Written in response to this question:
This is a weird one but I’m curious. With werewolf stories there come a couple of cliches/tropes used when telling a story. I want to do a story about cliches and the topic of werewolves come into it. So my question… what cliches/tropes do you associate with werewolves? Can be what you like or don’t like – thanks and sorry for such a weird ask ^^
I love all asks, including weird ones! Not that I’d call this one terribly weird, really.
There are a lot I associate with them, and plenty I do not like. Let me see if I can do a quick list. I said “quick” when I first wrote this post, then I wrote a small book, apologies in advance.
Note that pretty much any of these can be done well, and I’ll probably mention that. But there are some I truly cannot abide on a personal level.
One of these lists is longer than the other. Note I am doing tropes I actually have seen in popular culture, not ones I’d like to see, since that’d be a totally different topic and an even longer post! I also have a post here for a few little tips about writing werewolves/werecreatures.
Ones I like:
- Eating people – Okay, so it was weird to open with this. But I like werewolves that eat people. Some people don’t. I do. I like them being big scary man-eating monsters. They can eat people and still be good (only eat bad people!), or they can be feral monsters with a taste for human flesh. I just like werewolves that eat people because… I just do. I also like them eating people alive in every sense of the word, as I covered in another fact (but not being mega stupid about it like wolves often were in later folk tales).
- Voracious in general/insatiable – And taking off that first one, I do like werewolves that are voracious in general and/or have insatiable appetites. It’s a wolf trope, yeah. But I love it. The normal guy eats a steak. The werewolf eats like 8 giant steaks and is hungry again in a few hours. It’s fun!
- Werewolves as wolves – In contrast to one on the list of things I don’t like, I enjoy werewolves exploring their wolfish side and/or exhibiting it, even in human form. It can be done horribly, of course, and I think it is immensely, endlessly silly when all werewolves in a setting are this way, but a few of them ending up like this (especially ones closer to their wolf side somehow) can be great. I am biased, of course, because the protagonist in a series of medieval fantasy werewolf novels I’ve been working on my entire life is a lot like this. The instincts, the love of raw meat… all that stuff. Not the overly silly stuff (more on that in “werewolves as dogs” and “dog jokes,” but the interesting, badass, wolfish stuff.
- Moon association – I do actually like the pop culture association with werewolves and the moon.
- Werewolves as guardians/protectors – This is a fairly rare one, but I do enjoy it when werewolves are guardians or protectors of something, like goodness in general, or guardians of nature, and all that sort of thing. Now, if they’re just guardians to some macguffin thing or some other very specific thing and it turns them into basically guardian golems or something? That’s pretty lame. But it can be cool. And werewolves as protectors of the innocent, that kind of stuff (like occurred in legend pretty often, as I’ve mentioned in several werewolf facts).
- Dark forests – I love me some classic dark forest setting with a werewolf in it, and a distant, chilling howl when in creepy, foggy woods at night.
- Loyal to the core – A trope among some werewolves is that they are super loyal. I like that.
- Bloodthirsty – This doesn’t mean “evil,” this just means… well, bloodthirsty. I don’t like it as a trait for “all” werewolves, like all werewolves in a setting, but a bloodthirsty werewolf character, always itching for a fight and enjoying the smell of spilt blood? I have biases. My protagonist in Wulfgard is one, and I love them.
- Basically the Hulk – The Hulk would be awesome if he was a werewolf, because he’s a lot of my favorite werewolf tropes. You won’t like him when he’s angry/volatile temper that will destroy everything, but when turned, he’s actually a good, gentle giant who saves people, despite his own opinions about his other form. (I am talking classic Hulk; newer Hulk stuff has, IMO, not reflected this very well, or else chosen simply not to do that/explore it)
- Painful/traumatic transformation – I love painful transformations. I do not like some kinds of transformations (I detest the skin flaying/wolf bursting out of a person/etc), but make it hurt. Make them scream. Traumatize anyone who has to see or so much as hear it and traumatize the werewolf if they remember it. I am cruel.
