On 26 September – in honour of the super blood moon – Hannah’s Bookshelf was entirely devoted to werewolf fiction. Given how much I like to talk about werewolves, it’s a little surprising that this hasn’t happened before, but I thought the lunar eclipse would be a perfect time to talk about some of my favourite lycanthropic fiction.
If you missed it, you can listen to the show on the player below. And, as promised, here are the books I featured on the show… (these are just a selection of my favourite werewolf books – all highly recommended – I suspect I’ll need to do a couple more shows to get through all my favourites!)
Published in 2007, Millar’s novel tells the story of Kalix MacRinnalch, a Scottish werewolf in exile after attacking her own father. Kalix is a wonderful creation – anti-social, drug-addicted, unpredictable, yet also sympathetic and strangely endearing – and she remains one of my favourite female werewolves. The novel’s large cast of lycanthropes includes Kalix’s sister Thrix (a powerful sorceress), brothers Seraphen (a psycho) and Markus (cross-dresser), cousins Beauty and Delicious (a pair of wannabe rock stars) and Malvaria (a supremely vapid elemental Fire Queen), but Kalix’s main interactions are with the humans Daniel and Moonglow. The book was followed by two sequels – Curse of the Wolf Girl and The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf.
Written in the mid-fourteenth century, William of Palerne is a translation (or, more accurately, an adaptation) of the Old French Guillaume de Palerne. It tells the story of William, Prince of Palerne, who is rescued from the machinations of his evil uncle by a benevolent werewolf. The werewolf is a Spanish prince, Alphons, who has been transformed into lupine form by his necromantic stepmother (she wants her own son to ascend the throne). William of Palerne is one of my favourite pieces of medieval literature, and definitely one of my top pieces of werewolf fiction. With my academic hat on, I’ve written a couple of articles and encyclopaedia entries about this narrative poem, most recently a chapter in Sexual Culture in the Literature of Medieval Britain (edited by Amanda Hopkins, Robert Rouse and Cory James Rushton).
If you’re not familiar with Middle English – or, to be honest, even if you are – William of Palerne is not an easy read, as the alliterative long line form and the use of dialect can be difficult for modern readers. And as yet, there’s no modern English translation available. But if you fancy giving it a shot, it’s certainly worth it.
Moving forward a few centuries – what list of werewolf fiction would be complete without George Reynolds’ classic penny dreadful Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf? First published in 66 instalments (in 1846-7), this Gothic tale tells the story of the eponymous Wagner, an old man who makes a dangerous pact with a mysterious stranger. Modern werewolf fans may find some of this Victorian story unusual (for instance, Wagner is cursed to transform every seven years, rather than being under the influence of the moon), but the story does introduce some of the tropes that would become standard in werewolf cinema. In particular, it is one of the first (if not the first) text to feature a painful transformation scene – complete with torn clothing and desperation.
As I’ve mentioned before, I have been working on a project to produce fully-formatted, searchable editions of Victorian penny dreadfuls (Digital Periodicals), and Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf is one of the titles I have transcribed and edited. I’ve spent a lot of time poring over Reynolds’ novel and it remains very close to my heart.
Williamson’s novel was published in 1948, and begins with news of an ethnological expedition to Mongolia that has discovered evidence of human beings who can transform into animals. Our protagonist is Will Barbee, a journalist and former student of the expedition’s spokesman Dr Lamarck Mondrick. When Dr Mondrick dies during the press conference about his discovery, Will is approached by April Bell, a woman with a white fur coat and an aversion to silver. April introduces Will to the truth about Dr Mondrick’s discovery – a truth which will turn out to be darker than you think!
In case you’re interested in Williamson’s novel, I reviewed it in more detail some time ago on my other blog.
Another piece of Victorian literature, this time from 1896. Housman’s novella is set in a wintry medieval Scandinavia, and features two brothers (Sweyn and Christian) and a mysterious woman named White Fell (who, like April Bell, is depicted as wearing white fur and doesn’t get on with dogs). The Were-Wolf is part horror, part Christian allegory, and is highly recommended – not just by me, but by H.P. Lovecraft, who praised the tale for its ‘high degree of gruesome tension’ and ‘atmosphere of authentic folklore’.
Back to the twenty-first century for the final book of the show – one of my absolute favourite werewolf novels. The ‘liar’ of the book’s title is narrator Micah Wilkins, a teenager living with her parents in New York. Micah is a fantastic character, but one who always remains tantalizingly out-of-reach for the reader. As I’ve said before on the show, I love unreliable narrators, and Micah certainly fits this category. After her boyfriend Zach is killed, Micah’s lies begin to unravel – only to be replaced with new stories – until it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what has happened. If you haven’t already read Larbalestier’s excellent YA novel, then it’s about time you gave it a read.
To hear more about all of these titles, listen to Hannah’s Bookshelf here: