Big announcement – all regularly scheduled Werewolf Facts, Vampire Facts, and general Folklore Facts are now on hold!
I do have one vampire fact currently in the works to post at some point (“How to Identify a Vampire”), but I’m not sure when exactly it will be completed. It might not be for a few months, even.
I will continue to post some facts now and then off-schedule, maybe, and I will of course always have the ones available that are already on my blog, but I’m not going to have these on a schedule anymore, monthly or otherwise. I have a lot of work to do right now – and my life is currently very hectic, insanely so – and I need to focus on finishing projects. I cannot easily do this while also trying to maintain my blog schedule.
Instead, I will focus on working toward writing, compiling, and publishing fully-sourced and coherent Facts books, starting with one entitled Werewolf Facts: A Guidebook to Folklore vs Pop Culture! There will be more folklore books in the future, as well, but for now this one will be my focus.
More on this Werewolf Facts book very soon!
For the time being, I am also turning toward my fiction, writing a trilogy of novellas, finishing my enormous Knightfall revision, and I will be discussing next year’s books sometime in December. I want to get much more of my fiction out there and promote it in some very serious ways. One of these ways will be through LEGO creations, so expect more of those coming very soon (I already have a few completed and others in the works).
Patrons, expect a writing journal very very soon going into detail about my upcoming Werewolf Facts book and what putting my blog on hold means for the future of my writing and especially my book publications. Stay tuned for that.
If you want to continue hearing from me and following my folklore work, please give me a follow across my various social medias, linked at the bottom of this post. I’ll have a lot more folklore content to come, as well as plenty of my fiction (most of it also heavily folklore-based)!
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.”
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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.
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)!
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.
Please send me a message on Patreon, email me, contact me via Twitter DMs or other social media (NOTE: I do not check Facebook regularly!), or contact me through my personal blog here on Tumblr if you have any concerns or questions!
Perhaps one of the greatest mysteries that has entered our world exists in the Creep. A gelatinous, living substance like slime, the Creep is an unnatural thing that devours all life it touches. The Creep can only exist in shadow and generally makes its home in dark places, spreading outward. Anything caught in its grasp will be engulfed at a rapid rate.
It has been described as a sickly grey-purple in hue, or grey if it has entered a dormant state, during which it becomes like stone. In this shape it conceals itself until something alive touches it. Then it will immediately awaken to devour life again. In its bid to absorb all living things, the Creep can extend tendrils from its mass to snatch its prey.
Smaller, mobile beings exist separate from the Creep, called Creeplings. These creatures are the result of living things that have been touched by the Creep. As the Creep digests the form of the living creature, it may possess it, using that creature’s body to move about. However, as the prey is digested over time, it will become misshapen until it returns to the same formless slime as the rest of the Creep.
Masses of Creep have been discovered only in the most secluded of regions. It is thought to have originated from the Blasted Wastes far beyond the southern lands, where it was created, or perhaps summoned, due to the Mage Wars of Sinkarya. The Wastes remain its greatest home in this realm.
Some mages say the Creep is the sweetest substance known to man, and if one were to eat it, one would experience bliss almost alike to eating ambrosia, the food of the gods, just before one’s mind becomes consumed by the creature.
Due to its inability to be understood, it is likely an entity demonic in some fashion, perhaps related to the sins of Gluttony, or conversely Famine, or even Madness.
– excerpt from the Caudex Daemonum, by Grigore Summers
This entry on the Creep comprises one of Summers’ best descriptions of an unnatural or monstrous creature. So little is known of the Creep that his writings can scarcely be offered addition.
Dear reader, should you have the great misfortune of encountering any Creep or especially Creeplings, do your best to avoid it entirely. Anything it touches will become tightly lodged and drawn into its mass to be devoured and possessed. Physical attacks are all but useless against this abomination, though some Venatori report severing the limbs of Creeplings still with form enough to have limbs. Even this still could not stop their advance, but it at least slowed them enough to provide escape. As with most any monster, only the Venatori have even a chance of battling, much less truly destroying, any form of Creep.
