Werewolves have always gotten a bad rap: From childhood, we are told stories involving wolves and the danger they present to us. Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and Peter and the Wolf are three of the most popular children’s books in which the wolf is used to represent danger, evil, and maliciousness.
It’s only when Hollywood gets involved do werewolves go from being viewed as devil incarnates to broody, sexy, misunderstood men who just can’t help being the way they are. The Werewolf of London, starring actor Henry Hull, was the first feature film to protray an anthropomorphic werewolf. Lon Chaney, Jr. in The Wolf Man and David Naughton in An American Werewolf in London were all portrayed in a sympathetic, albeit tortured, way.
Werewolves became stronger and deadier in later movies, such as The Howling. Nowadays, werewolves are the soup du jour of romantic supernaturals. Taylor Lautner of the popular Twilight series became an instant sex symbol at age 17 to many a female around the world once he showed his “true nature.” And let’s not forget Joe Manganiello, who plays Alcide in the HBO True Blood series, based on the popular Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. YUM!!
But where did werewolves come from?
Werewolves are also called lycanthropes, which is a Greek word meaning “the afflicted person.” Lycanthropy refers to the transformation process’s the popular definition of werewolf or lycanthrope is a man who transforms himself or is transformed into a wolf under the influence of full moon.
Though there are many myths on how werewolves came into existence, the most popular is from Greek mythology: The God Zeus once disguised himself as a traveler and sought for hospitality in the court of the Arcadian King Lycaon. The King, having recognized the God, tried to kill him by serving him human flesh. Zeus instantly catches on and outraged, he destroys the palace and condemns Lycaon to spend rest of his life as a wolf. Can you guess what famous PNR author alludes to this storyline in her series?
During the middle ages, it was believed that the werewolf was the projection of a demon, which made its victims appear as a wolf in his own eyes and to those around him. For others, the werewolf was a direct manifestation of the Devil. Some people have studied this and concluded that the medieval diet may have contributed to this myth. Ergot poisoning (the result of molding wheat and grain) results in hallucinations, mass hysteria and paranoia. Continuous exposure to this contamination could have contributed to either an individual believing he is a werewolf or a whole town believing that they have seen a werewolf.
Werewolf myths were more prevalent in Europe than anywhere else were, likely due to the large wolf population. People had to explain these predators, and came up with the idea of shapeshifters. This is corroborated by those who developed their own predators in areas with there were no wolves—were-jaguars in South America, were-tigers in India, and were-hyenas in Africa.
Skinwalkers are a popular myth among the Native Americans who believed witches and shamans could wear the skins and control the spirits of animals. More modern times try to explain the myths away through modern medicine. Rabies, porphyria, and hypertrichosis are all conditions that can manifast symptoms that mimic werewolf behavior.
There are ways to tell if someone is a werewolf: Eyebrows that meet across the bridge of the nose, curved fingernails, low-set ears, a swinging stride, superhuman strength, and a stronger sense of smell. And of course, turning into one at a full moon. There are two types of werewolves; born and changed.
Born werewolves are just that, born with the ability to shift. Changed werewolves are humans who had the misfortune of being bitten by another werewolf. Not much can hurt them; silver and wolfsbane are two known substances that can hurt and possibly kill them. Some say the change is painful, while others contend that it flows naturally as they release the other half of their soul.
Though I’ve never met a true werewolf (though I’m known some guys who were dogs!) I’m not dismissing this all as bunk. Until my knight in furry armor deems fit to reveal himself to me, I will continue to read about them from some of my favorite authors listed below and wait. Some popular PNR/UF series that can make you long for a pack all your own come from the following authors:
-Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series
-Moira Roger’s Sanctury and Red Rock Pass Series
-Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunters Series
-Patricia Briggs’s Mercedes Thompson series
-Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series
-Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series
-Jess Haines’s The Others series