Werewolves: author Kim Bannerman asks ‘Monster or Victim?’

FictionReboot2DailyDose_PosterWelcome back to the Fiction Reboot (and its counterpart, the Daily Dose)! In addition to promoting smart, edgy fiction, we also encourage those intersections of literature and history or medicine on which this blog is built. Today, I am pleased to bring you: The Tattooed Wolf, a werewolf tale of remarkable depth and interest, playing with our concept of what it means to be human (and monstrous). The author, the talented Kim Bannerman, speaks to us about the werewolves of history–and those that continue to haunt or speak to us today.

portrait_headshotKim Bannerman lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where she writes short stories, novels, and plays. She is the author of four novels, including The Tattooed Wolf, a contemporary fairy tale of wolves, true love, and divorce lawyers, and released by Hic Dragones Press in 2014. Learn more about The Tattooed Wolf –and check out our feature of the tale!

Werewolf: Monster or Victim?

When it comes to the werewolf, that question isn’t so easy to answer.

The first mention of werewolves in literature appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written over 4000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Ishtar, the goddess of love, attempts to seduce King Gilgamesh, but the wise king is suspicious of her advances. He reminds her of the fate of her former lover, saying:

“You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks… And if you and I should be lovers, should not I be served in the same fashion as all these others whom you loved once?”

Not only is this the first mention of a werewolf in writing, but it’s also the first link between werewolves and malicious women, a theme which reoccurs throughout European myths. Ishtar’s former lover has been punished unfairly for his affection; his bestial form is a curse placed upon him by a fickle woman who can not be trusted.

Two thousand years later, Virgil mentions the werewolf again, in the Eighth Ecologue smll_ttwfrom 37 BCE, but it is a mere footnote in a botany text, and hardly gives the werewolf much character development.

 “These herbs of bane to me did Moeris give,
In Pontus culled, where baneful herbs abound.
With these full oft have I seen Moeris change
To a wolf’s form, and hide him in the woods,
Oft summon spirits from the tomb’s recess,
And to new fields transport the standing corn.”

Here, the werewolf is neither evil nor monstrous nor a victim of fickle love. Instead, his transformation helps to describe the perils of eating these ‘baneful herbs’; he is a mere example in a field guide. The casual nature in which Virgil mentions the werewolf causes one to wonder if transformation into a wolf was considered a plausible, and perhaps even mundane, possibility in Greek society. Virgil shows no sense of amazement, or astonishment, or fear. He uses transformation as a matter-of-fact consequence of eating these plants, much like he’d mention a rash or indigestion: turning into a slavering beast is a side effect, so be careful. To be honest, I wish he’d said more. I’m left wondering why Moeris needs to hide in the woods so often. What was that boy up to?

Forty years later, Ovid released The Metamorphosis, a series of fifteen books which cover over 250 myths, and which became one of the most influential books in Western literature. In Book One,King Lycaeon of Arcadia mistrusts a guest who has arrived in his home, who claims to be the god Zeus. Determined to find out whether the guest is truly a god or a mortal, Lycaeondecides to play a gruesome trick: he kills a man, cooks the flesh, and feeds it to the guest.

Zeus isn’t pleased. He destroys the palace with a thunderbolt and turns Lycaeon into a wolf, a permanent and complete transformation. The change is an extension of Lycaeon’s personality: savage, dangerous and cruel. While the two previous references to werewolves were representations of animals in a natural environment, without agency or malice, Ovid provides the first connection between werewolves and evil.

The Metamorphosis was widely read and highly influential in medieval storytelling, and fueled an interest in human transformation. Throughout the literature of this period, animals were used as models for human behavior, and the popularity of this concept is demonstrated by bestiaries, books which used animals as symbols for personality traits. Dogs were loyal and faithful, tigers were vain, and pelicans were devoted to their children.

Wolves were greedy and rapacious, lustful and lascivious. The wolf took what it wished and rejected any restrictions to its passion. Its carnal desires followed no rules. In a society which functioned on the constant suppression of desire, where man had been set apart from the animals by his reason and intellect, the wolf provided a poignant example of rampant sexuality.

Throughout medieval stories, then, werewolves straddled the distinction between human and animal, earthly and heavenly, saint and sinner. These tales cemented the concept of transformation as a punishment or curse, revealing the inner nature of the person who had been changed. Early medieval tales portrayed werewolves as monsters who ate children and destroyed livestock, who were unable to resist their bestial desires, and who gave themselves over to their animal rage. They followed the model set forth by Lycaeon and his savage impulses.

