolf facts on this kind of thing, perhaps key among them being my very big fact on When Werewolves Went Mad. My fact on werewolves vs evil is also a little relevant.
  • The transformation sequence – As mentioned in the main body of the post, the transformation sequence has some folkloric roots, but this film certainly helped established its incredible importance in werewolf media. This movie doesn’t have quite the dramatic sequence as does some of its sequels (where we actually see the wolf man’s face as he turns), but it still emphasizes it, for sure. For more info, see my werewolf fact on Transformation Sequence.
  • Memory issues – A very important concept to the future of werewolf media was the issue of Larry losing his memory about what the werewolf did. This is seen in so much werewolf media after, because, frankly, it’s a fantastic plot element. For more info, see my werewolf fact on Memory.
  • Werewolves associated with London and England – This obviously didn’t start with The Wolf Man specifically, given one of its predecessor werewolf films is – as mentioned – called Werewolf of London (1935). However, that doesn’t change the fact that the film taking place in England specifically had a massive influence on films after it, and, later, other media, that decided for some terrible reason that now werewolves are intrinsically associated with later time periods of Britain and London, which they shouldn’t be, really. Here are some more reasons why, if you’re wondering.
  • Hiding being a werewolf – This was certainly not entirely originated/popularized by the film, as it was occasionally a thing in folklore, for sure. But this film definitely highlights that being a werewolf isn’t a desirable thing or something you want to advertise, even though Larry admits it to Gwen when he still isn’t fully convinced it may be real. For more info on this, see my Hiding Being a Werewolf fact.
  • The werewolf always dies in the end – My least favorite by far of the tropes popularized by this film is very simple… the werewolf always dies in the end (or sometimes even before the end). You see this in almost every werewolf film to follow The Wolf Man and, indeed, many other pieces of werewolf media. This movie firmly established the classic Hollywood concept of the tragic werewolf hero who dies because of his curse.

Later, The Wolf Man – the character – would establish the concept of turning during the full moon, but this didn’t happen in The Wolf Man (1941) – this started in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man in 1943. For more info about that, see my werewolf fact on the Full Moon here. The famous rhyme from The Wolf Man was changed for it, too, to alter the line “when the autumn moon is bright” to “when the full moon is bright.”

And that just about covers it (mostly, sort of)! Hope you enjoyed the werewolf fact – and if you haven’t seen it, please do watch The Wolf Man (1941) in its entirety right here, free and legal!

And as always…

Happy Howl-o-ween!

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NEW Promo Offer – Custom Werewolf Figure + Book!

Big news – it’s spooky time! Even bigger news – I am running a werewolf-themed promo with real, physical rewards you can touch, handmade with love and care! And they’ll be all yours!

From October 8 through November 12, if you sign up for my Patreon at the $50 Nightlord tier or higher, you will get a package of goodies that includes lots of great stuff!

Here is what the package includes:

  • Physical paperback copy of the short story collection Tales of Wulfgard, Volume I, updated and revised for 2022! Includes 2 werewolf stories!
  • Custom LEGO minifig of wolf-man Chrisanthos, as seen in “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”
  • A handwritten thank you card
  • Wulfgard art stickers (including some werewolves!)
  • A Wulfgard bookmark
  • Possibly some extra goodies!

This is the biggest promo I’ve run yet, so don’t miss out – once the offer is gone, I won’t be sending this minifig to patrons again!

This year the October minifig is Wolf-Man Chrisanthos, a farmboy born a mage with power over frost who had an unfortunate run-in with a werewolf, as seen in “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” a short story featured in Tales of Wulfgard, Vol I.

Click here to check out my Patreon; sign up for a $50+ tier to receive this reward package!

I hope you’ll check it out and consider supporting me – I deeply appreciate all the support I can get, and I’d love to send you some goodies!

REMINDER: This offer ENDS November 12! If you do not sign up at any point now until then, you will not be eligible for these rewards!

Expect more wolf-man minifigs to collect in the future, in a variety of colors, including the black-furred wolf-man Tom minifig coming soon for patrons! If you sign up now, you’ll already be a patron when the next minifig is sent out (not all minifigs have promo alerts like this one)!

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMERS:

  • All current patrons at $50 or higher (Nightlord and Apex Predator tiers, Lunatic and otherwise) will receive this package.
  • All new patrons at $50 or higher will receive this package regardless of how long they stay a patron. If you pay the $50 once, you will receive this package, even if you immediately lower or even cancel your pledge.
  • Tales of Wulfgard: Volume I has been revised and updated, including an all new and fully rewritten and improved edition of “Hunted,” Caiden’s Tale, now in line with The Hunt Never Ends and over twice its original length!
  • My Patreon renews subscriptions at the start of each month. This means you will be charged for your subscription every start of a new month regardless of when you paid for your first sub fee. If you were to subscribe on the last week in October, for instance, you WILL be charged again November 1. Keep this in mind if it is of concern to you!
  • Reward packages will be sent out late November or early December. I will keep everyone posted as to when they will be sent. Please note the cover art for Tales as seen in the promo image may not look exactly the same, as the new and improved edition of the book is not yet finalized; the image is of the book’s previous edition.

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Happy October!

Werewolf Fact #67 – The Lai of the Werewolf, “Bisclavret”

The time has come to discuss in depth my very favorite werewolf story! Yes, my favorite werewolf story doesn’t come from modern pop culture. Instead, it comes from medieval literature.

So let’s dive right into “Bisclavret,” one of the best werewolf stories ever told.

Please note that this post will contain the entirety of “Bisclavret,” in direct quotes, with my discussions interspersed throughout. So if you’ve never read the story, you can find the whole thing here!

For this in-depth look at “Bisclavret,” I will be using A Lycanthropy Reader: Werewolves in Western Culture by Charlotte F. Otten, one of my very favorite werewolf sourcebooks. It’s a wonderful collection of primary historical sources – and some stories that aren’t folklore but were always considered fictional – and some very good introductions to and discussions of said works by Otten herself.

In fact, in her introduction to the section that includes “Bisclavret,” Otten imparts some very wise words on werewolf legends as a whole…

On the moral level, the werewolf myth is a realistic assessment of the range of choices available to human beings. Humans who become werewolves in the myths and legends, or who cause others to become werewolves, are involved in moral metamorphosis: a process that recognizes the exhilaration that comes with engaging in degrading lycanthropic acts but also reveals the degradation that comes to those who deliberately choose to exhibit bestiality [bestial nature]. The werewolf myth, then, is a profound insight into human life. … Regarded as a moral myth, the presence in the human spirit of werewolves can direct the culture, the society, the individual human being to sources of healing. If it does so, it is a myth not of despair but of hope. (Otten 223)

I would personally add, also in relation to “Bisclavret,” thatit isn’t only those who become werewolves and behave as beasts or those who turn others into werewolves – it’s also extremely important in many werewolf myths how the werewolves themselves are treated by the human characters. How one treats a werewolf, with that person still being human but in the guise of a beast, is an important moral plot point in multiple werewolf legends, such as the werewolves of Ossory and – of course – Bisclavret. One is amoral if they assume a werewolf is evil solely because of their appearance, without judging their character first and appearance second. It’s not necessarily always a test of the werewolf character, it’s also a test of everyone around them. If the werewolf is virtuous and behaving like a human, isn’t it just as important to treat the werewolf like you would anyone else – even if it is a werewolf?

Now let’s get to Bisclavret

Written in the 12th century, “Bisclavret” is a bit of an enigma. Scholars kind of agree that it was likely written by Marie de France, or else a story she adapted from a much older tale, given there are different versions of this story – all very similar – floating around from similar time periods and cultures.

Marie de France herself says she translated this lai out of the Breton language, after having heard it elsewhere. I’m glad she did, as she preserved a fantastic werewolf story.

“Bisclavret” opens with some words from Marie de France…

Amongst the tales I will tell you once again, I would not forget the Lay of the Were-Wolf. Such beasts as he are known in every land. Bisclavaret he is named in Brittany, whilst the Norman calls him Garwal. (256)

I find her discussion of werewolf terminology interesting. She goes on to introduce the concept of werewolves themselves, which is, as she discusses it, a very commonly-known concept and found “in every land,” which she is absolutely right about (even if, of course, these legends weren’t always the same in nature, but werewolves certainly were everywhere).

It is a certain thing, and within the knowledge of all, that many a christened man has suffered this change, and ran wild in woods, as a Were-Wolf. The Were-Wolf is a fearsome beast. He lurks within the thick forest, mad and horrible to see. All the evil that he may, he does. He goeth to and fro, about the solitary place, seeking man, in order to devour him. Hearken, now, to the adventure of the Were-Wolf, that I have to tell. (256)

This doesn’t sound at all like Bisclavret, as you will discover. Marie de France seems to be describing a certain interpretation of the werewolf myth that didn’t even all that often apply but was steadily becoming a more accepted concept, especially in certain regions of Europe: that werewolves are “evil.” Or, at least – and most importantly – she states that werewolves are perceived as evil.

But are they really? Let’s read Bisclavret and find out. Because this opening displays the way the werewolf myth exists in the minds of many, but not necessarily the way werewolves really are, and I think that’s an important element of the story: Marie de France doesn’t open with “werewolves are all nice and cuddly,” because you need to read the story and determine the truth for yourself. But now you see the general perception, at least as this story presents it.

I love werewolves so much, you guys. I love this story, too. That’s something I have trouble conveying sometimes to my good readers: I love the concept of werewolves and I could talk about them until the sun dies. I love even the simplest presentations of “a werewolf is a man who suffers a change and runs wild in the darkest wood, horrible to behold, and devours men.” I just love it beyond words or reason. This is what I want. This is all I ask for. This but with more behind it than the simplicity of “evil,” just like Bisclavret presents.

