I suppose I’m a couple weeks ahead of schedule with this blog entry—perhaps I should have waited until the next full moon, which as of this post is October 8th. C’est la vie.
As with my last post of Vlad’s mugshot, I originally illustrated this wolfman mugshot as clipart, where it’s still available for download from iStockPhoto.com. I’d love to hear what you think about my illustration, and if you’d like to see more, be sure to follow my blog to receive updates.
And staying with tradition, I thought I’d give a condensed history of the wolfman, from myth to pop-culture. My sources vary from personal research to an assortment of web-based references.
Myths of werewolf-like beings date back to some of the earliest known literature, and nearly every culture has its own myths regarding shape-shifting entities of one form or another. The Greeks have a story of a King named Lycaon, who Zeus transformed into a wolf as punishment for Lycaon’s misguided attempt to test Zeus’s omniscience (spoiler alert: it didn’t go well for Lycaon). The paranormal term lycanthropy, which refers to the transformation of a human into an animal (most commonly a wolf, in modern pop culture), derives from Lycaon’s name.
Since the nineteenth century, the two most common forms of werewolves are the human-to-wolf transformation, and the human-to-wolfman transformation, both typically encouraged by the light of a full moon.
One of my favorite short stories was originally published in 1896 titled The Were-Wolf, written by Clemence Housman. It tells of a seductive woman who happens upon a wintery human establishment feigning the need for shelter, before turning into a white werewolf and killing a few hapless victims. According to Wikipedia, HP Lovecraft said of The Were-Wolf : “it attains a high degree of gruesome tension and achieves to some extent the atmosphere of authentic folklore”. HP summed it up nicely; I’ll leave it at that.
Skip ahead a few years, and we have the one of the most iconic versions of the wolfman-style werewolf via Lon Chaney Jr.’s The Wolf Man. My own clipart version of the wolfman was inspired by this 1941 movie, as were numerous subsequent films and graphic novels (including Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf, Michael J. Fox’s Teen Wolf and Benicio Del Toro’s The Wolfman). As with many of the monsters from the Golden Era of Hollywood, Lon Chaney Jr.’s visual portrayal of the wolfman has provided the template for spin-offs, spoofs, cartoons, and an assortment of Halloween toys and paraphernalia for more than seventy years.
One of my all-time favorite portrayals of the wolfman is from Frank Frazetta’s painting, Dracula Meets the Wolfman. The image I’m including here is a modified version of the painting which I tweaked to work as a wallpaper on my computer. Feel free to download it for your personal use from my DeviantArt gallery.
I’ll end with a couple quick reviews of modern werewolf fiction of two different sets of novels that became instant favorites of mine. The first is Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, which has spawned two sequels thus far, Talulla Rising and By Blood We Live (I’ve yet to read the latter). The first in the series is the first-hand account of a man named Jake who is, as the title suggests, the last known werewolf. Having lived more more than 200 years, he’s fighting his internal demons and considering putting an end to his long-lived existence. But a group of werewolf hunters, previously bent on destroying all werewolves, now want him very much alive, though they’re competing with a clan of vampires who want Jake for their own nefarious reasons. This new werewolf legend seems to mirror the visual representation of Frazetta’s painting, which I loved. The character of Jake was both stoic and witty, but showed real heart when he encountered a runaway named Talulla (whom he would eventually fall in love with). Masterfully written and fast-paced, this was a refreshing addition of the annals of werewolf literature.
The second review is of Graeme Reynold’s High Moor series (of which there are currently two, with more in the works). Graeme managed to stay true to traditional lore without muddying it up with cheesy explanations or half-hearted re-imaginings. It’s easy to accept the fact that werewolves exist in the small Scotland town of High Moor. The story is horrific yet gripping, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. It inspired images of the movie The Howling, though far more vivid and terrifying than that dated movie was able to accomplish. I bought High Moor 2: Moonstruck as soon as I finished the first book, and the second was easily as good, if not better. An enjoyable factor in this legend is the dual stages of the werewolf. The average werewolves make a full transformation to an extraordinarily large wolf, though they retain full control of their faculties. “Moonstruck” werewolves, however, are caught halfway in-between, appearing wolf-like while retaining the upright, primate stature, but totally lacking in self-control. Reynolds is definitely an author I’ll be keeping an eye on, especially if he continues to deliver these refreshingly new classics.
One final note in regards to my clip art; I have to say that I’m pretty stoked about iStockPhoto’s new royalty program. All items (I believe) are either 1 or 3 credits. Previously, images could be up to 40 or 50 credits, if not more. So it really is a great deal, and it’s finally competitive to the other, cheaper clip art sites. If you get a chance, check out my iStockPhot.com portfolio. I’ve been a contributor there since 2008, with nearly 500 images available for download, and more than 12,000 images downloaded to date. Not a bad track record, if I do say so myself.
Until next time-