Werewolves

The following editorial was originally printed as the introduction to the anthology Running with the Pack, edited by Ekaterina Sedia, featuring stories devoted to one of our most enduring monsters: the werewolf. Elsewhere on this site, we’ve reprinted a story from that anthology, “The Dire Wolf” by Genevieve Valentine. Both items are well worth reading for their insight and innovation regarding the werewolf legend. – The Editors

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There’s a view of werewolves (espoused even on the back cover of this volume) as an expression of the animal and the dark in the usually suppressed and mild-mannered civilized persons; we like to think of ourselves as beasts, our wild instincts kept in check only by a thin veneer of social necessity. This fantasy is a persistent and appealing one: a jacketed executive by day, but the moment full moon breaks through the clouds, watch out! There will be claws and fur and blood and howling.

But is this view accurate? I’d like to propose that not at all. In our natural state, humans are large, hairless apes that run well and live in groups. We are not predators – we are prey, something many romantically-minded individuals discovered (one assumes, to their chagrin) while trying to survive in the wilderness, communing with nature, and engaging in other solitary pursuits in areas inhabited by large meat-eaters. Wolves and large cats are predators; we are their food.

And this, I think, is really the crux of the matter: werewolves are not the expression of our own wildness, but the longing to be like those who hunt us, the desire to break through the skin of prey and become the predator. In that sense, the entirety of human civilization, our conquest and subjugation of the world, can be seen through such a lens. Being prey is embarrassing and undignified, it exposes our soft chewey insides, and who likes that? So we dominate and posture, and pretend that we are wolves inside of ape suits, rather than just… well, apes.

Then again, all of it is conjecture. If you look at the diversity of the stories presented inside, the familiar tropes twisted in interesting ways, you’ll see that lycanthropy is much more than a simple urge to be an animal – it can be a metaphor or a joke, a tale of extinction or a new beginning, a disease or a blessing. So why don’t you sit back, crack the book open, and indulge in the fantasies of being a predator.

January 2010, New Jersey