Anyway!

So now we are introduced to our protagonist…

In Brittany there dwelt a baron who was marvellously esteemed of all his fellows. He was a stout knight, and a comely, and a man of office and repute. Right private was he to the mind of his lord, and dear to the counsel of his neighbours. This baron was wedded to a very worthy dame, right fair to see, and sweet of semblance. All his love was set on her, and all her love was given again to him. One only grief had this lady. For three whole days in every week her lord was absent from her side. She knew not where he went, nor on what errand. Neither did any of his house know the business which called him forth.

On a day when this lord was come again to his house, altogether joyous and content, the lady took him to task, right sweetly, in this fashion,

“Husband,” said she, “and fair, sweet friend, I have a certain thing to pray of you. Right willingly would I receive this gift, but I fear to anger you in the asking. It is better for me to have an empty hand, than to gain hard words.”

When the lord heard this matter, he took the lady in his arms, very tenderly, and kissed her.

“Wife,” he answered, “ask what you will. What would you have, for it is yours already?”

“By my faith,” said the lady, “soon shall I be whole. Husband, right long and wearisome are the days that you spend away from your home. I rise from my bed in the morning, sick at heart, I know not why. So fearful am I, lest you do aught to your loss, that I may not find any comfort. Very quickly shall I die for reason of my dread. Tell me now, where you go, and on what business! How may the knowledge of one who loves so closely, bring you to harm?”

This old tale is… very good at conveying someone manipulative and self-serving and even goes so far as to show her turn to other victims to use: this isn’t just a werewolf story, it’s a tale about manipulation*. Poor Bisclavret gets burned just for trusting the person who claims to love him so. It’s sad and relatable to see. A tale as old as time, and now the nice one that is “Beauty and the Beast.”

But being a werewolf is still a very bad thing, as established by the story’s opening! Naturally, he doesn’t want to tell.

“Wife,” made answer the lord, “nothing but evil can come if I tell you this secret. For the mercy of God do not require it of me. If you but knew, you would withdraw yourself from my love, and I should be lost indeed.”

When the lady heard this, she was persuaded that her baron sought to put her by with jesting words. Therefore she prayed and required him the more urgently, with tender looks and speech, till he was overborne, and told her all the story, hiding naught.

Now we’re back to that manipulation… anyway.

“Wife, I become Bisclaravet. I enter the forest, and live on prey and roots, within the thickest of the wood.”

This marks a difference with the opening already. The baron here claims he doesn’t eat human flesh! The opening clearly stated werewolves do evil and seek to devour men. Hmm, interesting.

After she had learned his secret, she prayed and entreated the more as to whether he ran in his raiment, or went spoiled of vesture.

“Wife,” said he, “I go naked as a beast.”

“Tell me, for hope of grace, what do you do with your clothing?”

“Fair wife, that I will never. If I should lose my raiment, or even be marked as I quit my vesture, then a Were-Wolf I must go for all the days of my life. Never again should I become man, save in that hour my clothing were given back to me. For this reason never will I show my lair.”

“Husband,” replied the lady to him, “I love you better than all the world. The less cause have you for doubting my faith, or hiding any tittle from me. What savour is here of friendship? How have I made forfeit of your love, for what sin do you mistrust my honor? Open now your heart, and tell what is good to be known.”

So at the end, outwearied and overborne by her importunity, he could no longer refrain, but told her all.

“Wife,” said he, “within this wood, a little from the path, there is a hidden way, and at the end thereof an ancient chapel, where often-times I have bewailed my lot. Near by is a great hollow stone, concealed by a bush, and there is the secret place where I hide my raiment, till I would return to my own home.”

The baron says he “often-times … bewail[s] his lot,” so he clearly doesn’t like being a werewolf. Just a small detail to point out. Truly the original classic werewolf hero.

On hearing this marvel the lady became sanguine of visage, because of her exceeding fear. She dared no longer to lie at his side, and turned over in her mind, this way and that, how best she could get her from him. Now there was a certain knight of those parts, who, for a great while, had sought and required this lady of her love. This knight had spend long years in her service, but little enough had he got thereby, not even fair words, or a promise. To him the dame wrote a letter, and meeting, made her purpose plain.

So not only did learning that the baron, her own husband, is a werewolf make this manipulative selfish woman turn on him instantly, but she also turned to a knight who is utterly failing his chivalric code and wanting love from this woman instead of courtly, chaste love from afar. And he’s probably too love-struck to realize she’s just going to use him until he is no longer beneficial to her in her own eyes, like she just did with the baron. We have a very bad combination.

“Fair friend,” said she, “be happy. That which you have coveted so long a time, I will grant without delay. Never again will I deny your suit. My heart, and all I have to give, are yours, so take me now as love and dame.”

Right sweetly the knight thanked her for her grace, and pledged her faith and fealty. When she had confirmed him by an oath, then she told him of his business of her lord–why he went, and what he became, and of his ravening within the wood. So she showed him of the chapel, and of the hollow stone, and of how to spoil the Were-Wolf of his vesture. Thus, by the kiss of his wife, was Bisclavaret betrayed. Often enough had he ravished his prey in desolate places, but from this journey he never returned. His kinsfolk and acquaintance came together to ask of his tidings, when this absence was noised abroad. Many a man, on many a day, searched the woodland, but none might find him, nor learn where Bisclavaret was gone.

The lady was wedded to the knight who had cherished her for so long a space. More than a year had passed since Bisclavaret disappeared. Then it chanced that the King would hunt in the self-same wood where the Were-Wolf lurked. When the hounds were unleashed they ran this way and that, and swiftly came upon his scent. At the view the huntsman winded on his horn, and the whole pack were at his heels. They followed him from morn to eve, till he was torn and bleeding, and was all adread lest they should pull him down. Now the King was very close to the quarry, and when Bisclavaret looked upon his master, he ran to him for pity and for grace. He took the stirrup within his paws, and fawned upon the prince’s foot. The King was very fearful at this sight, but presently he called his courtiers to his aid.

This scene very clearly points out, yet again, that the baron Bisclavret takes the shape of a wolf when he assumes his werewolf form. This is not uncommon in werewolf legends.

“Lords,” cried he, “hasten hither, and see this marvellous thing. Here is a beast who has the sense of a man. He abases himself before his foe, and cries for mercy, although he cannot speak. Beat off the hounds, and let no man do him harm. We will hunt no more to-day, but return to our own place, with the wonderful quarry we have taken.”

The King turned him about, and rode to his hall, Bisclavaret following at his side. Very near to his master the Were-Wolf went, like any dog, and had no care to seek again the wood. When the King had brought him safely to his own castle, he rejoiced greatly, for the beast was fair and strong, no mightier had any man seen.

Another pause here to point out that, once again, a werewolf that turns into a wolf is never conveyed as being an ordinary wolf – they are always bigger, stronger, “mightier.” Indeed, they are always the most impressive thing people have witnessed.

Much pride had the King in his marvellous beast. He held him so dear, that he bade all those who wished for his live, to cross the Wolf in naught, neither to strike him with a rod, but ever to see that he was richly fed and kennelled warm. This commandment the Court observed willingly. So all day the wolf sported with the lords, and at night he lay within the chamber of the King. There was not a man who did not make much of the beast, so frank was he and debonair. None had reason to do him wrong, for ever was he about his master, and for his part did evil to none. Every day were these two companions together, and all perceived that the King loved him as his friend.

What a great section. Already friends before, now the baron and his King are friends again, even if he has taken the form of a beast and cannot speak. Even in werewolf form, he acts as a loyal knight and bodyguard, with the king giving him full trust of his life despite him being a beast. I love the emphasis on Bisclavret’s courtly mannerisms and his culture, and even the emphasis that he does not do “evil,” also in direct contradiction to the assumptions the story’s opening would lead you to believe. But things are about to change…

Hearken now to that which chanced.

The King held a high Court, and bade his great vassals and barons, and all the lords of his venery to the feast. Never was there a goodlier feast, nor one set for with sweeter show and pomp. Amongst those who were bidden, came that same knight who had the wife of Bisclavaret for dame. He came to the castle, richly gowned, with a fair company, but little he deemed whom he would find so near. Bisclavaret marked his foe the moment he stood within the hall. He ran towards him, and seized him with his fangs, in the King’s very presence, and to the view of all. Doubtless he would have done him much mischief, had not the King called and chidden him, and threatened him with a rod. Once, and twice, again, the Wolf set upon the knight in the very light of day. All men marvelled at his malice, for sweet and serviceable was the beast, and to that hour had shown hatred of none. With one consent the household deemed that this deed was done with full reason, and that the Wolf had suffered at the knight’s hand some bitter wrong. Right wary of his foe was the knight until the feast had ended, and all the barons had taken farewell of their lord, and departed, each to his own house. Wit hthese, amongst the very first, wen that lord whom Bisclavaret so fiercely had assailed. Small was the wonder he was glad to go.

Bisclavret at last shows a werewolf’s rage – but only in a righteous way. He only attacks the one who wronged him. So what does the King make of his new beast of a friend behaving in such a way? Does he have him killed? Does he decide he’s a monster?

Not long while after this adventure it came to pass that the courteous King would hunt in that forest where Bisclavaret was found. With the prince came his wolf, and a fair company. Now at nightfall the King abode within a certain lodge of that country, and this was known of that dame who before was the wife of Bisclavaret. In the morning the lady clothed her in her most dainty apparel, and hastened to the lodge, since she desired to speak with the King, and to offer him a rich present.

