Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

European legends of Wolf-human Shapeshifting – also known as lycanthropy – have been recorded since the 11th century or earlier, and perhaps arise from a far older tradition of wearing wolfskin in tribes whose Totem was the wolf. Classical werewolves take on wolf form at full Moon – involuntarily and often unwillingly (see Bondage) – are highly averse to (or, in some versions, have an affinity for) Aconitum plants, known as wolfbane; and like other supernatural Monsters may be harmed only by silver Weapons. The Book of Were Wolves (1865) by Sabine Baring-Gould is a useful summary of the Folktales. Werewolves have become stock ingredients in the Cauldron of Story, and now routinely appear in Genre Fantasy. (The Red Riding-Hood Fairytale may seem an Underlier of the werewolf theme, but the reverse is apparently true.) Although Rudolf Erich Raspe's Koenigsmark the Robber (1790) is a Tall-Tale exception, earlier fictional werewolves tend to inhabit Supernatural Fictions or Horror thrillers, examples being Johann August Apel's "The Boarwolf" (1812), Jessie Douglas Kerruish's influential The Undying Monster (1922), Dion Fortune's The Demon Lover (1927) and Guy Endore's The Werewolf of Paris (1933). The last of these did much to concretize later fantasy's view of lycanthropy, also heavily influenced by Werewolf Movies. Saki's "Gabriel-Ernest" (1909) typically thrusts a werewolf into English country society. James Branch Cabell contrasts the simple Evil of werewolfhood with the worse hypocrisy of an inquisitorial bishop in The White Robe (1928). One exhibit in Charles G Finney's The Circus of Dr Lao (1935) is a werewolf.

In reaction to the old tradition of werewolves as inherently evil – as still implied in C S Lewis's Prince Caspian (1951) – there have been several sympathetic Revisionist-Fantasy treatments. H Warner Munn's "The Werewolf of Ponkert" (1925 WT) moved the lycanthrope away from simple monstrosity by making it the viewpoint character. Jack Williamson's notable Darker Than You Think (1948) pits were-creatures against the human race, presenting shapeshifting so enticingly that it seems reasonable for the hero to join the other side. The werewolf protagonists of Anthony Boucher's "The Compleat Werewolf" (1942) and Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos (1971) are wholly likeable and wholly on the side of good; the inept Polacek in L Sprague de Camp's and Fletcher Pratt's The Castle of Iron (1941), and the female Angua of the City Watch in Terry Pratchett's Discworld, are – though sorely tempted when in wolf shape – too decent to prey on humans. C L Moore had earlier considered the female aspect in "Werewoman" (1938). The obvious link between menstruation, the Moon and the werewolf change is made in Peter Beagle's comic Lila, the Werewolf (1969 chap) and, far more darkly, in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing episode "The Curse" (in Swamp Thing Volume 5 graph coll 1988).

The popularity of the werewolf theme continues. Further examples include: Angela Carter's "The Company of Wolves" (1979), revitalizing the Red Riding-Hood story; Suzy McKee Charnas's first-person werewolf narration "Boobs" (1989); Wilderness (1991) by Dennis Danvers, a love story about an unwilling female werewolf and her man; Bernard King's Vargr-Moon (1986); Stephen King's routine Cycle of the Werewolf (1983) and also, with Peter Straub, The Talisman (1984) – whose werewolf becomes a good Companion for a Quest; Tanith Lee's Lycanthia, or The Children of Wolves (1981 US) and Heart-Beast (1992); S P Somtow's vivid Moon Dance (1989); E C Vivian's Grey Shapes (1937); Michael D Weaver's Wolf-Dreams Sword-and-Sorcery sequence starring a lesbian werewolf swordsperson; and novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Examples of werewolf theme anthologies are: Werewolf: Horror Stories of the Man-Beast (anth 1987) ed Peter Haining; Werewolves (anth 1988) ed Martin H Greenberg and Jane Yolen; The Ultimate Werewolf (anth 1991) ed John Betancourt, Byron Preiss, David Keller and Megan Miller; The Mammoth Book of Werewolves (anth 1994) ed Stephen Jones; and Tomorrow Bites (anth 1995) ed Greg Cox and T K F Weiskop. [DRL]

see also: Transylvania.


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.