Beware of Halloween’s werewolves

Did+you+know+October+18+-+24+is+Wolf+Awareness+Week%3F

Photo by Andrew Ly on Unsplash

Did you know October 18 – 24 is Wolf Awareness Week?

Marianne Barredo, Staff writer

Both a time of light-hearted fun and horrifying scares, Halloween is one of the most anticipated events of the year. It’s when you get to be creative and dedicate yourself to celebrating ghouls, monsters, and everything that exists in nightmares. And as the full moon rises to begin the night, you’re sure to hear the spooky howls of one of Halloween’s token monsters, the Werewolf. It doesn’t matter if you don’t celebrate this horror holiday or attend every costume party in the neighborhood; you are sure to know about the beast howling and prowling in the moonlight. But where exactly does this popular half-man, half-wolf icon come from?
Werewolves, by general definition, are creatures that were originally human but have the ability to transform into large wolves, or something in between where their human attributes merge with wolf characteristics. Their specific origin is unclear, but according to history.com, many scholars believe that the first ever mention of a man-to-wolf transformation dated way back in the oldest known piece of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh. However, our modern understanding of the werewolf particularly takes shape in Greek mythology with the myth of Lycaon, King of Arcadia.
The myth tells the story of how King Lycaon angered Zeus, the god of gods, by trying to trick him into eating the king’s own youngest son whose body he had roasted into a meal. The all-knowing god found out and, as punishment, turned the wicked king into a wolf. This is why werewolves are referred to as “lycanthropes,” and their transformation is a process called “lycanthropy.” Theconversation.com also adds that, “It is [Lycaon’s immoral actions] that has contributed to the establishment of the ‘monstrous werewolf’ trope of modern fiction.” This shows to some extent that the negative connotations around wolves can be attributed to how lycanthropy was given as punishment to those who acted like monsters.
Nordic folklore is also rich with myths containing wolves, like the colossal wolf god Fenrir and his two sons, Sköll and Hati. For the Norsemen, wolves were both feared to be ruthless and savage while at the same time respected as a symbol of strength and loyalty. A particular story in the Saga of the Volsungs tells the tale of outlaws Sigmund and Sinfjötli, father and son who stole magic wolf pelts with power to turn the wearer into a wolf for ten days. Donning the pelts, the men-turned-wolves went on a murder spree throughout the forest. Their rampage ended when Sigmund attacked his son, biting a fatal wound to his windpipe. Sinfjötli lived, with the help of a kind raven who gave his father a curing leaf. Sigmund and Sinfjötli burned the pelts on the tenth day, so they could no longer do harm.

From these bountiful myths, we see tight connections of malicious deeds resulting in a curse that would turn the filthy doer into an actual beast; an appropriate punishment for their bestial behavior. Various wolf folktales have also influenced parts of society in real life, like the less famous werewolf trials that occurred during the witch hunting era, where people believed witchcraft paralleled lycanthropy.

Today, the werewolves we know come from modern fantasy fiction: books, films, and television that these myths inspired. Mediafactory.org.au goes in-depth at how “no supernatural creatures have adapted themselves to film and television so skillfully, alternately terrifying us and romancing us.”
Cinema has greatly profited from making films that displayed these shapeshifters in action, one such film being The Wolf Man (1941) that was “often considered to be the ‘Dracula’ of werewolf films.”
While the original and the remake in 2010 were less commercially successful, The Wolf Man is widely considered to be a horror classic that reinforced many ideas revolving around the werewolf. It was one of famous film actor Lon Chaney, Jr.’s signature roles, where the title character expanded on the fundamental knowledge we now have of the creature, such as having a weakness to silver and wolfsbane, and exploring on possible cures for lycanthropy after struggling with the condition.
We can see many depictions of these nightly creatures take large influence from The Wolf Man in other movies like Underworld, An American Werewolf in London, or Van Helsing. And while vampires and werewolves often overlap in media due to their similarities, supernaturalist writer Rosemary Guiley establishes that it is the distinction of feeling heavy guilt after succumbing to bloodlust by the latter that sets them apart. As we see them today, werewolves have successfully evolved from “a primal and dangerous villain” that only represents a horrifying monster, into “fleshed out characters” suitable for a range of genres in popular culture.
Among the otherworldly characters of Dracula and Frankenstein, we happily welcome the Wolf Man and his kin to come haunt our doorsteps this Halloween, but werewolves shouldn’t be the only ones celebrated this month. Their real-life howling counterparts, the wolves, also share the spotlight. October 18 – 24, Wolf Awareness Week brings focus to their importance and the efforts that should be taken to protect them. Old stories and folktales aren’t the only ones to contribute to their “big bad” image. A huge driving factor for their population loss is that wolves prey on livestock and compete with humans for space and wild game. Defender.org reports that aggressive predator control campaigns have eliminated wolves into endangered status by the mid-1930s. And despite the bad rapport between humans and these canines, the truth about wolves is that they are extremely important to the ecosystem. Wolves are apex predators that keep several prey populations in check. Without them, ecosystems would be thrown out of balance.
After being on the brink of extinction for decades, however, conservation efforts finally pay off as these majestic creatures are seen roaming freely in some states once again. “This constitutes one of the greatest comebacks fvor an animal in U.S. conservation history,” fws.gov confirms. The wolf is a shy, curious animal that typically averts humans out of the cautious nature they’ve developed around them. If the werewolf is such a widespread concept found in myths and tales all over the world, then wolves themselves should also be widely known not as dangerous, mindless predators but as the social, highly intelligent creatures they are for the sake of our coexistence.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email