Also typical manipulative behavior. You may think of medieval tales as simple, but they had a lot to say and to teach.

When the lady entered in the chamber, neither man no leash might restrain the fury of the Wolf. He became as a mad dog in his hatred and malice. Breaking from his bonds he sprang at the lady’s face, and bit the nose from her visage.

Please note that this is a medieval trope, as it were: the removal of the nose. It’s quite a lot to break down. But let’s maintain focus on the werewolf…

From every side men ran to the succour of the dame. They beat off the wolf from his prey, and for a little would have cut him to pieces with their swords. But a certain wise consellor said to the King,

“Sire, hearken now to me. This beast is always with you, and there is not one of us all who has not known him for long. He goes in and out amongst us, nor has molested any man, neither done wrong or felony to any, save only to this dame, one only time as we have seen. He has done evil to this lady, and to that knight, who is now the husband of the dame. Sire, she was once the wife of that lord who was so close and private to your heart, but who went, and none might find where he had gone. Now, therefore, put the dame in a sure place, and question her straitly, so that she may tell–if perchance she knows thereof– for what reason this Beast holds her in such mortal hate. For many a strange deed has chanced, as well we know, in this marvellous land of Brittany.”

Smart man! This paragraph also serves to highlight that the King and the knight/baron Bisclavret were already friends before and – I’m sure – trusted companions, as kings and their knights generally tend to be, especially in stories. After all, there are tales very similar to Bisclavret as told in King Arthur stories about one of his knights of the Round Table, his most trusted brothers-in-arms. It is no different here, as Bisclavret was once a brother to this king, if also subservient to his lord in rank – which, in this time period and in such tales, generally served to make the bond of brotherhood and honorable oaths still stronger.

The counsellor also points out about “many a strange deed” and is apparently talking about werewolves. This is the first time someone suggests that the Wolf may actually be a man.

The King listened to these words, and deemed the counsel good. He laid hands upon the knight, and put the dame in surety in another place. He caused them to be questioned right straitly, so that their torment was very grevious. At the end, partly because of her distress, and partly by reason of her exceeding fear, the lady’s lips were loosed, and she told her tale. She showed them of the betrayal of her lord, and how his raiment was stolen from the hollow stone. Since then she knew not where he went, nor what had befallen him, for he had never come again to his own land. Only, in her heart, well she deemed and was persuaded, that Bisclavaret was he.

Straightaway the King demanded the vesture of his baron, whether this were to the wish of the lady, or whether it were against her wish. When the raiment was brought to him, he caused it to be spread before Bisclavaret, but the Wolf made as though he had not seen. Then that cunning and crafty counsellor took the King apart, that he might give him a fresh rede.

Well, obviously, Bisclavret isn’t too keen on turning back into a human right in front of everyone. I appreciate this aspect. Returning to the shape of a man is no small and simple feat, and it’s a shameful and degrading process both to do it and to have the truth of his nature known – not to mention it might be difficult, especially after being in the form of a beast for so long. This is then highlighted by the counsellor…

“Sire,” said he [the counsellor], “you do not wisely, nor well, to set this raiment before Bisclavaret, in the sight of all. In shame and much tribulation must he lay aside the beast, and again become man. Carry our wolf within your most secret chamber, and put his vestment therein. Then close the door upon him, and leave him alone for a space. So we shall see presently whether the ravening beast may indeed return to human shape.”

The King carried the Wolf to his chamber, and shut the doors upon him fast. He delayed for a brief while, and taking two lords of his fellowship with him, came again to the room.

I guess the king was a little worried about what he might find! Can’t really blame him.

Entering therein, all three, softly together, they found the knight sleeping in the King’s bed, like a little child. The King ran swiftly to the bed and taking his friend in his arms, embraced and kissed him fondly, above a hundred times.

The king is clearly a big fan of la bise, and since he hasn’t seen the knight for so long, he has to make up for all those lost greetings. It’d be a great scene for a cartoon, honestly. Kissing meant a wider variety of things in this time period than it often does today: a kiss could be greeting, respect, forgiveness, or even a sign of peace, rather than some simple blanket gesture of romantic love, as it is thought of today. The king does a lot of talking when he greets the knight in such a way, telling him that he is welcomed back and that he’s happy to see him and all is forgiven. So… no punishment for being a werewolf!

When man’s speech returned once more [to the knight/Bisclavret], he told him [the King] of his adventure. Then the King restored his friend the fief that was stolen from him, and gave such rich gifts, moreover, as I cannot tell. As for the wife who had betrayed Bisclavaret, he bade her avoid his country, and chased her from the realm. So she went forth, she and her second lord together, to seek a more abiding city, and were no more seen.

The adventure that you have heard is no vain fable. Verily and indeed it chanced as I have said. The Lay of the Were-Wolf, truly, was written that it should ever be borne in mind.

No “the evil werewolf must die,” no mention of his curse or passing it on to others – the werewolf is a hero and is accepted as one in spite of his bestial transformation. Truly an interesting specimen among werewolf tales.

*: Yes, this aspect of the story is indeed often interpreted as negative against women, but that isn’t something I will get into with this post. I will instead be viewing it as a werewolf legend and not criticizing other aspects. It’s true that women were often viewed and treated unfairly in this time period and generally made out to be evil manipulative creatures in many medieval tales (though not all, and not all the female characters always were), as that was often the mindset of this time period, but that’s an issue for another time and another blog, as this blog is about werewolves. I did, however, want to acknowledge that issue, because I’m quite aware of it (especially as a woman in medieval studies), instead of ignoring it altogether. I personally do not think it lessens the story or makes the moral any less powerful, especially if we recognize the biases of the time period – and that a woman chose, herself, to retell this story in the first place, as I too am a woman choosing to retell it now.

I do so deeply enjoy “Bisclavret” and the truly classical tale of deepest fealty and trust to one’s King, the humanity displayed by the “wolf” (werewolf), and even how the King is thankful to have the faithful baron returned to human form – with no question or horror to learn that he was a werewolf to begin with.

The relationship between lord and knight is something not often conveyed in modern culture, as it’s not really something we have anymore, so it’s always fun to read about in such a fantastical sense. And many medieval stories are about courtly love, but not so with this one. Don’t get me wrong, I love courtly love, but it’s fun to see a platonic story as well.

So there we have it, the tale of “Bisclavret”! It’s one of my favorite werewolf stories. It’s classic, it’s simple, and it’s about a good and chivalrous, courtly knight werewolf. As we all know… I do love the idea of a werewolf knight.

Until next time!

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Werewolf Fact #66 – The Legend of King Lycaon of Arcadia

Continuing the series of close looks into specific werewolf legends, let’s examine what’s generally considered one of the most important werewolf legends in history: the story of King Lykaon (Λυκᾱ́ων – or Lycaon, a more Anglicized spelling) of ancient Greece.

Although I did a smaller post on Lycaon quite a while ago, this one will be more in-depth. Despite there being a lot of other legends and werewolf legends surrounding Lycaon and different regions of Greece – some of which are discussed in this post of mine – I’m not going to go into those again this time. This post is exclusively about the legend of Lycaon himself (I will be referring to him as Lykaon from here on out).

A quick summary before we go into more detail: Lykaon was a king of Arcadia in ancient Greece. As the legend goes, Lykaon decided to test the divine omniscience of Zeus by killing one of his own sons, Nyctimus, and cooking him into food to serve to Zeus. Naturally, Zeus realized what Lykaon had done, so he turned Lykaon into a wolf as punishment, killing his other children and bringing Nyctimus back to life.

However, Lykaon wasn’t remembered too negatively despite his actions or his fate. He did plenty of other good deeds, like founding cities and creating a cult dedicated to Zeus, as well as hosting a series of games called the Lykaean Games, among other things. He also had a lot of kids. And, please note, there were a lot of “Lykaon”s in Greek myth. This is merely one of them.

But what I’m going to focus on is the legend of how Zeus turned Lykaon into a wolf and the details thereof – and what impact it’s had on werewolf studies and werewolves in culture forever afterward.

Perhaps the earliest version of Lykaon’s myth was told by Hesiod. However, there are many different versions by an assortment of authors. Several of them recount the tale differently, with various aspects changed, and some even claim Lykaon was never turned into a wolf at all and was instead killed instantly by Zeus’s lightning, among other alterations.

Perhaps the most well-known version of the tale is the one I’ll be quoting from, however: not a Greek author but a Roman one, Ovid, in his Metamorphoses. Ovid, too, alters the story from Hesiod’s “original,” though he retains the most important aspect from the perspective of werewolf studies: Lykaon’s transformation into a wolf and “transformation scene” of sorts.

The edition of Metamorphoses from which I will be quoting is as follows:

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. A. D. Melville. New York, NY: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

(Please note for the sake of this post I’m not using perfect MLA citation for each quote. You can find those in my published academic works, but not these posts. But the citations here will be readable, just not totally up to nitpicky academic standards.)

It all began for Lykaon when Zeus – or, in the case of Ovid’s version, in Metamorphoses, Jupiter, generally the Roman equivalent of Zeus- arrives in Acradia. Unlike everyone else, Lykaon had his doubts about the god…

he [Lykaon] / Scoffed at their worship. “A clear test”, he said, / “Shall prove if this be god or mortal man / And certify the truth”, and he planned for me, / At dead of night, when I was sunk in sleep, / Death unforseen–so would he test the truth. (page 7)

Unlike Hesiod’s version, in Metamorphoses, Lykaon kills a “hostage sent / Far from Epirus, slitting his throat, and boiled / Part of the flesh, scarce dead, and roasted part” (7) instead of doing that to one of his own sons. Either way, with that done, he had Jupiter join him for a meal, telling him to eat the flesh of this person he’d just cooked.

