Wolfman is a man’s werewolf, no Olalla

Poor wolf man, he’s the bastard of the horror big three. Dracula and Frankenstein have antecedents in folklore but bloomed on the quills of novelists. The werewolf traces back to the Greek, yet no one will pull him from the doghouse, not that Hollywood doesn’t keep trying. Whenever I see the cinematic transformation of man to beast, from An American Werewolf in London to the latest Wolfman offering, I can’t help but recall the terrifying hairification of Jerry Lewis in the Nutty Professor, RLS painting itself a spoof of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, regarded as the most literary of inferences to lycanthropy. But Robert Louis Stevenson wrote another short story seldom cited as a werewolf tale. Curious, because I think it holds the key to the man- wolf allure, when it’s not gay teen cheese. In his 1887 Olalla, RLS described the entrancing menace and tormented fate of the lupine-afflicted without mentioning the word.

Of course Stevenson’s angle separated man less from beast.

…the sudden disclosure of her eyes disturbed me. They were unusually large, the iris golden like Felipe’s, but the pupil at that moment so distended that they seemed almost black; and what affected me was not so much their size as (what was perhaps its consequence) the singular insignificance of their regard. A look more blankly stupid I have never met. My eyes dropped before it even as I spoke, and I went on my way upstairs to my own room, at once baffled and embarrassed. Yet, when I came there and saw the face of the portrait, I was again reminded of the miracle of family descent. My hostess was, indeed, both older and fuller in person; her eyes were of a different colour; her face, besides, was not only free from the ill-significance that offended and attracted me in the painting; it was devoid of either good or bad – a moral blank expressing literally naught. And yet there was a likeness, not so much speaking as immanent, not so much in any particular feature as upon the whole. It should seem, I thought, as if when the master set his signature to that grave canvas, he had not only caught the image of one smiling and false-eyed woman, but stamped the essential quality of a race.

Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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2 Responses to Wolfman is a man’s werewolf, no Olalla

  1. Avatar Brother Jonah says:

    A common theme in Indian folklore is the type of anthropomorphism that keeping pets only hints at.

    The shape-changers aren’t human to start, they’re Bear, Coyote, Little Man. (raccoon) and even the mockingbird.

    And the beasts, I guess you could call them the were-men, are more civil (if not civilized, there’s a difference) than the humans.
    The “Disney Treatment” aside, it’s more usual in the americas for the animals to take human shape or at least voice than the other way around.

    I was surprised a while back to find that the Uncle Remus tales were neither African nor European in origin, but Muskogee.

    Guess it’s the imposed dominant culture that would hide a gem like that.

  2. Avatar Marie Walden says:

    The movie was pretty awful, I must say.

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