We are incredibly lucky that the Creep has spread so little in the mortal realm and that the holy light of the sun, and even the moon, can usually keep it at bay and prevent it from engulfing all life.
Time for another vampire fact! This month, physical appearance won the poll on my Patreon, so let’s get right into it.
What did vampires actually look like – in folklore? Everyone knows their variety of appearances in pop culture, but what about what people actually believed?
As always, a quick disclaimer in that this fact will not cover every single possibility in terms of vampire folklore. Vampire folklore, like most folklore but perhaps especially with vampires, is vast and complicated. In this post, I’ll just be covering the most common appearances for vampires to have in legend.
One of the most common uniting aspects of vampire legends is very simple: red eyes. Sometimes these were demonic and otherworldly red eyes – very red, sometimes even glowing. Sometimes they were red because they were bloodshot, because the vampire was so bloated with blood. Either way, red eyes are very much a symbol of the vampire. Now, there are also some tales that say blue eyes are also a sign of a vampire, as well as red hair being a sign of vampirism – most of these concepts come from ancient Egypt and a few from ancient Greece. And, frankly, it doesn’t seem that common at all and I personally have a few doubts about the idea (Egypt clearly didn’t burn all red-haired people at the stake or anything given other accounts we have), but Montague Summers insists it was a thing, so I figured it might as well bear a mention.
As for red eyes, however: red glowing eyes often appeared in the form of a dark “shape” or dark “mist.” Vampires in legend turned into mist fairly frequently (and this is why we have the “vampiric mist” enemy in Dungeons & Dragons). Sometimes this mist was white, or grey, or even black, or just described as “mist” or “shadow,” sometimes in the shape of a man. Similarly, vampires in some legends could send their spirits – in the form of mist or light or even a projection of what they looked like in life – out from their bodies that may have been buried or else were simply dead somewhere.
Many vampires, however, take the form of a corpse that appears red and bloated with blood when it returns to its grave after feasting at night. When they are awake, vampires may look like normal people or may very often be offputtingly pale or strange, with “large” eyes that are “glittering” and disturbing, wrong somehow. Conversely, though, some stories have vampires with dead, dark pits for eyes.
Some, however, seem to have no real difference from their ordinary appearances. Legends do not note anything particularly unique about the way they look when they are walking free from their graves – it’s only when the vampire’s corpse is exhumed that we see the body red and bloated with blood, the face often looking fresh and life-like after the vampire has fed.
Others are a bit more specific, calling vampires very gaunt, with pale or even no skin, and very “thin.”
Not all vampires appear that way, either, though. Sometimes they are exhumed and they look entirely dead – except they haven’t decomposed at all. Sometimes their eyes will be open: a telltale sign of vampirism in a buried body.
Many legends scholars now group as “vampire legends” are not of course about “vampires” (this is a category retroactively put upon them by scholars; again, this happens a lot in folklore, same with werewolves) but are about various evil spirits, demons, and undead, that now fall in line with and/or were inspirations for our modern day takes on vampires.
This is not to say, of course, that all vampires looked like these. But, certainly, these are some of the most common vampire appearances to find in folklore.
My main sources for this post were From Demons to Dracula by Matthew Beresford and Vampires and Vampirism by Montague Summers, but I have read many, many books on vampire folklore over the years, so my knowledge isn’t always precisely cited in my blog posts. You’ll have to wait for me to publish a book on vampire folklore to see all that! (And I probably will someday.)
Until next time! Be sure to check out the rest of my blog – werewolves, vampires, folklore, and even fiction and worldbuilding!
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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 treatedby 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.
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.
“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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So, really, vampire hunting wasn’t really much of a thing… except in Greece.
In fact, at one point, hunting vampires was considered a career so important and high in society in Greece that it was about equal to healers and scribes. Supposedly, people born on a Saturday could see things like spirits and have “influence” over vampires and thus often hunted them. In his book From Demons to Dracula, Matthew Beresford cites a bunch of ways the Greeks especially on the island of Mykonos would ward off vampires.