Unfortunately for Lykaon, Jupiter was in fact Jupiter the omniscient, and the moment he was offered the flesh…

At once my avenging flame / Whelmed in just ruin that guilty house and him. (7-8)

And now the most important part – Lykaon’s transformation scene! Yes, werewolves have been having transformation scenes since time immemorial. And Lykaon’s is one of the best. It’s very… vivid, moreso than one may expect:

He [Lykaon] fled in fear and reached the silent fields / And howled his heart out, trying in vain to speak. / With rabid* mouth he turned his lust for slaughter / Against the flocks, delighting still in blood. / His clothes changed to coarse hair, his arms to legs– / He was a wolf, yet kept some human trace, / The same grey hair, the same fierce face, the same / Wild eyes, the same image of savagery. (8)

[*: Given that “rabid” literally means “infected with rabies,” which doesn’t really make any sense here, I feel the need to point out that the word “rabies” means “rage” or “madness” in Latin. That’s where we get the name of the disease. This doesn’t mean that Lykaon suddenly was infected with the disease known as rabies – he was filled with rage and madness.]

How fantastic! What a scene, what an image! I love the specificity of the description. That’s classic werewolf material right there. A wolf, a beast, but maintaining some semblance of his humanity. Truly this is one of the foundational legends of how we think of werewolves today.

So the purpose of the legend, obviously, is to punish Lykaon for his actions by turning him into a beast. Whether the Roman Ovid retelling or one of the original Greek versions, the end result is the same, if the wolf form is involved: it’s a form of punishment. Thing is, it actually wasn’t always seen as that bad a thing. As mentioned, there are many werewolf legends in ancient Greece and also Rome, some of which split directly from the legend of Lykaon. One such version included Arcadians who willingly undergo a transformation into a wolf that lasts years, in order to test their humanity (they must not eat human flesh while in their wolf form, or it become permanent), and it was almost a rite of passage of sorts, among many other legends.

Nor were they, by the way, always associated with cannibalism/eating people. Sometimes they were, sometimes they weren’t. Sometimes what separated werewolves from “evil beasts” were that they had the willpower to resist eating people. Even Lykaon himself wasn’t actually a cannibal, he just committed horrible atrocities by testing Zeus using the flesh of one of his own kids! That’s not too bad!… Yeah, it’s beyond terrible.

Anyway, it shouldn’t be assumed from the legend of Lykaon alone that wolves and werewolves were always portrayed negatively in ancient Greece or in Rome. They certainly weren’t. Those are, of course, legends I will detail in other posts, but for the sake of clarity, I want to have the reminder that not all wolves or werewolves were “evil” just because of this legend… like many scholars wrongfully assume.

Today, the myth of King Lykaon is often branded the “first werewolf legend.” That’s a big assumption and kind of a misnomer. If we want to get technical, then maybe it’s the earliest complete legend we have of a werewolf – as in, the full, surviving tale in writing. As I discuss on pages 8-9 in my own book, The Werewolf: Past and Future – Lycanthropy’s Lost History and Modern Devolution

Werewolf legends were told by many societies throughout time, even before recorded history; indeed, scholars argue over what represents the “first werewolf,” in part because there is no real way of knowing the age of the werewolf legend – particularly since, like many legends, a great deal of werewolf stories were only retold orally. Ranging from the earliest humans and even pre-humans to the Greeks and Romans, the werewolf in ancient times takes many shapes across multiple cultures, spanning, essentially, the entire world, and certainly the entire historical range of wolves. Among perhaps the most important of all werewolf legends, and some of the earliest to be recorded, were the ones told by the ancient Greeks. The belief in werewolves was, naturally, then carried over into ancient Rome, but the werewolf also independently arose in other cultures around the world, including but not limited to Europe, North America, and Asia. However, the belief in werewolves may have existed as early as the Paleolithic Age, around 45,000 BP.

[1] Beresford 19; the year is given by Beresford as BP (Before Present), due to the carbon dating process of prehistoric artifacts.

Likewise, in the same book, I address the fact that some scholars like to claim the “first” werewolf legend was told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written around 2750 BC, when Ishtar turns a shepherd into a wolf so that he is attacked by his own dogs. I refute this as the “first werewolf legend” as opposed to just a legend where a person is turned into a wolf on page 13 in footnote 16 of The Werewolf: Past and Future

However, counting this instance from the Epic of Gilgamesh as “the first werewolf” is an odd statement. Yes, the shepherd is turned into a wolf, which is the same as many other werewolf legends (even Lycaon’s), but the choice of turning him into a wolf seems insignificant in terms of meaning. The fact that Lycaon’s transformation was intended as meaningful lends more power to the idea that King Lycaon may be the earliest recorded instance of a werewolf legend, since his actions led him to be specifically turned into a wolf, rather than into some other creature. The shepherd in Gilgamesh is only turned into a wolf so that his dogs will attack him, and other animals are substituted in later tales of this exact same type (such as Artemis turning a mortal into a deer so his dogs will rip him apart in a later Greek myth), making the choice of a wolf in the Epic of Gilgamesh feel arbitrary enough that it seems almost unfair to give it such importance in the history of werewolf mythology.

Naturally, given Lykaon is such an important figure in werewolf studies, there’s plenty of discourse about him and his legend across the various werewolf scholars. But, since this post is already insanely long, you can read more about the scholarly discourse and bigger picture of Lykaon’s tale in my first werewolf scholarly publication that I published in 2021, which discusses Lykaon and his scholarly discourse considerably already! And of course you’ll be hearing more about him and his place in werewolf mythology in my future publications, as well.

Back to Lykaon himself: I hope to someday translate my own editions of some of these primary sources, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses – or at least the passages relevant to werewolf studies, in particular – but we’ll see if I ever get around to doing that. Do keep an eye out for future werewolf studies works from me, however, as you will definitely be seeing a lot of those over the coming years.

In the meantime, I hope this post will serve you well enough to give a good idea and a little bit more depth than my previous post about the legend of King Lykaon and how important it is to werewolf mythology – and why you always hear so much about him.

Until next time!

(If you like my werewolf blog, be sure to follow me and check out my other stuff! Please consider supporting me on Patreon or donating on Ko-fi if you’d like to see me continue my works. Every little bit helps so much.

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Werewolf Fact – “The Werewolf of Bedburg,” Peter Stubbe

I love werewolves so much, you guys. I can’t even convey it to you. Really, I can’t. I’ve fallen into a feverish mood of just how much I love werewolves working on this post and how badly it rends my soul that they are portrayed so poorly across almost all media – and how the legends of them are all but forgotten and the ones everyone remembers are massively misinterpreted.

This really is my calling in life.

So let’s go. This is the longest werewolf fact to date, because this is a big deal to me and I want to get all these facts straight, so try not to get intimidated!

The Howling, the #1 movie that helped a generation think werewolves are similar to the legend of Peter Stubbe

I was preparing a poll for my patrons to decide the topic of the next werewolf fact, since my patrons have now decided that werewolf facts from here on (at least until the upcoming werewolf fact book, Werewolf Facts: A Guidebook to Folklore vs Pop Culture, is compiled and published!) will be deep-dives into specific werewolf legends.

However, while preparing this poll, I figured… why not google the most famous werewolf legends, to see what people would know the best and thus recognize and be interested in hearing more about?

As someone with two options in the poll already – those options being “Bisclavret” and “Peter Stubbe (and how his tale is not a werewolf legend)” – I was… very frustrated by the search results.

I ended up not running a poll this time, because it’s so important to me to knock out these lies about what is and isn’t a werewolf legend, like the nonexistent “wulver” and how the Beast of Gevaudan isn’t actually a werewolf legend, either.

Now, it’s important for me to note that I’ve already touched upon this once in a previous werewolf fact, because I personally find this to be a very big deal in terms of something werewolf studies has so horribly, tragically wrong, and people very seriously need to stop circulating this false concept and amateur misreading of a legend for which we have a very exact historical record. I have also referred to this in greater detail in my book, The Werewolf: Past and Future, because – again – it’s such a massive issue to me that this is considered such a “famous” werewolf legend.

However, I am going to detail it still further, because it’s so important to me that people realize just how much Peter Stubbe was never referred to as “The Werewolf of Bedburg” and was, in fact, never even referred to as a “werewolf” at all, not in the original accounts.

Now, in werewolf legends, not all “werewolves” are referred to as “werewolves.” This is something I’ve covered several times before. This is largely because, when you look at folklore and mythology, you don’t get clear guidelines as to which creature is what.

That being said, Peter Stubbe’s account comes from a time period when people were, in fact, actually using the term “werewolf” and categorized things in a fashion more in the spirit of today, as opposed to so many of the older legends we now refer to as “werewolf legends” because they formed the basis of so many werewolf concepts that we still use.

Peter Stubbe’s account occurred at a time when the Catholic Church was indeed using the terms “werewolf” and “sorcerer” and they referred to very different, very specific things. This is something that separates something like the later-period werewolf trials from much earlier legends that never made use of the word “werewolf,” like various Greek werewolf legends, etc. For more info on that, see my post on What Is a Werewolf?.

For now, let’s get back to all the reasons why Peter Stubbe’s legend – like the also sadly famous Beast of Gevaudan – is not a werewolf legend at all.