- Werewolf angst – Okay, so I know a lot of people in werewolf circles moan about “werewolf angst.” I like it. There. I said it. It can be done horribly, of course, and it’s often overused, but this is absolutely no reason to condemn it altogether. It can still make for a truly awesome story.
- Noble werewolves – A personal favorite!
- Werewolves are sexy/more attractive than most people – I mean. I’m okay with this. I like the whole primal sexiness thing, as silly and overdone as it can be at times. Don’t you want someone with a wild side? And all that.
- Involuntary transformation – I also like this in general. It can be done horribly, just like anything else, but usually I like it a lot and prefer it to werewolves just being a superpower you can flick on and off (although those can be done well, too, for sure, and I do not dislike voluntary transformation).
Ones I do not like:
- Dog jokes (barking, sniffing crotches, peeing everywhere, chasing things, etc.) – Unpopular opinion time! Get all of this away from me. Far away. It is not funny, it is so old and worn out and absolutely overused and predictable now, and can we please stop turning werewolves into jokes and actually take them seriously ever? It’s truly terrible and the biggest factor that set me on this path to try to convince the world to take werewolves seriously again. And the second a werewolf barks, I am out and you will never see me again. Wolves. Do not. Bark. (It felt very good to vent this)
- Werewolves as dogs – Generally having any dog-like qualities; goes hand in hand with the previous one. Please at least treat them like wild animals, because they are wolves, not domesticated. They do not have domesticated dog instincts. They do not have domesticated dog qualities. They are half man, half wolf.
- Plague – I do not like this modern idea that werewolves are basically disease victims, especially since lycanthropy was not considered a “disease” until fairly recently. That they are only dangerous because they are diseased, not because they’re giant hulking intelligent monsters that can kill you with ease and are borderline invincible. I don’t mind the “lycanthropy as a disease” thing, or the transmission by bite – I think it can be done well and I use the bite transmission myself. I just do not think it should be presented as a plague, and anything that uses phrases like “werewolf infestation” will immediately raise my ire. Werewolves are not plague rats.
- Only dangerous in packs and/or giant hordes like zombies – This goes a lot with the previous one. In a lot of things, werewolves are only dangerous in giant hordes and are basically zombies. I also don’t like the idea that werewolves are only dangerous in a pack. An individual werewolf should be more than capable and terrifying enough on its own.
- Always evil – I hate this so much. This is easily one of the main things I am fighting against with werewolves. That’s all I have to say, except for things I have already said, and unless I want to rewrite my entire 150+ page thesis here in this blog post.
- Werewolves as just plain stupid – This infuriates me. This is a thing for wolves and werewolves alike: they are often just stupid. Dumb. Unintelligent. They do dumb things. In folklore, the wolf is even described by scholars from the Middle Ages as “stupid.” That is absolutely ridiculous. Werewolves were very smart in folklore, and in fact that was a huge part of what made them scary (their human intelligence), and not the modern day “don’t worry it’ll bash itself against the wall in a mad fit until it dies” werewolves.
- Scared of fire and/or weak to it – Berserkers and some other werewolves were specifically described as being “immune to fire.” And why would a werewolf be scared of fire, like someone waving a torch around? They’re half human. They know what fire is.
- Random encounter/common monster – Werewolves should be powerful, scary, and viewed with at least some amount of awe. There shouldn’t be something such as monster hunters hoping for “a run-of-the-mill werewolf attack.” There should be nothing run of the mill about werewolves, that cheapens them immensely. A werewolf or werewolves shouldn’t be the random encounter you roll in your tabletop game (they are also often immensely low level and it pains me), because that’s also cheapening them into simple, unscary, uninteresting cannon fodder.
- Werewolves as sexual predators/serial killers/cannibals/crazy people in general – This came from werewolves being turned into crazy people/being a werewolf being considered merely a form of madness. It’s… bad. It helped spawn the whole “all werewolves are evil” thing that the Early Modern Period tried to popularize (and succeeded), and werewolves were never associated with sexual assault, etc. And yes, I know of the “werewolf trials” that were rebranded into werewolf trials that were about people who did things like that, but those were witches (more on the main culprit here).
