Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.
I’ve been on a werewolf kick lately, and so my mind’s been on that mythical beast for a while. What is it about wolfmen that terrifies us so much, and that can inspire the culture (not to mention me) with such a morbid fascination?
Now there’s a lot to werewolves, but you have to start with a basic definition. The most common form they take in our stories is that of a man who involuntarily turns into a ravening beast every full moon. Some variations alter the time when the transformation occurs, and others give the accursed some level of control after the shift. Either way, key themes are either hidden power or loss of control.
Whenever the werewolves have some control over their wolf form, the key theme is hidden power. An unassuming individual can, if the circumstances are right, be granted superhuman strength and eerily keen senses. This idea is appealing to folks who feel like they have no power, or else to folks who are afraid that others might secretly be stronger than they look. It’s either liberating, or unsettling.
But when the werewolf has no control over his shifting or his wolf state, we find something I think is far more terrifying: complete loss of control. The human side is just trying to live in peace and to protect those he loves. But occasionally, he loses control and his peaceful life unravels and those he loves are hurt or killed by his actions. This sort of story is about a terrifying lack of self-control and the consequences that result.
Liberation, hidden threats, self-discipline, responsibility. These are powerful themes, and it’s no wonder they can fascinate. Each of these issues can be approached rightly or wrongly, skillfully or poorly. I do of course have opinions on how that should be done, but I would rather show them to you one day than just tell you about them. But regardless of tastes and opinions, it can’t be denied that the werewolf is a powerful tool in the writer’s arsenal.