First, let’s talk about the account itself. In fact, let’s go over it in some detail. I am getting all quotes from The Werewolf in Lore and Legend by Montague Summers, pages 253-259 in the 2012 Martino Publishing edition (one of the slightly better editions).

Montague Summers opens by claiming Stubbe’s account to be “one of the most famous of all German werewolf trials” (253), despite it not being a werewolf trial at all but in fact the trial of a sorcerer. As Summers himself says, Stubbe goes by many names: “Peter Stump (or Stumpf, Stube, Stubbe, Stub, as the name is indifferently spelled–and there are other variants)” (253). In my case, I’m going to use Stubbe.

Peter Stubbe was executed in Bedburg, near Cologne, on the 31 of March in 1590. At the time, this was a big deal – or, in Summers’ words, it “caused an immense sensation” (253) – and has been referenced since in popular works. A pamphlet detailing the events of Stubbe’s actions and his execution after his capture is published in Summers’ work, and he says he has “reproduce[d] it in full” (253). This seems to be true, as he didn’t feel the need to insert any references to werewolfery into the account.

The pamphlet begins thus, on page 253 of Summers’ work:

A true Discourse.
Declaring the damnable life
and death of one Stubbe Peeter, a most
wicked Sorcerer, who in the likenes of a
Woolfe, committed many murders, continuing this
diuelish [devilish] practise 25. yeeres [years], killing and de-
uouring [devouring] Men, Woomen, and
Children.
Who for the same fact was ta-
ken and executed on the 31. of October
last past in the Towne of Bedbur
neer the Cittie of Collin
in Germany.

Notice he is referred to here as a “Sorcerer.” And again, on the following page, the discourse opens with “Stubbe, Peeter, being a most / wicked Sorcerer” (254).

Sorcerer and sorcery – where do they call him a “werewolf?” They never refer to Stubbe as a werewolf once, nor do they accuse him of “werewolfery,” a term seeing relatively frequent use in this time period.

The fact that Stubbe supposedly turned into a wolf has retroactively made scholars refer to him as a “werewolf,” but he was never even called that. Throughout the account, we only ever see him referred to as a sorcerer. For instance, “the great matters which the accursed practise of Sorcery” (254). He is, in one instance, referred to as a “hellhound” (254), but not as a werewolf. The writer describes Stubbe as having been a man possessed by a “Damnable desire of magick … and sorcery” (254) for his entire life, starting especially since he was twelve years old. He made a deal with the Devil later in life…

The Deuill [Devil/Satan] who hath a readye eare to listen to the lewde motions of cursed men, promised to give vnto him whatsoeuer his hart desired during his mortall life : wherupon this vilde wrtech neither desired riches nor promotion, nor was his fancy satisfied with any externall or outward pleasure, but hauing a tirannous hart, and a most cruell blody minde, he only requested that at his plesure he might woork his mallice on men, Women, and children, in the shape of some beast, wherby he might liue without dread or danger of life, and vnknowen to be the executor of any bloody enterprise, which he meant to commit (254)

So as you can see, Stubbe was a messed up guy. And he only asked for the shape of “some beast.” That doesn’t sound like “werewolf,” does it? Continuing…

[The Devil] gaue until him a girdle which being put about him, he was straight transfourmed into the likenes of a greedy deuouring Woolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkeled like vnto brandes of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharpe and cruell teeth, A huge body, and mightye pawes : And no sooner should he put off the same girdle, but presently he should appeere in his former shape, according to the proportion of a man, as if he had neuer beene changed (255)

Well, Stubbe liked that a lot, because he was a sicko and wanted to go do sick things. It didn’t matter what animal it was – but the Devil chose to let him turn into a wolf.

Now, a few elements of his story are similar to a few other werewolf trials – like Jean Grenier – of around the same time period, and we also have some older stories of things like skins and salves being used to turn someone into a wolf. So why do I separate this?

Because in this time period, werewolves and sorcerers were both believed in, and Stubbe was not referred to as a werewolf. His legend does not have crucial elements in common with even other werewolf legends of the time period, like a lack of self-control/insanity. Stubbe was fully aware of his actions and willfully doing these things and taking this form. His animal form could have just as easily been some kind of cat, unknown beast, or bear, or whatever, because he’s not a werewolf – he’s a sorcerer.

So Stubbe went around committing his atrocities “in the shape of a Woolfe” (255). He even would walk up and down the streets and “if he could spye either Maide, Wife, or childe, that his eyes liked or his hart lusted after, he would … in the feeles rauishe [ravish] them, and after in his Wooluishe [wolfish] likenes cruelly murder them” (255). Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s The Howling. It’s sad that this has infiltrated many levels of popular culture now. Werewolves were, before Stubbe became retroactively deemed a werewolf, never associated with sexual crimes.

It’s pointed out at this section of the account while detailing how disgusting and lecherous and murderous Stubbe was, going around eating people and babies and lambs and other animals, that he would eat them raw and bloody “as if he had beene a naturall Woolfe indeed, so that all men mistrusted nothing lesse than this his diuelish Sorcerie” (255). Again – sorcery. Not “lycanthropy” or “werewolfery” or “werewolf” or anything like that. And I’m not gonna lie, this guy’s legend is very messed up. It disturbs me to have anything like this associated with werewolves. It was never meant to be, and I am upset that scholars have decided it should be.

The account goes on to detail how Stubbe violated several women, including his own sister, and even begot children as a result. I won’t go into too many details about that, but it’s just more points toward this not being a werewolf legend, as it stands out starkly as the only “werewolf legend” that ever involved anything of the sort. But we once again get the reference to “likenes of a Woolfe” (256) – several more, in fact. We also get a “transformed man” (257), which again is not “werewolf,” as well as referring to him as “this light footed Woolfe” (257) and “this greedy & cruel Woolfe” (257).

Eventually, people did catch Stubbe, but only because they caught him returning to human shape after removing his demonic girdle that gave him a wolf form as long as he wore it. He was then taken and confessed to all his crimes, saying that “by Sorcery he procured of the Deuill a Girdle, which beeing put on, he forthwith became a Woolfe” (258).

Then they sure did mess him up. His execution was that he would “first to haue his body laide on a wheele, and with red hotte burning pincers in ten seueral places to haue the flesh puld off from the bones, after that, his legges and Armes to be broken with a wooddenn Axe or Hatchet, afterward to haue his head strook from his body, then to haue his carkasse burnde to Ashes” (259).

The account concludes…

Thus Gentle Reader haue I set down the true discourse of this wicked man Stub Peeter, which I desire to be a warning to all Sorcerers and Witches, which vnlawfully followe their owne diuelish imagination to the vtter ruine and destruction of their soules eternally, from which wicked and damnable practice, I beseech God keepe all good men, and from the crueltye of their wicked hartes. Amen. (259)

Sorcerers and witches. Not werewolves.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of mentioning that this trial took place at a time period when other werewolf trials also occurred. Other werewolf trials around the same period referred to their accused as “werewolves.” However, Stubbe was – as mentioned – never once referred to as a werewolf. Careful care was taken to avoid this. He is “wolf-shaped” and “sorcerer.” Always “sorcerer,” never “werewolf.”

Around this same time period, there exist assorted examples of accusations of “werewolfery” and of “being a werewolf.” One such example is the parliament of Franche-Comte issuing a decree in December of 1573 (years before Stubbe’s trial), as detailed on page 146 of Matthew Beresford’s The White Devil,

those who are abiding or dwelling in said places … to assemble with pikes, halberds, arquebuses, and sticks, to chase and pursue the said were-wolf in every place where they may find or seize him

Again, however, Stubbe was never specified as practicing “werewolfery” or “being a werewolf,” but he was on multiple accounts accused of “taking a wolf shape,” “sorcery,” and being a “sorcerer.”

This is because there was a huge difference between the two. Maybe I’ll do a separate werewolf fact on it, but it’s already touched upon across multiple facts of mine, like this one and this one along with others I linked earlier in this post.

Now we reach the point of asking: so why does everyone call Peter Stubbe a “werewolf”? Is it just because he turned into a wolf, which is in itself very sad, because everyone is ignoring the details? That’s certainly part of it.

One of the – possibly the – earliest source to refer to Stubbe as a werewolf is Richard Verstegan in his Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in 1605, on pages 236-237.

Please note these are directly copied from a not super great transcription. The original can be found here. For the sake of clarity, I have not altered the language in any way from the digitized edition, but I will break it down some.

In his definition of “werewolf,” he says,

Were – wulf . This name remayneth Aill knowne in the Teutonic , and is as much to ſay , as mans wolfe ; the Greeke expreſſing the very like , in Lycanthropos .

Ortelius not knowing what Wwere ſignifiech , becaufe in the Netherlands , it is now cleame out of rfe , except thus compoſed with WWolfe , doch miſ – interpret it ac cording to his fancy .

So, in the beginning here, Verstegan says that werewolves are “man-wolves” and refers to the Greek term “lycanthropos.” That’s all well and good. Then he goes out of his way to say that most people “misinterpret” werewolves “according to [their] fancy.” That’s ironic, considering he misinterprets werewolves in his next paragraph…

[werewolves] are certayne Sorcerers , who ha uing annoynted their bodies , with an Oyntment which they make by the inſtinct of the Diuell : And putting on a cercayne Inchaunced Girdle , doe not onely voto the view of others , ſceine as Wolues , but to their owne thin king haue boch che Shape and Nature of Wolues , ſo long as they weare the fayd Girdle . And they doc diſpoſe them felues as very wolues , in wourrying and killing , and moft of Humane Cicatures .