But later tales began to focus on the involuntary werewolf, victims of the whims of others – most often capricious women, similar to Ishtar and her poor shepherd lover. While they were savage and could be taken over by brute desires, they struggled to retain their sanity and rationality.   In many late medieval werewolf tales, the victim is transformed by an outside person – usually a wife or a stepmother. They return to human form after performing a good deed or befriending a clever king, who recognizes the werewolf’s true, noble nature and helps him return to human form.

In 1187, Gerald of Wales tells story of the Wolf of Ossary in his workTopographia Hibernica, in which an Irish priest traveling through the woods meets a talking wolf.The priest asks what sort of creature ‘in the shape of a beast utters human words’. The wolf explains that he and his wife were placed under a curse by an abbot, and for seven years, they must take the form of wolves. At the end of the seven years, if they’ve both survived, another couple will take their place and they’ll be able to return to civilization. Sadly, the wolf’s wife is dying, and he asks the priest to follow him into the woods to administer her last rites.

Gerald presents the story as a fact, but it shows the struggle to pair church doctrine with local, oral folk tales. The idea that the transformation is placed by an abbot, rather than a witch or demon, tells the audience that this is a punishment to be pitied, rather than a curse to be feared.

So, then, how did the medieval audience view the werewolf? Looking at the diverse range of transformation stories, one sees that these tales played with the ideas of truth, identity and change. Readers were invited to wonder about their own humanity while staying safely within the boundaries set by Christian doctrine. Culturally, metamorphosis tales also revealed a new fascination with the idea of social change, in which one thing is replaced with something else, for better or worse.

We live in a time of constantly changing technologies and interaction with other cultural viewpoints, but for the medieval mind, adaptation was difficult to comprehend. Many social changes were happening in Medieval Europe, such as increased trade and contact with the Islamic world; more translations of Greek and Roman text available, including scientific works; and a rediscovery of the humanistic works of Aristotle. But changing one’s social role was not easy and led to questions of identity and self. These tales of transformation, springing first from the Epic of Gilgamesh and flowing through to The Metamorphis, into oral folk histories and the romantic poetry of the troubadours, allowed people to explore an expanded interchange of ideas, revolutionary concepts, and the possibility of a much bigger world than previous generations had known.

To return to the original question, are werewolves monsters or victims? For the medieval audience, they were a channel to better understand and adapt to a transforming world. Werewolves were a prism through which one could examine human nature, play with the possibility of shifting social roles, and discover connections to nature, society, and the divine. Werewolves were neither monsters nor victims: they were the symbol of an evolving social philosophy, and recognizing themselves in the plight of the werewolf, the medieval audience found hope and inspiration in the face of a changing world.


Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! Series editor Tabatha here again, breaking away from the riveting world of research and finals to bring you some books with bite! This week we’ve got a very subtle theme: see if you can claw your way to it, but don’t blame me if it gets hairy!


The Tattooed Wolf by Kim Bannerman

Kim Bannerman’s new book The Tattooed Wolf tears into the werewolf genre with a story of love, lunacy, violence and divorce- an unexpected, but intriguing approach (and besides, for those of us on a college schedule nearing finals, a little lunacy fits right in).

The Tattooed WolfCaufield muttered as he slouched back in his seat and crossed his hands over his belly, smirking. “You’ve got my attention, Dan; I’ll humour you. Tell me, from the very beginning, how you got into this whole bloody mess.”

Morris Caufield thought he’d seen it all…
Until the moment Dan Sullivan walked into his office. Dan needs a divorce lawyer he can trust, and he thinks Morris is the man for the job. The thing is, Dan wants Morris to represent his wife. Who tried to kill him. Twice. And as if that wasn’t enough, Dan expects Morris to buy some crazy story about werewolves…

As Dan reveals the truth about his life and his marriage, Morris listens to a captivating tale of lycanthropy, love and betrayal. It’s lunacy, he’s sure of that, but there’s something about Dan Sullivan that makes it all very easy to believe.

Blood and Chocolate by  Annette Curtis Klause

Blood and ChocolateOur next contribution, Blood and Chocolate, is a hairy tail I read as a Young Adult, and from which I still carry fond, if fuzzy, memories. (P.s. the wolf puns are not going to stop any time soon: better just put your tail between your legs and leap on for the ride).

Vivian Gandillon relishes the change, the sweet, fierce ache that carries her from girl to wolf. At sixteen, she is beautiful and strong, and all the young wolves are on her tail. But Vivian still grieves for her dead father; her pack remains leaderless and in disarray, and she feels lost in the suburbs of Maryland. She longs for a normal life. But what is normal for a werewolf?

