CW// discussions of addiction, relapse
Alright, so I’ve been prompted to think more about my werewolf thriller, Real Meat, and how I’m going to revise it. I’m getting back into the mood with… well, not werewolf lit so much, but three books I find really interesting:
–Wolves and the Wilderness in the Middle Ages, Aleksander Pluskowski, (Boydell & Brewer, 2006), [something I used for my PhD thesis but ended up reading more for fun]
–The Book of Were-Wolves, Sabine Baring-Gould, (1865)
–Wolves, Werewolves and the Gothic, ed. by Robert McKay and John Miller, (UWP, 2017)
I’ll probably be doing a blog post (or maybe more than one?) on the last one, in the same way that I did a summary/review of Body Gothic by Xavier Aldana Reyes.
If you just can’t wait, Sam George has already done a really good review of WWG on the Open Graves, Open Minds project blog, 30.03.2018.
Real Meat & the Werewolves of the Paghamverse
In Real Meat, Meredith’s inner demons (personified by her ex-lover’s voice in her head) remind her of what a werewolf ought to be, part of an ongoing dialogue she has with her addiction to human flesh.
We made them run, their eyes rolling back in their heads like frightened deer, leaving a musky trail of fear for us to follow, marking every tree they touched with their cold, cold sweat… we were mighty. They deified us, worshipping with their terror. We were their gods of death, gulping up their prayers as they begged us, begged us on their backs, begged us on their knees, begged us writhing on their soft, warm bellies, please, please, please…
I was thinking about the way cannibal stories show negative physical side effects of eating people, and how this might translate to a werewolf who is human at least part of the time, even if Turning is at will. I was also thinking a lot about the folklore that attributes compulsions and ‘tells’ in behaviour to those suspected of vampirism or of being a werewolf (the two in folklore are often interchangeable, and according to some lore, a person who is a werewolf in life is guaranteed to be a vampire after death).
I looked at real-life wolf behaviour in the wild versus in captivity, and wondered how to blend these with human behaviour and the norms of a humanocentric society.
There’s been some debate around whether wolves in the wild have an ‘Alpha’ construct, and how wolf behaviour in the wild differs to that observed in captivity. Compare G. B. Rabb’s 1967 study on captive wolves in Chicago zoo with a more recent 2016 study on captive wolves and dominance relationships (Cafazzo, Lazzaroni and Marshall-Pescini).
I tried to figure out how all this worked with concepts of unity/duality, and constructs of Self.
Constructions of Lycanthropy
From this as my starting point, I figured that constructions of werewolf society and experiences of living with lycanthropy would differ for people, depending on if this was an inherited condition or if it was something contracted later in life.
Experiences and language used to express and explore these experiences would differ depending on whether someone was born into a pack or ‘adopted’ into one, and at what stage of life the adoption took place, and whether this was the result of a consensual bite or not.
I’ve also debated about using this kind of pathologising language and what werewolves themselves would think about this.
I think there’s a definite move in some quarters to eliminate pathological language and to stop calling lycanthropy a ‘condition’, while others, especially those who feel as if this has been ‘done unto’ them (i.e. those Bitten without consent) would definitely consider it a ‘condition’ and be looking for a cure.
Those born into a lycanthropic family might have any number of ways of conceptualising their existence and dual natures, and would probably be brought up not to think of themselves in ‘duality’ but to embrace themselves as a whole, as One. This construction may make werewolves more inclined to religious faith, rather than less: they have an intrinsic way of thinking about themselves that can be applied to constructions of the Divine, too. It also positions them in a very interesting position where they clash with negative religious views on the werewolf as ‘evil’ or an ‘aberration’, which potentially spiritually aligns them with the human LGBTQ+ communities.
I thought a bit more about this and my own theological background and understanding of my own sexuality and gender from within that framework, and I also wondered how werewolves would work in terms of being non-binary/trans and how this would affect their change from one form into another. Would they give off pheromones in both human/wolf form that express their identity to other wolves simply as part of who they are, e.g.?
I’m still considering these aspects, and I should probably collate all the experimental #WiPWorldBuilders tweets on this somewhere I can sift through them.
With all this in mind, I settled on punk fashion as a means for modern-day younger werewolves to express themselves. This is not just a cool aesthetic. I liked how it could be adopted to represent a more democratic/anarchic system of pack relationships, albeit one where the stronger personalities will naturally rise to ‘leadership’ positions organically. The whole ethos of punk allows for fluidity within these younger packs and encourages self-expression. It also allows for the transference of responsibility as well as allowing for greater bonding and teamwork.
I covered this in detail in my post on Werewolf Fashion, which includes some short interviews with teen werewolves.
Traditionally though, a pack does have an Alpha (more usually an Alpha couple, who are not necessarily heterosexual and/or don’t even have to be romantically involved) who are connected to their pack through blood or Bite. Things look different for different kinds of family groups.
It’s more a system of administration and governance/policing, and pack councils are more democratic than the hierarchy implies. Alphas of other packs also have regular council meetings where packs live in close proximity to each other, since packs are generally made up of multiple family groups of up to 60 individuals.