Of ſuch , ſundry haue beene takon , and executed in ſun dry parts of Germany , and the Netherlands . One Peter Stump , for beeing a were , Wolfe , and hauing killed thirteene Children , two VVomen , and one Mao ; was as Beibur , not farre from Cullen , in the yeare 1589 put vnco a very cerrible Death . The Ach of diucrs partes of his bom dy was pulled out with hot iron tongs , his armes , thighes , and legges broken on a Wheele , and his body laſtly burnt . Hee dyed with very great remorſe , deſiring that his body might not be ſpared from any Torment , fo his Coule might be ſaued .

He runs werewolves and sorcerers together. This wholly muddies the hard and fast definition of werewolves that was set during this time period. Sorcerers and werewolves are two very different things. What he describes here, and what Stubbe is, is a sorcerer, not a werewolf. And he takes it upon himself to say that Stubbe is a werewolf and that werewolves are sorcerers. Thanks for screwing entire generations of scholarship, buddy; not that Montague Summers exactly tried to help fix it. All things being equal, though, I can say with confidence that this Verstegan fellow was a very broad scholar and didn’t seem too interested in diving deep into the differences between werewolves and sorcerers or anything about werewolves in particular. Why he even bothered making these assertions about Stubbe being a werewolf is a bit of a curiosity.

To give you an even better idea of just how muddied the entire perception of Stubbe the sorcerer is, we see people today call him the “Werewolf of Bedburg,” but another scholar – Adam Douglas on page 162 of his book The Beast Within: A History of the Werewolf – calls him “the werewolf of Cologne” (Bedburg being very near Cologne; but which is he, the werewolf of Bedburg or the werewolf of Cologne? It’s almost like no one ever called him either one), and yet he himself also acknowledges indirectly through the use of quotes that Stubbe himself was – again – never once referred to as a “werewolf” during his own time period. He was always called a “sorcerer” and took a “wolf shape.” Never was he a “werewolf.”

Matthew Beresford is also guilty of spreading the concept of Stubbe as a werewolf in his own book, The White Devil, where he – on pages 146 and 147 – says Stubbe was “convicted of being a werewolf.” He was never convicted of being a werewolf. He was convicted of being a sorcerer. And again, of course, Beresford’s quotations from all primary sources make no mention of “werewolf.”

Even Montague Summers himself, who published the direct account of Stubbe in his book The Werewolf in Lore and Legend or just The Werewolf, claims that “[o]ne of the most famous of all German werewolf trials was that of Peter [Stubbe]” (Summers 253). But even looking at this account, and even elsewhere in his very own book laying out plainly the differences between werewolves and sorcerers and stressing the importance therein, Summers refers to Stubbe as a “werewolf.”

Granted, Summers is not necessarily known for his consistency, or even always his accuracy; regardless, his work to preserve the original accounts of legends is beyond commendable, and without him we may not still have the direct account of Stubbe’s trial with which to fully understand that Stubbe was never once referred to in his own time period as anything to do with a “werewolf.” We also wouldn’t have a lot of other things. I’ve used Summers’ work throughout my life, but his writing is still to be approached with a critical mindset instead of viewed as flawless.

Long – very long – story short…

tl;dr: Peter Stubbe was never, not even once, referred to as a “werewolf” or any other words associated with them in his own time period. The full and detailed account of his actions published the year of his execution never makes mention of anything to do with werewolves or the oft-used “werewolfery” during the time period. He is always referred to as a “sorcerer” and reference is made to his “likeness of a wolf,” but he’s never called a “werewolf.”

A werewolf and a sorcerer are not the same thing. It’s by no means 1:1. Saying that they are the same thing damages the study of werewolf legends and even the portrayals of werewolves in popular culture to an almost irreparable degree. It’s a misconception and a misreading of legend, folklore, and even historic accounts of periods during which such things were truly believed to exist. These misconceptions were popularized by academia and academia’s obsession with “new arguments” and the like. It isn’t a “new argument” to say Stubbe was a werewolf. It’s simply incorrect.

It is so important to note that there was an important distinction during this very time period between “werewolf” and “sorcerer.” This isn’t some kind of academic nitpickery about “well technically no one was a ‘werewolf’ in ancient Greece because the word didn’t exist yet!” or “’dragon’ really just means ‘serpent’“ or whatever. This is a simple, straightforward situation in which in the time period in question there was, in fact, a difference, and that difference is important to note hereafter because otherwise we should just throw all study of specific legends and myths and details of the time period and language and everything right out the window.

Peter Stubbe’s legendary account is one of a sorcerer, not a werewolf. It is not a werewolf legend. It’s a legend about sorcery and demonic magic.

Are there other instances in which we can blur the lines between between werewolf and sorcerer, potentially? Yes, perhaps. And someday I’ll get into those, in a different post. There are potential similarities between Stubbe’s account and some other werewolf accounts, but it’s endlessly important to note whether or not the word “werewolf” or “werewolfery” was used in accounts of this time period, since the word was in fact in use by this point in history.

And in Stubbe’s, those words were never used.

I cannot stress enough the importance of not entangling the account of Stubbe’s sorcery with werewolf legends. To draw one of my previous werewolf facts with a few additions – Peter Stubbe, by and large, just got mixed up in the obsession with “werewolf trials” (court trials), like the trial of Jean Grenier, who was accused of various crimes like cannibalism and “werewolfery” and “sorcery” (notice they are two different things). Grenier, however, was taken pity upon and deemed not responsible for his actions, and was sent to live the rest of his years in a monastery, where he lived peacefully for a time (but remained insane, as werewolves were associated with insanity during the late medieval and early modern period following the rise of scientific rationalism).

Whatever the case, for better or for worse, Peter Stubbe the sorcerer mistakenly remains the most immediate source for our modern horror movie werewolves that rather simplistically go romping about in search of flesh (in every sense of the word) to sate their hunger (also in every sense of the word).

And that’s a shame, because his legend isn’t a werewolf legend by any stretch. He could’ve turned into any animal, but just because his sorcerer animal form was a wolf, scholars have retroactively decided he was a “werewolf” instead of what he was called during his own time: a sorcerer.

(If you like my werewolf blog, be sure to check out my other stuff and please consider supporting me on Patreon! Every little bit helps so much.

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UPCOMING BOOK – Werewolf Facts: A Guidebook to Folklore vs Pop Culture

You’ve seen the blog series, now it’s time for the book!

That’s right, Werewolf Facts is getting published!

It’s been years since I started my Werewolf Facts series, which has essentially become my branding, and it’s become so popular beyond my wildest dreams that it’s high time I announced my plans to publish a cohesive guidebook to all the facts you need on werewolves.

This book will be essentially what werewolf facts are now: a cohesive section-by-section look at elements of werewolves, comparing historical folklore and mythology from all around the world to those elements in popular culture, how werewolves have changed, and what is and isn’t folkloric about the werewolves we see in things today. I touched upon this some in my thesis book that I published last year, because it’s a very big life mission for me and always has been, but I created Werewolf Facts as a more accessible means of talking about similar topics and issues with a more casual and less academic air and more easily-accessible and categorized information, as opposed to a lot of argument.

The working title of the book is Werewolf Facts: A Guidebook to Folklore vs Popular Culture.

It will be a long time (one or more years) before this book is compiled and completed, but I wanted to announce this because I’m very excited to see it become a reality. I hope you’ll join me for the journey as I compile, expand, and provide the professional citations for all of my existing werewolf facts – plus a whole lot more info – and turn them into a real book you can crack open in your friends’ faces when they doubt the power of your werewolf knowledge.

As of yet, I do not have an approximate release date, but I know very well it will be over a year before this is finalized and published. 2022 is a year of fiction for me (I will be publishing several fiction books, so keep an eye out for those as well), but after that, I’m going to go back to non-fiction and really get to work on putting my werewolf facts out there.

Give me a follow and stay tuned for more updates!

Ask Response – Werewolves in Medieval Germany

This was an ask response on my Tumblr where I do most of my folklore blogging, but it was popular enough there that I figured I should post it here, too!

okeketochi1 asked:

Usually  when referring to werewolves people tackle them in a pretty broad  scope. Referring to Le Lobizon, the loup-garou, King lycaon, etc…but  what is the mythology surrounding the werwulf or werewolf specifically?  Like the German middle age definition of a werewolf?

That’s a very complicated question – but it’s also not. If that makes any sense at all. Let me elaborate…

What  we call “werewolves” has almost become retroactive. We can’t really say  that “werewolf” is a uniquely German term, despite being Germanic in  nature, because our first recorded use of a variant of “werewolf” wasn’t  even recorded in Germany. “Werewolf” never appeared very much in  medieval writings, despite originating during the medieval period (more  on that in a minute). Yes, you can find people using the term  “werewolf” (and its assorted variations), but sadly, it often becomes a  matter of asking: is this a real source, or is this something someone is  falsifying?

This  is a woodcut from 1722 in Germany of a werewolf. It’s one of the few  instances we do have that is directly referred to as a “werewolf,” so we  can be sure their werewolf legends in the 1700s, at least, weren’t too  far off the mark from the kind of thing we have today.

You can  find lots of “werewolf legends” in Germany from the 1800s and around  that general time period that supposedly throw around the term  “werewolf” (again, and its variations), but having read many of  these myself and researched their sources and origins, I can tell you  that the overwhelming majority of these things are just… nonsense.  They weren’t legends. They were basically short stories, fake local  tales, and generally untrue “folklore,” for whatever reason people had  to be producing it. (What’s one way you can spot these? Several of them mention silver) There is a glut of utterly fake “German werewolf folklore” out there from the 1800s especially.

