Werewolves and Vampires Duke It Out In New York Magazine – Roukas Dissects the Radness and Ramifications

Mike Roukas — Feb. 17th 2010

Werewolf Vs. Vampire by Bryan Baugh.

This month’s New York magazine features a short article on werewolves by Jeff Vandam. While the “article” is only a page long, and while I would sooner expect The New Yorker to run a feature on Rambo, I was nevertheless happy to see some lycanthropic goodness in a mainstream magazine. Unfortunately, the article quickly becomes a classic werewolves vs. vampires retro-drama. Guess what? Count Chocula wins, and Edward Cullen wins the mark of cultural favor over David Naughton’s David Kessler and Jack Nicholson’s Will Randall. And while everyone is allowed to have a personal preference when it comes to monsters, I believe that the hairy-handed gents are made out of culturally richer and more enduring stuff than vampires are.

I am aware that a debate over fictional monster preferences is, at best, like a debate between theoretical physicists about the fourth dimension. At worst, it is akin to an argument between six year olds regarding Frosted Flakes vs. Fruity Pebbles. However, the reason I have bothered writing this article in the first place is because I believe in that former, at best scenario. While vampires and werewolves are fictional, the essences and creative forces behind them are quite real. The vampire legend is based on a perversion of the natural human drive to transcend this world and live forever, along with a disobedience against the mysterious injunction of Deuteronomy 12:23, which reads: “Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh.” On the other hand, the werewolf legend is based on man’s desire for a closer linkage with nature, but also on a misunderstanding of what mankind and nature are to begin with. Thus, both vampire and werewolf have earned the classification of “monster.” However, just to make things extra-complicated, the very meaning of “monster” has devolved away from its Latin root of monstrum, which in turn is based intriguingly on monstrare (meaning to “show” or “reveal”) and monere (meaning to “portend” or “warn”). Today, the word “monster” is normally used to describe an aberrant or demonic creature saturated in scare-tactics.

Unfortunately, this shying away from original etymologies is nothing new (words change as people change, after all). And thanks to Hollywood and Hot Topic, the vampire has been largely reformed to suit the cultural and aesthetic appetites of young people. When Bram Stoker galvanized the creature’s mythos in 1897, the vampire was a tragic figure – a being who strove for eternal life in the wrong direction and for the wrong reasons. As a result, he became an ironic paradox: dead, yet functioning, cogent, and somehow able to out-model Zoolander himself. His immortality was based on his wiling severance from God and his fellow man, and it was grounded in a corrupt, temporal world. Thus, while the vampire does transcend some stifling cultural and physical norms, his transcendence backfires. He is unable to reach full, transcendent maturity because perfect transcendence is ultimately reached through death. He is consequently mocked by his physical beauty (which is all in the eye of the beholder anyway) which imbalances his lack of character-beauty. Deathly yet unable to achieve perfect transcendence through death and sacrifice, the vampire is unable to engage eternal life on terms apart from our vastly imperfect plane of reality.

The werewolf isn’t a boy scout either. Its many-fathered mythos was born, in large part, out of a misunderstanding of what men and wolves are. Due to misapplied and erroneous science and religion, man’s perspective of himself has been enduringly skewered. And since the wolf has been a competing hunter, human imagination has formed the animal (and the imaginative reflex takes liberties with just about everything) into an icon of dark, occult savagery. The reality of the wolf’s life is simple and believable: it’s just an animal trying to make a living in a tough world . . . although it lacks the luxuries of hands to eat with and meat-packing companies to regulate and prepare its meals. However, since humankind cannot perceive itself correctly, it naturally follows that he cannot perceive the world around him correctly. Wolves (and predatory animals in general) become psychotically ravenous due to their noted disadvantage of nearby Shop Rites with fully stocked meat departments. They have to resort to more feral ways of earning their sustenance, and according to human logic, that makes them maniacs. Combine this with the Christian doctrine of original sin latent in man, and the equation can run thus: Man + Wolf = Godlessly insane carnivore that can do nothing but destroy.

