Kara Jorgensen is a queer, anachronistic oddball with a penchant for all things antiquated, morbid, or just plain strange. While in college, she realised she no longer wanted to be Victor Frankenstein but instead wanted to write like Mary Shelley and thus abandoned her future career in science for writing. She melds her passions through her books and earned an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing in 2016. When not writing, she can be found hanging out with her dogs watching period dramas or trying to convince her students to cite their sources.
Jorgensen on Werewolves
My first real brush with werewolves in film was in Van Helsing (2004). The werewolf was a hero in this case and took on Dracula. I loved that he was more of a tragic, heroic figure. It stuck with me as my favorite depiction. I never really liked werewolves portrayed as ravenous beasts because wolves aren’t like that in the wild. Misunderstood or heroic werewolves always made more sense to me.
It’s always someone we know who turns out to be a beast.
What I always found interesting about the werewolf is how widespread the myth is. We see similar myths with wild cats or coyotes. It’s always someone we know who turns out to be a beast. The were- myths speak to some inner part of us that still knows people are apex predators like the creatures they transform into. We fear people will turn on us and make us or those we love prey. That’s terrifying and powerful.
I do think werewolves have become less scary as wolves themselves have been hunted to near extinction. We don’t have that primordial fear of them, especially seeing them in the wild or rehabilitation zoos where they can interact with visitors. Werewolves are almost like vampires in that they’ve been somewhat domesticated by the media to make them far more sympathetic. Oddly, I don’t think this trend is all that modern. We see a sympathetic and good werewolf in Irish legends as well as Marie de France‘s (fl. 1160 to 1215) “Bisclavret.” A werewolf loyal to the king is a much softer figure than the slathering monster of German mythology. Honestly, I like wolves getting better press and not being seen as bloodthirsty beasts because they aren’t. In the US, we still have wolves in places, so even fictional press is good press to keep them from being hunted further.
I love the idea of transformation as body horror. In my own work, I tend to think of being a werewolf as two entities cooperatively sharing a body, and it’s painful to give up control for both parties. It’s an experience that totally breaks down the character and reforms them as something new. It’s rebirth as much as body horror. Plus, I like playing with the duality of man as beast and master, wild and tame. Being wild has shifted from total inhibition to kill to running freely and being able to commune with nature. As an animal, I think humans still crave that closeness to the natural world that we’ve lost and being an actual animal allows us to do that. It’s a softer side of being a werewolf but it’s just as relevant as turning into a predator if not more so.
It’s definitely a metaphor for finding a community who can love and support you for who you are.
When writing my books, I’ve always thought about how to rework British mythology, and while writing The Wolf Witch and Kinship and Kindness, I found an overlap between UK and US legends with the werewolf. We have the Rougarou who hunts the bayous of Louisiana and the werewolves of old in British legends. Why not have them together? I also really liked the juxtaposition of the uptight Victorians with people who turn into wolves.
Intersectionality and the Werewolf/Shifter Community
England has outlawed werewolves, so what happens when they come back or when something even scarier emerges from history? That’s what I ended up exploring in The Wolf Witch, and through using werewolves, I talked about PTSD and war’s effect on the psyche. That people can be latent werewolves but transform under times of great stress. It’s a scary thought to suddenly not know yourself. And it’s only when others reach out that they can find stability and balance who they are. It’s definitely a metaphor for finding a community who can love and support you for who you are.
When it comes to queer and transgender werewolves and shifters, I always thought of the wolves/foxes and whatever other animals I mention as genderless. It would set them apart from the “real” version of the animals. In The Wolf Witch and Kinship and Kindness, they refer to their animal forms as “it” rather than with gendered pronouns, while together the human and animal form are “they”.
For someone like Bennett, who is a trans man, he never has to worry about his fox form giving him away. Because the shifters are accustomed to being not quite human and being set apart from society, I picture them (and other magical folk) as being far more progressive in terms of gender and sexuality. Being magical flies in the face of Christian beliefs and since those tend to cause the most friction with the queer community, it would make sense that they would be at least somewhat more progressive. There’s mention of queer platonic and outright queer relationships among the shifters in my books. For someone like Bennett, being in fox form is a place where he hasn’t had to worry that he doesn’t fit or match his interior and exterior presentation.
On the other hand, for someone like Theo who has epilepsy, being a werewolf can be a hazard. He has quite a bit of anxiety about having a seizure while in wolf form and being killed by someone or hurting himself. Consider the book takes place in the 1890s, so someone might mistake him for having rabies or that he should be put out of his misery. He tends to reject his wolf form because it brings a lot of fear that his human condition can and will spill over into his wolf form, especially since wolves and dogs can have epilepsy.
Werewolves are always genetic. Supportive werewolf communities have a ceremony and ritual where the young people are able to commune and connect with their wolves to shift easier. Others don’t have that and it’s a surprise. It comes out under duress. If it’s particularly bad or done purposefully it’s called hot-housing (like plants).
Mentioned in The Wolf Witch, hot-housing is the deliberate creation of a deliberately hostile environment, like torture or a fight club, to force a latent werewolf into coming out. It’s natural instinct is to protect itself, so it’ll come out to save the human host but at a cost to it’s sanity/stability. Some can be rehabilitated if they’re more on the flight side of self-preservation.
It forces the werewolf out and makes them that scary, destructive werewolf legends talk about. The normal werewolves often hunt them down and kill them because the hot-housed werewolves will kill people because they’re unstable.
What do you think about werewolves? Join in the discussion on Twitter using #WerewolfTalk!
If you’re interested in reading more about Kara Jorgensen’s paranormal steampunk world, here are the books she has released (most are standalone but they can also be read in order):
- “The Errant Earl”**
- The Earl of Brass
- The Gentleman Devil
- “An Oxford Holiday”**
- The Earl and the Artificer
- Dead Magic
- Selkie Cove
- The Wolf Witch