Tuesday, October 14, 2014
The other day in the first of a series of post on the stock supernatural types in urban fantasy I covered the evolution of the vampire. Today it's the turn of the werewolf.
Werewolves are often associated with vampires, they quite often occupy the same books, films and TV shows. Sometimes they're allies, but more often vampires and werewolves are enemies.
The werewolf has appeared in legends and myths for a lot longer than vampires have. This makes sense, because in many parts of the world (Australia's one of the few exceptions), people live side by side with wolves, and so legends and myths are told about them.
They tend to be associated with vampires because wolves are a big part of life in the same part of the world, eastern Europe.
Despite this werewolf fiction is not as prominent as vampire fiction and took longer to appear.
The fairytale Little Red Riding Hood is often seen as an attempt to warn children of the dangers in the woods, one of them being wolves, but in recent times it's been reinterpreted as a werewolf story. Angela Carter's 1979 short story The Company of Wolves, filmed under the same name in 1984 took that view and the 2011 Amanda Seyfried film Red Riding Hood, used that idea as well.
Some have attributed werewolf subtext to the Robert Louis-Stevenson classic The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, and while the Hyde character is often portrayed as rather animalistic, I don't think there's much there to suggest that he's a werewolf.
They were the subject of a number of gothic horror serialised stories and novels throughout the 19th century, even Alexandre Dumas wrote The Wolf Leader in 1857.
It was, as with the vampire, the American film industry that brought the character into the public imagination. Again during the 1930's werewolf films proliferated. Bela Lugosi became identified with Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr. did the same with the werewolf or 'wolfman' as they were often referred to. In fact singer and songwriter Warren Zevon made reference Lon Chaney Jr's performances as a werewolf in his 1978 classic Werewolves of London. Chaney's wolf man, Lugosi's Dracula and Boris Karloff's Frankenstein appeared as a 'terrible trio' in a number of films during the period.
The werewolf, like the vampire, became a figure of fun over time. No Muppets or Sesame Street characters, but the Archie cartoon spin off The Groovie Goolies featured a hippy werewolf called Wolfie.
I think things changed a bit for the werewolves in 1981 when the film An American Werewolf in London hit the screens. While a lot of the film was quite amusing, it wasn't entirely played for laughs and it had some serious moments, plus it looked at what a curse being turned into a werewolf was for anyone unfortunate enough to have this happen to them.
In 1985 they went back to laughing at the werewolf with the Michael J. Fox film Teen Wolf. The film was actually made before Back to the Future, but released after and it rode high on the lead actor's popularity. It was successful enough to spawn a sequel in 1987 with Jason Bateman replacing Michael J. Fox as the wolfish teen, and playing the cousin of Fox's character. It has more recently been resurrected as a more serious teen drama TV series on MTV.
Werewolves started to appear as staples in urban fantasy at about the same time as vampires did. The Anita Blake's and the Southern Vampire Mysteries feature them. Both series have all sorts of weres and don't just confine it to wolves. In fact Anita slept with almost every were there was.
They popped up in Harry Potter and J.K Rowling took the unusual step of making one a fairly major character and a sympathetic one at that. I was genuinely sad when that one died in the major battle at the end of the series.
The werewolf was also in the Twilight series. Jacob completed the love triangle between Bella and Edward. It was particularly complicated with Edward being a vampire and werewolves and vampires being historical enemies.
They appeared in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Willow's boyfriend Oz being one for a few seasons. Angel also had a liaison with a female werewolf in his series, and it was particularly amusing in the episode Smile Time when she quite literally tore the stuffing out of him.
Both vampires and werewolves have appeared in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and Jacqueline Carey's Agent of Hel series as well as Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate where the main character wound up married to one. Carriger brought up the interesting idea of making all male werewolves serve in the military at some point over the long lives.
One of the best portrayals of werewolves in TV was in the British version of Being Human. The show featured a vampire living with a werewolf and a ghost and we saw what I felt were genuine effects of turning once a month.
Suggested reading and viewing list:
Little Red Riding Hood (fairytale - probably first appeared in written form sometime during the 17th century, most likely in France)
The Company of Wolves by Angela Carter (1979, part of The Bloody Chamber collection)
Discworld series by Terry Pratchett (1983 - present, generally in a book featuring the Ankh Morpork Watch as one of the members Angua is a werewolf)
Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter by Laurell K. Hamilton (as with the vampire recommendation, stop after the first few before she turns into a nymphomaniac)
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (werewolves first appear in the 2nd book Fool Moon, but pop in and out from then on).
The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris (again the werewolves come in in the second book).
The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger.
Agent of Hel by Jacqueline Carey.
The Wolf Man (1931)
I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957 worth it for the curiosity value of seeing a young Michael Landon in the main role. I think footage of it may have been used in Michael Jackson's Thriller film clip)
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Teen Wolf (1985)
Red Riding Hood (2011)
Dark Shadows (1968)
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003)
Angel (1999 - 2004)
Being Human (UK version 2008 - 2013)
True Blood (2008 -2014)
Teen Wolf (2011 - now)