And there are still more examples scattered around. According to Montague Summers, in his book The Vampire in Lore and Legend, on page 217…
In no country has the Vampire tradition more strongly prevailed and more persistently maintained its hold upon the people than in modern Greece. To the confirmation and perpetuation of this and cognate beliefs, a large number of factors have lent their varying influences, and not the least remarkable of these has been the quote furnished by the popular superstition of antiquity, legends and practices which were even in Pagan days more or less covertly accepted and employed …
Bear in mind that Summers’ “modern” Greece is in the 1950s, as this book was originally published in 1961. Also bear in mind that Summers is not the nicest or least biased man in the world. At all. Still, he collected great scholarship and went on many travels to different regions to study, even if he wasn’t the best at organizing and sifting through everything.
At any rate, this leads us to the Greek term for “vampire,” which has always been a subject of very hot debate. But that’s not the topic of this post, so instead of going into detail about all that, I will say this instead…
Something to bear in mind: a lot of this is retrospective scholarship. In other words, were they really what we think of as “vampires” today? Probably not, even if they may have had a few similarities (though never things like fangs). I know I always mention this in my posts, but it’s always important to note for all readers that folklore is very hard to pin down – it isn’t possible, really – by modern standards and that when scholars refer to something as a “vampire” or a “werewolf” or even a “dragon” or almost any other creature, chances are it’s a myth that’s been translated to fit into one of those categories. There were certainly situations in which creatures may have been referred to as their name we think of them as today (though they basically never fit all of our new pop culture standards), but that’s especially complicated with the term “vampire” in particular.
Because the creatures in Greece were not referred to as “vampires,” which isn’t surprising at all, and their origins, history, and etymology are very complicated. Again, though, this post is about vampire hunters, so that isn’t something I’ll be going into right now. I did, however, go into it a fair amount in this post, if you’re interested! It’s all very regional and seems to mean a werewolf or a vampire in different regions, or sometimes a werewolf who has become a vampire, or sometimes just a vampire, or… Yeah, it’s all very complicated.
Either way, scholars of today now group some of these Greek concepts with vampire legends thanks to various influences and similarities, so now we have the Greek concept of a vampire hunter. In particular, we have some writings from the seventeenth century that detail some vampires and how to slay them.
Summers then mentions a Professor N. P. Polites of Athens University, who wrote about how Santorini was where people “sent” vampires, and “that the inhabitants of this island enjoy so vast a reputation as experts in effectively dealing with vampires and putting an end to them” (Summers 228).
Summers then goes on to give such a lengthy and detailed set of examples of vampire hunts and slayings (almost all of them cremations, at least at some point after other actions are taken) that to replicate them here would lead to me writing a chapter of my own. And since I try to keep folklore facts at least relatively concise unless I’m doing a particularly large one, maybe I’ll retell those stories in a vampire folklore book of my own someday instead.
It wasn’t, however, always within the law to be a vampire hunter or to cremate people for being a vampire, unlike another case…
Here’s another fun one: until only as recently as 1823 when the law was finally repealed, it was totally legal in England to drive a wooden steak through the heart of someone you suspected of being undead. Yes, any undead, not necessarily “vampires,” which is actually an important note. The law came into being during the Anglo-Saxon period, and people must have been doing that a fair amount for there to be an entire law about it – and one that went overlooked for so long. So, during the Victorian era, we still could’ve had people staking someone under the claim that they were undead, and they could legally get away with it if they could back up their claims somehow.
Did that make anyone an actual “vampire hunter” instead of just people staking their neighbors under claims of them being undead? Not really. So, so far all we really have still is Greece and its vampire hunting profession.
There may have been more “vampire hunters” in the modern sense than we really think about, with events in Eastern Europe related to vampire slaying (not necessarily “hunting” or in a professional sense) even as recently as 2007.
So there you have it! Vampire hunting was, at a few points anyway, actually considered a real profession. This is a very unusual case in folklore and makes vampires quite the unique creature for being so prolific in certain regions – namely Greece – as to have their own dedicated hunters.