In larger urban centres, packs can be fluid and you might end up with many smaller ones of only 5-10 (generally adolescents or young professionals bonding together as they move to different locations for work).
Those addicted to human flesh [known to pack wolves as Rogues] may try to fight their addiction, but the stigma and taboo around this can cause them to be ostracised. This is generally something they do alone or by going to meetings for other addictions. Since people at these other meetings tend to… be human… this is not the best solution. Rogues therefore often find themselves relapsing and falling into spirals of despair without the proper support.
This is a major factor in Rogues hiding their addiction from others and preferring to find ways of managing the symptoms and justifying the ‘lifestyle’.
There are several ways that these werewolves can do this, generally using historical constructions of the wolf and describing themselves as embodiments of the wilderness and forest which humankind has good reason to fear. They may see themselves as part of the natural order, a predator responsible for thinning the destructive virus that is humanity, or simply position themselves as godlike and therefore untouchable, making ‘justification’ irrelevant.
The penalty for turning Rogue is ‘leashing’ – hanged with a silver or silver-plated chain, then decapitated. Leashing doesn’t necessarily kill a werewolf, it’s the decapitation that does that. It’s an incredibly painful method of torture, though, since the intense allergic reaction to silver prevents Turning, but the hyperactive immune system and fast-acting cell repair ensures that the leashed werewolf won’t actually die of that, or at least, not very fast.
Leashing can be a penalty on its own, and does not necessarily have to be issued as a death sentence. That said, some werewolves, such as those Turned later in life who already had an auto-immune disease or more elderly werewolves, have been known to die from leashing alone.
Due to the “self-policing” nature of werewolf society, and the inherent dangers of lycanthropy (particularly the addictive nature of human flesh for werewolves), Loners are required.
A Loner is a lone werewolf, elected to this position in a particular region by the pack council (they must formally apply, even if the position has become de facto hereditary).
They are generally financially supported in some small way by pack funds, but could (and usually do) have a day-job and/or their own money, and should be largely self-sufficient.
Loners face a variety of challenges: policing three larger packs whose combined territory spans the entire Yorkshire Dales is one thing, while policing an ever-changing dynamic of 10-20 packs free-forming and disbanding multiple times a year in the London borough of Brixton is quite another. In Pagham-on-Sea there are five well-established packs (First through to Fifth) who live in Barker Crescent. All five are technically overseen by one Loner.
I say ‘technically’ because there are actually two Loners, one active (Meredith Blake) and one retired (Benito “Benny” Silvestri, who has returned to Pagham-on-Sea after serving the packs of Cheltenham as their Loner for over forty years). His goddaughter, Tina Harris, works at the morgue and periodically tries to persuade him to move out of The Willows Bed & Breakfast and into more appropriate sheltered accommodation. Benny knows about Meredith’s addiction, and is her only werewolf ally.
Loners are, by definition, badly suited to being a ‘normal’ part of pack life. They live outside of the pack(s) and are supposed to be neutral enforcers of law and order, like internal affairs investigators, and act as a deterrent to toxicity and ‘going Rogue’, ensuring through displays of brutality and aggression that ‘bad/toxic behaviour’ is not tolerated, not even and especially not from the Alphas.
Loners rarely have to execute werewolves, but when they do, they do it as brutally as possible and in public, in front of the entire pack, including the pack’s youngest members. A Loner cannot show weakness in front of the pack, and is often invoked by the young as a kind of bogeyman or Bloody Mary type figure. They are never invited to pack socials but may turn up randomly just to check on things.
Pack lore varies from place to place: having the Loner show up at your coming-of-age ceremony is either a portent of good fortune or doom, for example, and in Barker Crescent, Pagham-on-Sea, where the packs live in perpetual fear of Meredith Blake, the cubs chant a rhyme in the mirror of a darkened room in order to summon their Loner to the birthday party or social event of their enemies.
Loners police one another. In the first draft of Real Meat, only the Barker Crescent Alphas were on the council for Meredith’s tribunal, but the more I think about it the more I think that this structure needs to change. Loners ought to be autonomous but police each other, which gives greater concern for by-the-book, morally upright Loners if one of their number goes Rogue or if it is suspected more than one Loner is corrupt. This is a section I’ll be re-writing.
That pretty much sums up where I am with werewolves at the moment! Aside from delving back into the werewolf books mentioned above (I’m very excited for the Gothic one), I might re-watch a few of my favourite werewolf films and try to see a few I’ve not yet seen.
These may include Den of Geek’s 13 Must-See Werewolf Movies but probably these:
- Howl (2015)
- Blood Moon (2014)
- The Wolfman (2010)
- Dog Soldiers (2002)
- Ginger Snaps (2000)
- An American Werewolf in Paris (1997)
- The Company of Wolves (1984)
- The Howling (1981)
- An American Werewolf in London (1981)
- The Wolf Man (1941)
Looking at this list makes me kind of want to track down a sample of werewolf films by decade and see how they developed over time… but I guess that’s a post/project for another day…!!
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