Then Vivian falls in love with a human, a meat-boy. Aiden is kind and gentle, a welcome relief from the squabbling pack. He’s fascinated by magic, and Vivian longs to reveal herself to him. Surely he would understand her and delight in the wonder of her dual nature, not fear her as an ordinary human would.

Vivian’s divided loyalties are strained further when a brutal murder threatens to expose the pack. Moving between two worlds, she does not seem to belong in either. What is she really—human or beast? Which tastes sweeter—blood or chocolate?

Werewolf by Peter Rubie

WerewolfBounding back through time, Peter Rubie’s Werewolf morphs into a new perspecitve and a new setting: following a crime-fighter (rather than the usual crime-causer) in WW2 London when the only threat worse than ze Germans was ze werewolf!

Something is prowling the streets of World War II London. It goes hunting during the fires and turmoil of the Blitz when most people are dodging Nazi bombs. But this creature isn’t deterred by the destruction or the carnage. As its victims start turning up shredded and gnawed, the East End community of Smiths Common becomes terrified of what might be preying on them. Only the gypsies will give it a name: werewolf.

Detective Sergeant George Llewellyn’s assignment is to restore order to the chaos of the war, and solve a series of brutal child slaying. A victim of his own abused past, George is haunted by the killings. As the pieces of the puzzle fit together, he is forced to confront his own rage and a decade-old gypsy curse before he can stop the ravages of the werewolf….

The Werewolf by Aksel Sandemose and Gustaf Lannestock

The WerewolfA great book to read by the light of a full moon, The Werewolf compiles stories of different werewolves facing the biting challenges of love, work, family and silver.

The Werewolf is a novel of the tyranny of love over men and women and the unending trials of strength between good and evil in human nature. Its main characters are of heroic stature yet deeply flawed, moving against the backdrop of Norwegian society from World War I to the 1960s.” Over the novel broods the symbol of the Werewolf, which for Sandemose represents all the forces hostile to a full, free life – the thirst for power over others’ lives, the lust to destroy what cannot be possessed or controlled. In their private encounters with the Werewolf, few can claim total victory. Sandemose’s characters all bear the scars of lost battles.

Confessions of a Werewolf Supermodel by Ronda Thompson

Confessions of a Werewolf SupermodelWith Confessions of a Werewolf Supermodel Rhonda Thompson pounces out of the usual dark woods and marks a new territory for her wolf: the catwalk.

Supermodel Lou Kipinski seems to have it all. But beauty is only skin deep–and sometimes Lou’s porcelain complexion can get a bit hairy. The only thing worse than a furry fashion faux-pas? Fangs in her million-dollar smile. That’s what happened six months ago, when Lou had her first outbreak. But now that she’s at the height of her career she absolutely must find a cure…So what’s a single werewolf gotta do?

Then a sexy detective comes knocking on her door. Two women who bear an eerie resemblance to Lou have been killed–something with teeth and claws tore them apart. Is it a coincidence that the grisly murders have taken place during the same time as Lou’s own outbreaks? With a killer at her heels and another outbreak just a concealer-wand’s distance away, Lou is soon in a race to discover truths about her own murky past. And before it’s all over she may be forced to show the world that her bark is nothing compared to her bite…

Werewolf Haiku by Ryan Mecum

Last but not least (the silver medalist?) sink your teeth into Werewolf HaikuRyan Mecum sharpens his poetic fangs with the story of a postal worker who fell prey to the quintessential mailman’s silver bullet: the resident dog.

Werewolf Haiku“Dear haiku journal, I think I killed some people.That was no dog bite.”

This journal contains the poetic musings of a mailman who, after being bitten by what he thinks is a dog, discovers that he is actually now a werewolf. Wreaking havoc wherever he goes, he details his new life and transformations in the 5-7-5 syllable structure of haiku–his poetry of choice.

Follow along as our werewolf poet slowly turns from a mostly normal man into the hairy beast that he cannot keep trapped inside. And watch out for carnage when he changes and becomes hungry. No toenail, no entrail, no pigtail will be left behind. And talk about wreaking havoc: His newfound claws and teeth have sent his clothing budget through the roof!

He is in love with a woman on his route, but he has never had the courage to tell her. As he fights against his urges during each full moon, he discovers that succumbing to his primal instincts will not only bag him a good meal–it just might help him in his quest for love…Or maybe not.
FictionReboot2And so, dear readers, I will leave you with some hairy tales of adventure you can really sink your teeth into, until next week when we’ll have you howling over another snappy selection.