- Werewolves vs vampires – It’s very overdone. It can be done well, but it usually isn’t, and it’s considered the “default” today despite having no folkloric precedence and that just kind of irks me. It also considerably cheapens them both and makes pretty much all the characters of either type just end up revolving around each other and/or the conflict in some way or another, and they basically never get to be their own character(s).
- Association with Victorian England – I am very tired of this one. Extremely. Uniquely tired of it. Please can everyone just stop it?
- Association with demons and/or witches – Werewolves are not unholy and they’re so much more than just witches. The latter is a theme throughout my werewolf facts.
- “I’m not actually a werewolf”/Just call them werewolves – Okay, so this is a pretty big irksome one for me. A werewolf is a werewolf is a werewolf. Werewolf means someone who turns into a wolf or wolf-man hybrid. “Wolf shifters” are werewolves, regardless of if they follow Hollywood werewolf tropes (because those are just Hollywood, too!). Worgen are werewolves. You don’t have to call them something weird in order for them to be cool and/or to justify them not holding to Hollywood werewolf tropes, especially since most things call vampires “vampires” and that’s just fine. Let’s remove the weird stigma around the word “werewolf” (back to the not taking them seriously thing, and in some cases, assuming they are all/making them all evil). This also applies to things like Twilight (side-note: I do not hate Twilight), where the “werewolves” turn around and say oh, no, we’re not werewolves, we are just people who turn into wolves [which is what werewolves are], werewolves are evil. Right, okay.
- Gornography – I like werewolves and gore just fine, don’t get me wrong. Werewolves would maul people. Yes. They are huge and have huge claws and fangs and they’d be covered in blood. Werewolves and gore is awesome. But I do not like werewolves existing solely for the gore shock value and/or people who are into all the gore. They are often cheapened in this way, and it’s lame.
- Werewolf names – I mean, sometimes they’re okay, and they can be done well. But Remus Lupin? Fenrir Greyback? Ms Lupescu? Can… we please make the werewolf character(s) have any character traits other than “I’m a werewolf!”? And maybe they shouldn’t broadcast their lycanthropy to the world. Characters with names like these come across as insanely contrived, namely (pun intended) if they aren’t born as werewolves to proud werewolf parents who want to name their kid(s) something like that. If they were turned later in life? That’s… convenient. And names like that really imply they are one-note characters, whether they really are or not (though they often are, sadly).
- Werewolves super easily and sometimes instantly killed – “All we need is a [one] silver bullet!” says pop culture. Good grief. Gimme a break.
- The werewolf always dies – This is a thing. The werewolf always has to die. Individual werewolf, a group of werewolves… they always die and/or are wiped out. The Wolf Man (1941) kind of started this, and everyone picked up on it (look at the overwhelming majority of horror movies after that, with a rare exception of Wolf ), right down to werewolf side characters like the ones in Harry Potter and The Graveyard Book. For some reason, the werewolf and/or werewolves usually have to die, and often we see an end to the “curse.” Put frankly, that’s lame. This is one of many reasons why I love that Red Riding Hood (2011) movie so much.
Okay, so not all of those are tropes, but I had an opportunity to rant and I’m afraid I went and took it. Sorry!
I, of course, can be made to like most any werewolf as long as they are scary, intimidating, preferably big, do not have to work in groups in order to be formidable at all (a single werewolf should be a huge problem), are taken seriously (preferably no dog jokes; dog jokes instantly fill me with primal rage because they are dumb and overused and cheapen werewolves immensely and I hate them and sorry if that was candid), are not plague rats/zombie plague (there are not thousands of them in droves, are only dangerous in hordes, and are slaughtered en masse with great ease, and are only dangerous because they can “infect” others), aren’t always villains, don’t always have to die, and… that somewhat covers it. And I already said those things. Why did I repeat myself? I really dunno.
That doesn’t cover all of the tropes on either side, by any means – I think about werewolves all the time, so I could definitely think up more, and I’m sure there are a lot more out there. But this is a honkin’ big list anyway, so it’s good for starters. Hope that helps! And thank you for asking.