At any rate, as for the Middle Ages in Germany and what they considered to be werewolves,  we have to look at Germanic folklore and mythology for that. In the  pre-Middle Ages, early Middle Ages, and even into the mid Middle Ages,  much of the Germanic regions of Europe were dominated by the old  Germanic concepts – namely berserkers (which, again, were not bear warriors) and related legends.

It  wasn’t really until after the Middle Ages that the word “werewolf”  became used often across multiple regions. Much of what we call  “werewolves” today is a retroactive label or translation.

What may have been the first use of the word “werewolf” appeared in the early 1000s. To quote my book,  The Werewolf: Past and Future

Much  like what happened with the Vikings, as the medieval world  converted  to Christianity, werewolves were cast in a steadily more  negative  light. The king of England from 1016-1035, King Cnut, issued  the Ecclesiastical Ordinances XXVI,  in which he specifically  mentions the werewolf in relation to the  Devil, saying, “[be watchful,  that] the madly audacious were-wolf do  not too widely devastate, nor  bite too many of the spiritual flock.”[1]  This passage marks one of the  earliest instances in which the term  “werewolf” is virtually equated to  the Devil or demons in general in  Christianity, which becomes common in  later medieval writings – and it  also marks the first recorded use of  the word “werewolf.” Instead of  the wolf being a brother and wolf  transformations being desirable, or  at least not worthy of condemnation,  Christianity altered the view of  werewolves, turning them into demonic  creatures associated with evil  and witchcraft, who romp across the  countryside leaving death and  destruction in their wake. As stated by  Beresford, “[T]he use of the  werewolf as a religious scapegoat by the  Church throughout the Middle  Ages is intrinsic to the development of the  myth of the modern beast.  What was once … a highly revered and  worshipped beast, emerges in the  medieval period as a savage creature,  poisonous, destructive and wholly  evil; a beast to be feared and not  imitated.”[2]

[1]Beresford 80, quoting Ecclesiastical Ordinances XXVI by King Cnut of England [2]Beresford   88. However, in this passage, he does not seem to wholly take into   account just how many medieval werewolf legends existed, and how some of   them were not necessarily demonic – these were, however, more often   than not, unrelated to the Church (except for a few cases, which   Beresford himself also cites in his book), so his point largely still   stands.

Another direct use of the word “werewolf” appears in assorted medieval lays about werewolf knights, such as Marie de France’s Bisclavret,   Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, written in 1470, etc. So, in  many ways, you could even say the proper medieval concept of a werewolf  was a noble knight, as they were actually directly called “werewolves!”

It’s  all but impossible, in folklore and myth, to nail down certain legends  about certain creatures. This is because folklore and myth are very  indirect, as compared to the kind of things people create today in pop  culture. A true “werewolf legend” spans tons of legends – and  simultaneously almost none at all. Scholars have often dictated what is  and isn’t a werewolf legend, and their decisions about it frequently  don’t even make any sense (especially if you ask me). This applies to so  many creatures, including both werewolves and vampires, and that’s why  when someone asks me “what were dragons like in folklore?” I can’t give a  direct answer. I have to almost write a book on it, because all  monsters and creatures in folklore have very complicated backgrounds,  many different names, often didn’t go by the names we put on them today  at all, etc.

I hope this helped! Sorry I couldn’t give a more direct answer. Some other useful werewolf facts for this topic:

Werewolf Review – Dire (Fortnite)

It’s a new series – it’s werewolf reviews!

I’m going to start reviewing various werewolves across many forms of media. Movies, TV shows, video games… and I’m always looking for werewolves in video games, namely ones that don’t suck.

I never really found time to do this or motivation to write these kinds of posts/reviews, given I am – on average – not a fan of most people’s werewolves, and I try not to be some kind of horrible negative energy here on this blog, but… it seemed a popular choice and many of my followers and patrons wanted to see me write something like this.

So let’s talk about the werewolf I actually cannot believe I missed: Dire, from Fortnite.

I absolutely love this guy and his questline, and I really want to talk about all the reasons why.

So I started playing Fortnite off and on a few months ago, when they announced a skin pack that includes Chris Redfield from Resident Evil (RE5, specifically, too!). I immediately downloaded the game, bought the pack, and started to play it. I had a blast for a while and I still pick it up now and then sometimes, but it’s not really my kind of game.

I don’t really do battle royales (I play Apex now and then in the past, but they aren’t my thing; I’m a deathmatch person, I guess I’m old or something), especially because my internet connection sucks and cannot handle them whatsoever. So I’ve been playing the co-op world mode, Save the World, because I prefer co-oping with my brother anyway. I’m having a whole lot of fun, and Chris looks so incredible. You really have to see him in-game to appreciate the ridiculous attention to detail and just how truly great he is.

I found out, though, that when I first started playing, there was a werewolf questline going on in Save the World mode! Now, at first, this filled me with dread. Why? Because I basically detest 90% of werewolf media, and Fortnite being a very silly game, I figured the werewolf would be handled horribly and just be a big goofy walking dog joke that sounds like Scooby Doo and is never taken remotely seriously at all.

I was so pleasantly wrong!

“Wolfy Business” Questline

Now, don’t get me wrong, the questline is obviously silly. It’s a silly game, after all, and that is absolutely fine. I, however, expected the story to be a travesty toward werewolves like every other comical werewolf thing wherein the werewolves are bork bork boof floofy fluffbeast goodboi doggo waffs uwu scooby snacc, pissing on fire hydrants, chasing mailmen, etc. I’ve seen… so much of that…

And sure, there were a few dog jokes about walkies and whatever, mostly from one character who is incredibly obnoxious anyway, but overall the story was the most fun one I’ve played in the game so far. I absolutely loved Dire. He never actually talked, which was to his benefit, he just growled and made wolfish noises (wolfish noises, not barking! I was so pleasantly surprised). The “business wolf” was an obvious jab at Wolf of Wall Street and was fairly amusing at times. Vastly preferable to the same old tired dog-oriented jokes, for sure! My only question is… why can’t I get his business wolf skin? He was pretty awesome.

So while overall silly as I fully expected, the little questline was really fun, and I enjoyed it. It didn’t piss me off even once, really. Everything in it was either tolerable or straight-up fun. I enjoyed the werewolves being characters and something people feared, instead of either total jokes or throwaway dumb-as-rocks villains.

Dire – Character

Dire is great. Not only does he not talk, as mentioned, but he doesn’t ever seem to bark, either. He does howl. HE ACTUALLY HOWLS. Werewolves in video games basically never howl anymore, for some absurd reason. But Dire howls whenever night falls in Save the World mode, and there’s an emote you can buy (for a separate fee, of course) that is a howl animation with a sound, which is specifically built for him. It fills me with joy that he actually, legitimately howls, and it isn’t played for laughs.

What makes him even more fun is that everyone in Homebase – the main characters of Fortnite – are clearly scared of him. He isn’t allowed in the base because he would eat everyone. I just love that. The werewolves are never really portrayed as jokes – they are dangerous and can and will eat everyone. Dire included. Dire, though, isn’t a bad guy. He’s nice and he helps the heroes!… He just still wants to eat everyone. He doesn’t really mean it in a bad way, though. Whoops.

I seriously adore this guy.

Dire – Appearance

So many werewolves, especially in video games, fall into two distinct traps: they either almost never transform, and if they do it’s only for like 10 seconds – or they never actually turn into a human at all and are just wolf-people. I’d much rather have the former than the latter, overall, but that’s personal preference. Some games manage to avoid these issues at least to some degree, and they aren’t always the best solutions. It seems so difficult for games to really embrace what werewolves are all about, the way Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind – Bloodmoon did (best werewolves in video games, by the way).

When it comes to Dire, you could argue he is more of a wolf-person variant, since he doesn’t ever turn in-game – and they could fix that so easily by giving him one of these new “transformable” skins… I really wish they would. I’d shell out for that, and I don’t even really play the game basically ever right now. But – still.

Anyway, I was very happy to learn he does have a human form, and we get to see it, and we can even play as it if we want:

It’s always nice to know werewolves aren’t just designated eternally-transformed wolf-people, since the transformation is the core of what makes them werewolves.

But what’s even better to me – yes, truly fantastic – is that he also has an in-between skin. He has a wolf-man skin, too! And it’s GREAT. I adore it. Seriously. This miiight be my favorite skin in the whole game (except Chris, obviously, because of massive personal biases).

Look at this guy! He’s great! How often do we get to see, much less play as, in-between stages of transformation? Awesome.

And then, to make things even better, we get multiple variants of his fully transformed, wolfish form, to top things off…

Don’t mind the banner telling me I need to grind like mad in order to evolve him enough to unlock his transformed werewolf skins. You know how modern gaming is.

BONUS: his upper and lower canines are in the correct position! People often get that wrong. I don’t know why it’s so hard to look up predator – specifically wolf – skulls… looking at you yet again, Blizzard. Actually I’m not, because I will probably never play World of Warcraft again, you jerks, but that’s a discussion for a different time and place. Right now, we’re enjoying Dire.

His ears are, of course, kind of long/flat, instead of pointing up like wolf ears. But you know what? I don’t care. He still looks great. Despite common belief, I am not that freaking picky about werewolf designs, as long as they look cool, are reasonably wolfish, and are executed well in the story/setting. Dire certainly hits those marks. I love his claws. I love his abs, too. Too bad his wolf-man form doesn’t have visible abs… Anyway.

Again, so many props for his design. Wolfish while still being cool and unique. I love the way his fur looks and that he actually has fur, and I love his general look and build. I especially love his teeth and his awesome spiky mohawk-style hair. Seriously, his entire design is right up my alley, even specifically up the alley of my favorite character design in so many other details (like his gloves, his vest– everything!).

