Friday, 26 October 2012
The Were-Wolf (1896) By: Clemence Housman
A small village receives a strange guest during the winter. Her name is White Fell and she has fallen for Sweyn, a handsome young villager. However, his brother, Christian sees her for what she really is, a werewolf.
This is among the earliest in werewolf literature and the mythology is completely different. Werewolves can only change back into their wolf for at midnight and holy water kills them. So more of the mix of the vampire mythology from which werewolves diverged. Yes, werewolves and vampires used to be almost the same thing. This also has some nice ideas that I think are left out of modern horror fiction. Christian mentions at the end that the belief empowers holy water and so he uses his own blood fueled by belief in his cause. Also, we finally get another woman writer in the 13!
This starts as a wolf in sheep's clothing style narrative, but I think it evolves beyond that in the closing chase scene. "He grew bewildered, uncertain of his own identity, doubting of his own true form. He could not be a man, no more than that running Thing was really a woman; his real form was only hidden under the embodiment of a man, but what it was he did not know." Beautiful. I cannot tell you how awesome the final section of Christian chasing White Fell is. He begins to get delirious and has a lot of strange thoughts and visions and doubts. Some of them bring up some interesting thoughts that I hadn't expected from this story.
Christian is a superstitious hunter and the more odd of the twins. Everyone feels he is the uglier of the two, but he is happy and loves his brother. The love is mutual until he speaks against White Fell, and his brother gets stupid. He is admirable in his knowledge of his own faults and belief and his cause. He has a full range of emotions and expresses them throughout the story. He reacts reasonably to his feelings and is apprehensive about his hunches. I wanted a more complete back story from him and I wish he'd been our point of view character from the start of the story.
Sweyn is the handsome hero of the village and he soon falls in love with the pretty stranger. His doubt in his brother is fair, but he quickly falls into the fallacy of accusing his brother of jealousy and insanity. To be fair, he is acting like a young man in love, but his growing hatred of his brother does seem a bit strange (and cliche nowadays).
White Fell is a cunning villainess who seduces Sweyn in order to secure her hunting ground. When she sees the end of her secrecy coming, she decides to cut her losses. It is her intelligence that makes her a true threat. She knows her limitations and her power and is all the more dangerous for it.
The village and surrounding forest are beautifully rendered complete with the deadly majesty of a harsh winter. You can almost feel the chill in the outdoor scenes and the death it can bring in the chase at the end.
In the End
The end is a powerful and thrilling chase with a grisly ending. They do a little too much to point out the obvious Christ symbolism, but otherwise the ending is fantastic.
I picked this one because I wanted a werewolf story and this one is a surprise hit for me. Most of the other unpopular stories have been average to decent, but this one is clearly above the rest. I'd almost say it deserves to be a classic with Frankenstein and Dracula. It is not perfect. The novella starts with a child being a stupid bored little prat, but it soon becomes more interesting with the introduction of Sweyn, White Fell, and Christian. Just make it past the opening and this story is great. So, read it!
Free at Project Gutenberg and Kindle!