This is how the vampire and werewolf legends currently reside in humankind’s cultural consciousness, and it is the basis for Vandam’s opening question: “Are werewolves — who’ve historically been second-class citizens behind chic, aristocratic vampires — finally getting their moment in the moonlight?” According to domestic box office earnings for monster movies from 1975 to the present, werewolf and vampire movies have grossed about $405,934,313 and $1,478,725,983 respectively. “Vampires transcend our limits and werewolves wallow in them,” claims Sundays with Vlad author Paul Bibeau. “To be a werewolf is to be hairy, sweaty, overcome with lust, and hunted as an outsider.” Unfortunately, this is the conclusion that is reached when one can’t see that the vampire represents transcendence in a disastrous direction, and that lycanthropic shape-shifter legends, while based on men and beasts of actuality, have grown into something that is based on the wolf and man of human construance, fear, and corniness.

On the simple, Twilight-esque level, the werewolf vs. vampire conflict is based on personal aesthetics. On the root-level of historical mythology and symbolism, the conflict is based on two different but equally volatile ferments. While the vampire is hyper-Promethean and transcendently defiant, the werewolf is a portrait of man with iron-clad ties to the earth from which he is made, although this portrait is admittedly composed of an inaccurate perspectives of what constitute human and lupine nature. As society becomes more fast-paced, technological, and urbanized, people will bypass the werewolf in favor of a mythos more conductive to their worldview and lifestyles, embracing a Promethean archetype that surpasses the limitations of the body and requires no sustenance from heaven or earth. Cut off from the earth and each other, they will gravitate toward an elegant-on-the-outside mythology that can fly above its disenchantments and feed on its sheeple. Whether or not the werewolf mythos can counterbalance this has yet to be seen.

  • Mac

    Very well written on all points. It’s always fascinating to take a step back and see how our mythologies have evolved at our convenience. This is true not only of our monsters, but also of our visions of what things like Heaven, Hell and God are like.

  • zockereinstein

    it’s not that vampires are better or worse, it is only the fact that they have been more “common” and “popular” than werewolves are. Everyone could tell something about vampires, but not many know all the traditions associated with werewolves.
    It is like the difference between a hamburguer and beluga caviar. Most of people could prefer the first one, but just because they even don´t know about the second. Is one better than the other? Perhaps, or perhaps not, it’s a matter of tastes. And as you said, it is needed certain cultural level to appreciate the werewolf folklore.

  • Nyetwerke

    I think Zockereinstein has touched upon something which I think we are loosing and that is a cultural level of appreciation. I think with a cultural appreciation we can arrive at a conclusion based on a true perspective of what is occurring rather than just what is popular or how it is presented by the news and media. As far as the werewolf and vampire mythos where do they both fit within the natural, or maybe supernatural, order? Should there even be a question as to which is better then? If one were to approach the werewolf mythos as indicative of humanities’ vision of nature, does it seem to parallel the environmental movement we see today? I don’t look at the question of which is better but rather what can be learned from both. What is the cultural component of the werewolf and vampire?

  • no i think werewolves are the most powerful.i mean come on they are faster and stronger than many mythical creatures.like van helsing movie, when he killed dracula in werewolf form.also in twilight full moon,some kid said that vampires are faster than werewolves,well how come the werewolf catched up to the vampier and killed.lets face it, in nearly all werewolf and vampire movies, werewolves always win.so my thinking is that werewolves are more powereful and always will be than vampires

  • Berserker

    Werewolves were far more entrenched in world mythology in ages past where the natural world–and animals–played a more cultural or religious role. Now that nature has for the most part lost its mystery, and wolves are seen as prettier versions of the same pets we adore at home, we turn to the vampire as an icon: the vampire transcends humanity’s disconnection from nature, and furthermore, can rarely be softened (since the creature must necessarily feed on blood.) He is at the forefront as a result.

  • Berserker

    Oh great, I failed to read the article after the jump, and unknowingly reiterated one of its basic themes. My mistake.

    Fantastic article, I agree with all points. I would like to see a follow-up article exploring “New Age” or post-modern vampires and werewolves, particularly those becoming so prevalent in internet culture, and what they represent: a fad, a slowly changing worldview, or something else?