Although I had intended to start this column with another amusing anecdote from my treasure-trove of lycanthropic lore, time is short this week, since I have been temporarily assigned to an MI6 listening-post in Kiev. Not quite as bad as Kazakhstan (the vodka is better), but still annoying, because it takes me away yet again from my search for Lysandra – just when I had received a fresh lead, this time from New York City of all places. The Big Apple will have to wait, however, as this whole Crimean affair has thrown the agency into a panic, and anyone with past experience dealing with the KGB has been ordered into the field. Почему они не могут оставить меня в покое?
Anyway, despite my excessive consumption of the local beverages, I shall take a stab at your questions.
Dear Lady Andronica,
How do you feel about the portrayal of werewolves in the popular cultures of the 20th and 21st century? Did werewolves themselves have any influence on how they appeared in the stories and films of the early 1900s? Does their current spookshow-cartoony portrayal amuse or annoy you?
Dear Ms or Mr Williams,
How do other minority groups feel about their portrayal in the media? Cutesy cartoon werewolves and furry basketball stars are an insult to the dignity of an entire species. Lycanthropes are victims of racial discrimination, pure and simple. It is a crude ethnic stereotype to portray us all as depraved monsters, howling mindlessly at the moon, and wanting nothing more than to feast upon beautiful young virgins. Wait, that last part could be true…
On the other hand, I suppose we should be pleased by all the attention. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. My personal theory is that most humans secretly want to be werewolves. The idea of having the freedom to kill with impunity (a privilege otherwise reserved for the state) is appealing to many. And the lycanthropic lifestyle projected by the media often portrays us as young and beautiful, well-tanned and with healthy muscle tone (Bitten, Twilight, Blood and Chocolate, etc.). Good recruiting propaganda!
The truth is much more like Josh and Nora in Being Human (Canadian/US version). It takes a long time to come to terms with what we are. Some never do, and some only fool themselves. As I pointed out in my last column, being a werewolf is more like being human than you might think – which is one reason I like that particular show, because it hits the nail on the head more often than not (except for the full moon bit, and that the werewolves look like naked bears).
Which brings me to our appearance in movies and television. The special-effects people are generally unconcerned with reality. One reason may be that they’ve never seen a real werewolf and lived to make a sketch of her. To my knowledge, no genuine lycanthrope has ever served as a technical advisor in Hollywood. I’d love to give that a try, though, so producers should note my e-mail address.
That having been said, some films do get closer to the mark than others. Portraying our four-footed form is easy, since there isn’t much to distinguish it from natural wolves except size. Bitten does a pretty good job of this, even if they do get everything else wrong. The hybrid wolf-woman is harder to visualise, since that state is achieved by stopping the human-to-wolf transformation somewhere in the middle. Because the resulting appearance depends on when the shift is halted, there is actually no single “right” answer. The Howling and Dog Soldiers come very close to things I have seen in the wild. What I am waiting for is a cinematic attempt at portraying a truly sexy glamour werewolf. Imagine Monica Bellucci in fur. Aaaaaaaooooooo!
P.S. Some time ago, I wrote an essay on the topic of discrimination against lycanthropes; see Werewolves of the world unite! Regarding Hollywood portrayals, read here for some Werewolf Fact and Fiction.
Hi Lady Andronica!
Are vampires real too? If they are, is the rivalry between races (or species?) a real thing, or was it made up like the full moon and silver bullets thing? If they aren’t, have you encountered any other supernatural creatures? Thank you!
São Paulo, Brazil
Dear Anna Maria,
Asking if vampires are real is like asking if there is a God. Just because I have never seen either of them (or any other supernatural creature) doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist. What I can say for certain is that the idea of a vampire-werewolf rivalry (à la Twilight or Underworld) is nonsense. If there were vampires, we would kick their sparkly asses so hard that they would have to crawl all the way back to Transylvania. (Aside: I do like Jason McKinney’s fictional but amusing idea of vampires as cockroaches feeding on werewolves’ table-leavings, expounded in his novel “Dog World”).
When I lived back in the eighteenth century, lots of people (i.e. humans) did believe in vampires. It became a big scare after about 1740, with many reports coming from the eastern parts of the Austrian Empire. There was the famous case of Eleonore von Schwarzenberg, the so-called Vampire Princess of Bohemia, who allegedly drank wolfs-milk (!) to conceive a child. I’m not sure how that worked, but they did bury poor Eleonore under a heavy stone slab specifically to keep her undead body from rising again.
The Empress Maria Theresia became so alarmed by reports of vampires that she commissioned her personal physician, Gerard van Swieten, to undertake a “scientific enquiry” in those areas supposedly infested by them. Swieten’s expedition departed for Moravia on 27 January 1755 and returned to Vienna four months later, having found absolutely no evidence of vampires. Gerard van Swieten later became the model for Bram Stoker’s vampire-hunter Abraham van Helsing.
What the history books don’t say is the real reason for Swieten’s expedition. I know because I was there. (It will all be described in the forthcoming volume two of Memoirs of an Eighteenth-Century Werewolf.) In fact, peasants really were being killed by the dozens as they slept in their beds. But in their confused testimony, the benighted villagers got their supernatural beings mixed up. The culprits were actually werewolves – those unpleasant Apostates I have mentioned before. And since Swieten also happened to be one of them, he did everything possible to cover up the whole sordid business. The word “Werwolf” therefore does not appear even once in his final report to the Empress.
So to bring the discussion full-circle: because Swieten did not mention us, does it mean that werewolves are not real?
P.S. You mention silver bullets as being “made up”. In fact, our sensitivity to silver is one of the few legends which is really true. See the above-mentioned article Werewolf Fact and Fiction.
The next instalment of “Ask Andronica!” will appear on 14 April 2014. Send in your questions now!