Otherwise Known As: Lycanthrope
Similar Creatures: Skin-Walker, Revenant, Were-Beasts
Possibly Originated From: Germanic Folklore
Commonly Featured In: Film & Books
Contrary to popular belief, what we recognize as the common features, strengths, and weaknesses of werewolves is not based on any one myth or legend but are instead a culmination of them. There are many legends and stories that depict the idea of people turning into animals, by choice or by force, with wolves being a common element to be sure but never to the extremes of what we know as the modern werewolf.
In point of fact, the earliest known depiction of what we would classify as the atypical werewolf was in the Gothic novel The Phantom Ship that was published in 1839. Though the novel focused more on the exploration of legends surrounding the Flying Dutchman, there was a chapter that featured a femme fatale who transformed into a wolf. It wouldn’t be until the 1941 film The Wolf Man that virtually every known trope of the lycanthrope would be popularized.
The first and most common theme of what makes a werewolf is how one becomes a werewolf. Magic and sorcery are the most common causes of the “original” werewolf, and are oftentimes utilized as a means of cursing the individual or because said individual made a bargain without realizing the full cost. Either way, lycanthropy is often treated as an affliction, one that can be passed either through the generations or via a bite from another werewolf.
This is where things get a lot more… argumentative, especially in concern towards there being a possible cure to lycanthropy.
One such cure that I had seen, in a mini-series that I’m sorry to say I cannot recall the name of, had the werewolf be shot by a silver bullet and, upon reverting back to her human form upon death, was brought back to life thanks to modern medical applications. The curse, or rather the “wolf” was what was slain and as it was the human side that was brought back, the wolf side remained dead and that’s just the tip of the convoluted iceberg that concerns werewolves.
Another example of a possible cure was in the film Alvin and the Chipmunks meet the Wolfman and yes it was as strange a film as it sounds but bear with me here. In the film, Theodore, having been afflicted with the curse of lycanthropy, fights against the original wolf man and in the ensuing battle the two of them end up biting each other a second time and thus neutralize the curse. How or why this could possibly work, I’ve no idea but there you go.
The transformation of man into werewolf is one that is variable by the story. There are many stories that feature the werewolf as being very little different from an actual wolf aside perhaps from a vast difference in size and ferocity. Others portray the werewolf as being a literal wolfman, bipedal humanoid wolf with a fierce hunger for human flesh. Heck, even the transformation being forced by the phases of the moon, primarily the nights of the full moon, depends on the story in question.
One excellent example of this can be found in the film series Underworld wherein the werewolves can transform whenever they want but the first transformation is born under the light of the full moon. Another example can be found in the comic book series Gold Digger which features a plentitude of beings that have the ability to shapeshift from human to animal, with one of the featured characters being a were-cheetah. The phases of the moon affect how easily they can shift and their own supernatural abilities but regardless of this they can shift between a human, hybrid, and full beast form at will.
Personally speaking I’m more for the idea of a creature that is neither wolf nor human, but a monstrous hybridization of the two. Not quite the atypical wolfman, which to me just looks like some poor fellow who hasn’t shaved or trimmed their nails in a long while, but an actual mix of the two like what was seen in the Underworld films or An American Werewolf in London.
Speaking of that film, there was an interesting interpretation of the werewolf curse that I almost wish was done more frequently. While it is common for the werewolf to not remember their actions while transformed, at least for those with a forced transformation, this film had it that the werewolf’s victims would not only remain in a state of limbo until the curse is lifted.
By lifted I mean severing the “bloodline” of the werewolf whom killed them i.e. said werewolf either killing themselves or being killed in turn. Thus, they haunt the werewolf, driving the human side slowly insane as they entice them into killing themselves before they kill again. It’s especially bad as they appear not as they were in life but as they are upon death, full mutilation and all, with those victims that were close to the werewolf continuing to rot.
On the note of how the lycanthropy curse affects the victim in question, aside from the stereotypical memory loss during transformation, and said transformation being as long and painful as possible, there are quite a few signs of one being a werewolf. First and foremost is how animals act towards them, especially dogs that were once friendly with them and now act like feral beasts in their presence.
Another though less common element is a werewolf’s aversion to wolfsbane or aconitum, is a flower that is said to not only bloom in the presence of a werewolf but can be used to deter them as either a repellent to their animalistic senses or even limit/control the transformation when made into a drought.
Yet the most common weakness of all is a werewolf’s aversion to silver, which can range from burning the werewolf upon touching it, in human form no less, to killing them outright when shot by a silver bullet. In point of fact, the film Monster Squad even posed the question of whether a werewolf could be killed by other means by having the werewolf in question blown into literal pieces that quickly formed back together to reform the werewolf.
In the Gold Digger comic series, were-beasts can heal from most wounds at an accelerated rate save for those made by other were-beasts or silver. Heck, in the upcoming film, Goosebumps, a kid with silver fillings bites a werewolf and sends the thing running from the pain.
I’m still trying to process the sheer ludicrous genius of that idea…
Overall, werewolves as whole are one of the most common elements to be found in Halloween, often grouped with vampires through a mutual animosity or a strange form of kinship. In point of fact, while there are films that feature werewolves and vampires together, it is extremely rare to see one that has the two of them acting beneficially towards each other. I read a piece of fanfiction once that told a tale of how the werewolves were the daylight guardians of the vampires who, in turn, would use their powers of hypnotism and the like to secure all the nearby quantities of silver to protect their wolfish relations.
Honestly, I’d love to see a film that has such a thing going for it so long as it’s one that doesn’t take themes or ideas from a certain book series that I refuse to acknowledge as having anything to do with either werewolves or vampires.