Monsters aren’t really what we think of them as being in something like D&D, where there are these categorized creatures arguably overpopulating the entire countryside and you can make an entire profession doing nothing but hunting “monsters,” how ever one may define that. Still, there is surprisingly a little bit of precedent for that with vampires, which one can’t really say with most creatures in folklore, like werewolves. Vampires are one of the only creatures in folklore, even if it was pretty much only in Greece, to have their own dedicated, professional hunters.
Until next time!
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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.
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.
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.
 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.
So why can’t it be cured, per se? Because, in folklore, being a vampire isn’t really an “infection.” Much like werewolves didn’t start out as a “disease” and lycanthropy only became thought of as such much later (I have so many posts on that; see the Werewolf Fact Masterlist), vampirism also has a different tale. Unlike werewolves, however, many vampires are no longer even considered human, to the point that they aren’t always really considered “cursed.” Not in the fashion of “we must lift the curse, so the person will be okay.” Lifting the curse of the vampire in folklore is, simply, destroying the vampire, so that the people the vampire was terrorizing will be okay.
This boils down to something I have mentioned before: in folklore, many vampires are not considered in any way “human” or the person they were before (if they were ever a person).
There are, generally speaking, two “types” of vampires: “living” and “unliving” vampires. This is what folklore scholars will tell you. But to get into all that in a lot of detail, we would have to get into a whole lot more, some of which I discussed in this post.
Basically, there are “undead human”/revenant vampires (or “dead vampires” in folklore studies) and the demon vampires (or “living vampires” in folklore studies).
The first category, the “dead vampires,” are those vampires that were once human and rose from their graves to haunt the living. These vampires were people once, then they fell victim to the vampire curse.
The second category, the “living vampires,” were never human. They are called “living vampires” because they aren’t undead – they are living because they are demons that are alive, instead of people who died and came back as vampires. They were never people. They are, indeed, demons – through and through. These are pure demons that come to haunt mortals, hunt them, and cause them pain and suffering, feeding off blood or vitality or something else humans have (generally something that’s integral to life). Believe it or not, the majority of legends that scholars now group as “vampire legends” actually fall into this category of demons.
There are a few vampires in folklore that stray outside of these two categories scholars have created, but it is true that many of them do fall into one camp or the other, generally speaking. This is especially true of Eastern European vampire folklore, which, of course, is one of our primary inspirations for our modern pop culture vampires, thanks to Bram Stoker writing Dracula.
The vampire types are something I really need to do a separate post about…
I feel the need to point out yet again, as an aside, that folklore is never a clean bill of what is and isn’t a legend about a “vampire” or “werewolf” or “dragon” or whatever else. Most all folklore study looks back on sets of folklore and legends that have no simplistic D&D-style monster systems. This is why many scholars (such as myself) will argue some things shouldn’t beconsidered a werewolf legend, for instance. In a lot of legends, the exact term we think of is never actually used. And this is also how sometimes the line between werewolf and vampire legends can become blurred, like with the vrykolakas. Nothing in folklore is clean-cut like modern fantasy books with their magic systems or something.
So, when we see “dead type” vampires, we are dealing with someone who died, was probably buried (maybe even for days), and then hauntings occurred to their family and loved ones. The vampire rose from their grave physically or spiritually – and, more often than not, this type of vampire will also return to their grave or else they never physically left it.
But these vampires cannot be “cured,” because they are dead. You can’t “cure” what is dead. The only way to “cure” a human vampire in folklore is to kill them, to destroy them, and thus end the curse’s existence altogether. Given the person in question has already died, that’s the only means of lifting the curse.
With the “living type” vampires, the demons, they are different creatures altogether – and you can’t “cure” a demon of being a demon. That’s what they are. So also with those kinds of vampires, you cannot cure them, and if you want to put an end to their evil, they must simply be destroyed. These were never human.
Folklore didn’t really draw many shades of grey with vampires very often, especially in the most popular of legends. I will, of course, provide lots of more specific examples and situations of various legends in different posts, but as far as a general overview is concerned… yeah, in folklore, you can’t cure the vampire. The vampire is simply something that needs to be destroyed.
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