All he needs is a tail… really missing that tail. It works without a tail, I get what they were doing, but I still think the design would look better with a tail, since it has such a wolfish head and the wolf legs (both of which are great).

Dire – Abilities

One of the best things about Dire is his abilities – one in particular. He’s a Ninja class, so he moves fast and can double-jump, which is already fun (and makes him what I believe is the most fun class in the game), and he gives lots of speed boosts in general. But he has this fantastic passive…

When night falls, he gets a big speed boost and – this is the best part – he howls. He actually howls. I know I mentioned that before, but can you believe it? A werewolf that actually howls like a wolf? I know, I had a hard time believing it, too. It’s so refreshing. It’s so inspiring. I love it. And I love that it comes with such a big speed boost and is tied to nightfall and that he will howl regardless of what you’re doing in-game. This isn’t something you activate. Plus, your whole team can hear it.

Gah, I just love that so much.

Conclusion

The takeaway from all this? Dire is actually a great werewolf. Being perfectly blunt, he’s one of the best werewolves I’ve seen in video games for a long time or possibly ever. He’s unapologetically fun and wolfish and he actually howls, while also getting several fun skin variants, an entertaining quest, and very cool passive abilities. He isn’t a horror werewolf, but it isn’t a horror game, and even so, they still made him treated as being very scary in the context of the universe, and I generally just love the way he was handled over Halloween. This proves you do not have to have some super gruesome horror story to have a cool, fun, and scary werewolf that is treated as interesting and unique: it’s all about how other characters react to them.

It’s a solid 10/10 for Dire, even if his fully transformed state could really use a tail. Great work to Fortnite for accomplishing what shouldn’t be so difficult but is apparently really hard for most people: making an awesome werewolf!

On Werewolf Antagonists/Evil Werewolves

It’s that time of year when the things I love the most get noticed and celebrated at least a little by everybody else (even though corporations still hate creating typical Halloween products that actually include werewolves; seriously go check your local department store, it’s been this way since I was a tiny tiny child)…

Happy Howl-o-ween! Time for a special Halloween post!

First off – welcome (again), new followers! I had a big ol’ followers flux, in part because my werewolf masterlist made the rounds and in part because of Overly Sarcastic Productions’ new video on werewolves! I communicated a lot with Red about research for it; be sure to check it out. You’ll recognize pretty much everything in there, if you’ve spent a lot of time on this blog (and if you’ve read my latest book, too)!

For a while now, I’ve been getting lots of messages and asks about werewolf stories and character concepts (and I always enjoy those!), but a lot of them have a something in common… an antagonistic or generally evil werewolf/werewolves or discussions thereof – or asking how to make a werewolf who isn’t an antagonist.

While villain werewolves are great and can be totally awesome, they are generally terrible, and on average, we do not like those or support or encourage them here on this blog. My goal with werewolf (and wolf) education is to encourage the creation of sympathetic and not evil werewolves and wolf-related characters. This doesn’t mean they have to be “cuddly” by any means (I’m not a fan of that, either), but it would be great to see werewolf characters that aren’t one-note villains.

Using them as villains is great, but I would so much rather see werewolf and wolf villains be done sparingly instead of the overwhelmingly “almost always” that you see today and have always seen throughout the history of entertainment.

Historically, werewolves (and wolves in general) are always cast in a bad light and as villains, often being pure evil and menaces that must be stopped (read: killed), and that needs to stop for so many reasons. If you want to hear more about that, though, you should read my book on how werewolves in folklore are not what they are in pop culture, how werewolves are nothing but misconceptions today, and why that isn’t a good thing.

All that being said, let’s move on to the meat of this post…

How do you make werewolves not evil?

There are many characters in stories. Not all of them have to be protagonists or antagonists. They do not have to be good or evil. Werewolves fit perfectly into shades of grey, whether they are directly cast as heroes or villains or not.

I want to emphasize something here: Werewolves are characters first and werewolves second. Essentially, werewolves are people, too.

It’s like any other character creation. If you create a character specifically to be “a female character” or “the love interest” or whatever, they are inherently going to suffer from that. If you make “the werewolf character” instead of making a character and then making that character happen to be a werewolf (or whatever other template you are applying), your character will never be as good as that character who was created as a character first and then the other element second. Do not let “being a werewolf” (or whatever other element is at play) dictate the character.

Almost all werewolf characters in media are werewolves first and characters second. They suffer for that. They aren’t really people – they’re just plot elements.

Werewolves are so much deeper than throwaway villains. At their core, werewolves are sill human, and they have problems and motivations and hopes and dreams like everyone else. Their lycanthropy affects that, not destroys it.

If you do not want the werewolf to be a primary hero or working with the primary hero, they do not necessarily have to be the villain, either. Werewolf characters can come and go like any other characters. Their motivations can be a mystery – they themselves can be part of that mystery. They do not necessarily have to be good or evil, but characters with their own motivations.

Being a werewolf does not have to impact them being good or evil at all. They could help the hero(es) directly or indirectly or only now and then, or they can be a looming threat the heroes hope they never have to face. They can be something that only helps the hero in their greatest moment of need due to the potential risks of doing so.

Werewolves can be a mysterious hermit, the wandering loner, the person who never lets anyone get close. They can drift in and out of a story and help the protagonists in only minor ways. They can be the Gandalf.

They can be literally anything in any story, if only horizons would be expanded. Werewolves are not a villain or antagonist, throwaway or not, by nature. They are characters, like everyone else. They just happen to also be werewolves, which only adds yet another very interesting layer to their characters – a layer that offers endless possibility and exploration, with so much character growth and development.

Werewolves are generally assumed to be villains. The natural line of thought is to make them such. That is exactly what I want to change.

The uncontrollable werewolves do not necessarily have to be the type to come charging out of nowhere, wanting to kill the protagonist and their friends for no reason at all. Give their animal side more depth, too. Why would it behave in such a way? What motivates it? Do you really want your readers to se your protagonist thinking that anything animalistic is an evil plague that must be destroyed, instead of just a part of nature that is trying to keep to itself? Or what if that werewolf was a hero, whether a hero or an anti-hero, instead of a villain – like all those other werewolves?

There are so many things one can do with werewolves. They can be enigmatic heroes, they can be the shades of grey. They could be a force of nature, they can be guardians, healers, sages, seers, shamans – they can be the thing that goes bump in the night, the thing you never see but know is there. They can be knights in shining armor with a dark side (my favorite and also my primary werewolf protagonist), they can be the absolute perfect anti-heroes – the possibilities are endless!

Werewolves do not inherently represent a force of evil or something to oppose the protagonists. They can take up any role in a story. Turn to folklore for ideas and inspiration! Read about them as great warriors, as heroes, healers, as simple wandering travelers – and as that friend you never expected could turn into a wolf and bring you a deer to eat when you got too hungry on the road.

Werewolves are not something that always has to be “fought” in a story. They can simply be a part of the world and part of the environment, a character someone sees in passing. They don’t have to be at the forefront as heroes and villains. They don’t have to be “faced” and “dealt with” in some way every time they are encountered. The fact that so many people write stories in which the werewolf must be immediately dealt with and is “evil” only highlights further the fact that werewolves have been put in this evil light because humanity feels it must destroy and restrain the forces of nature instead of letting the wild be free.

And if you want to have a werewolf who isn’t a hero (not all stories need werewolf heroes, either, after all), a great role for a werewolf is a red herring, since everyone does naturally assume a werewolf will be evil – but maybe that werewolf just wants to be left alone instead.

Werewolves are often at their best when they are only under suspicion – when the characters are wondering and worrying about it. Wonder if that thing behind them is the werewolf. Is the werewolf evil? Is it going to kill me? Are they even a werewolf? Like any horrific creature, werewolves are at their strongest when they are not front and center and tearing up everything, but when they are mysterious and a source of fear – when they are more characterized and less a monster encounter action scene that comes and goes in a hurry. When they are too powerful to be fought directly and are best just avoided.

This is why werewolves make for such great horror and mystery – and that can also help characterize them.

Maybe the protagonists cannot be sure if the person is a werewolf or not – and if that person is on their side or not. Maybe the werewolf doesn’t specifically help or fight them. And maybe ,at some crucial moment, the werewolf will appear and offer aid. Werewolves make for great enigmatic characters, especially when they are trying to hide their nature.

Most folklore werewolves are not necessarily heroes or villains (though they often came in a more heroic variety before the Renaissance, of course). Werewolves can take so many different roles, depending on what story you want to tell.

My favorite werewolves will always be those that have a dark side, not those that are sweet and cuddly. To me, if a werewolf is not in some way dark, it isn’t actually a werewolf (especially if they are just dog-people, which isn’t werewolves at all, but you’ve all heard me rant about that before). But that absolutely does not make them inherently villains – it makes them extremely interesting characters with endless depths to explore. Giving a character lycanthropy only gives them that much more substance. It should never take substance away – which is what tends to happen with a lot of werewolves in media, especially those one-note villain ones or the simplistic ones that are just a plot point in a mystery (and then are generally killed anyway).

So do not fall into that trap of making werewolves the villain(s) in your story/setting/etc. Think of them as you would both individuals and a force of nature – the most dangerous wild animal of them all… but not in any way inherently “evil.”

I hope this provides food for thought about making a character first and putting the werewolf element second – having that character you created react to being a werewolf the way a real person would, instead of existing solely as a plot element and/or a villain.

Expect more in-depth writing advice posts on this topic in the future!

And in conclusion… Happy Halloween!