Why do we love werewolves?

Western popular culture has a special relationship with certain Medieval European folk myths. The history of religious and spiritual beliefs across the continent as well as how Christianity developed and coloured a lot of them makes for interesting reading, to be sure. So when popular culture went looking for scary things to mine for stories, there is lots of material ripe for re-imaging.

Vampires are one example of that. Werewolves are another. Both have been frequently re-used and re-invented over the last few decades. I don’t even need to list any titles. The best writers come up with new angles, like Jandar Sunstar in The Forgotten Realms – an elven vampire who actively and successfully fights his vampiric compulsions to the extent a vampire hunter ends up badly misjudging him. Or the vampires in Sanctuary who actually bear little resemblance at all to the popular tropes (and it is such a delight seeing Jonathon Young portray a vampiric Nikola Tesla). The more average ones either disappear with little trace, or come in for considerable amounts of ridicule. Twilight‘s sparkling vampires are a good example.

But there is originality, too. I think it’s hugely underplayed how interesting it is that J. K. Rowling put werewolves into the world of Harry Potter, but not vampires. Then again, the traditional image of werewolves makes sense in the wizarding world: it that already has oodles of potions, shape-shifting magic and fantastical beasts so werewolves and the wolfsbane potion are a perfect fit. But vampires are not. The world of Harry Potter is very clear about how its death tropes work. It takes rare and powerful magic to do anything with the dead – and this is crucial to the bigger story. Vampires would strongly upset that. They would, in fact, compete with Voldemort who is, by both design and necessity, thoroughly unique in the wizarding world.

There have been many articles about why we like vampires in our stories. These vary from nearly unstoppable villains with insatiable bloodlust, to highly intelligent players of games who can only be defeated by their own rules (e.g. Count Magpyr in Pratchett’s Carpe Jugulum), to tortured souls of forbidden love (Angel in Buffy). We like them trying to be human because otherwise they’re alien and we have lots of space tropes for that now.

Werewolves are similar but different. Traditionally, vampires should not have a pulse (which should also deny procreation, a fact sometimes forgotten!). Werewolves, though, do. Whilst vampires were conventionally portrayed as un-remittingly undead and inhuman, werewolves are actually more-or-less human most of the time. The link with the full moon also links to another monthly event close to our human bodies – one that males have historically not understood very well, either.

I prefer werewolves, partly because I feel vampires are too high-profile at the moment. Sergeant Angua in the Ankh-Morpork City Watch in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is the sort of werewolf I like. It defines her to some extent, but she has also made it work for her. More importantly, her human-ness is still there and still running the show. In one sense, this is an on going battle, but in another sense it’s a battle she has won. And that’s a story.

Human battles. Writing has to have human battles for the reader to connect with. I think werewolves just do the human battles that better than vampires. That’s why we like them.

1 Comment

Filed under J. K. Rowling, monsters, Stephanie Meyer, Terry Pratchett

One response to “Why do we love werewolves?

  1. Pingback: On Writing about Vampires, Werewolves, and other Supernatural Creatures | The Twilight Fun Blog

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