Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Wolves & Werewolves in Fantasy Literature

The werewolf has long had a place in folklore: the man (or woman, although it is most often a man), who can transform themselves into a wolf at the full moon and can only be killed by silver arrows or bullets is an ancient symbol. It probably started with the Greek myth of Lycaon, king of Arcadia, who was notoriously cruel and tried to get Zeus' favour by offering him the flesh of a young child. In punishment, Zeus turned him into a wolf. Strangely enough the Christian church once considered it heretical not to believe in werewolves, which were deemed to be servants of Satan and the personification of evil; those who were schizophrenic, epileptic or mentally disabled were accused and tried for being werewolves (1).

My own interest in wolves has existed for many years, and has been increased by a variety of fantasy books which I have read and enjoyed. There first books were The Hobbit (featuring Wolves) and The Lord of the Rings (featuring Wargs, which have always seemed akin to wolves to me). Ironically, when I read The Silmarillion for the first time last year, I discovered that Beren had disguised himself as one of Morgoth's werewolves when he went to retrieve the Silmaril with Luthien. Wolves came up again, in the form of the werewolf/wizard Remus Lupin (was ever a name so blatant an admission of the named one's essential being ?), in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the subsequent titles; and of course, in counterpoint to Lupin, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we see Fenrir Greyback, a Death-Eater werewolf. (Interestingly, Fenrir is a werewolf name borrowed from Norse literature, the same Norse literature that inspired so much of Tolkien's development of Middle-earth.)

Then I read Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy and Tawny Man trilogy, and discovered a wolf by the name of Nighteyes, who is a companion to FitzChivalry Farseer and with whom Nighteyes shares his mind via a form of magic called the Wit. I found Nighteyes to be a very interesting character. He is a intelligent being who, over the years of sharing his mind with Fitz, learns to think like a man (which is not necessarily a good thing). There is the female werewolf, Angua, who is also a City Guard in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels about the Night Watch in Ankh-Morpork and is too decent to eat people, although she's sorely tempted on occasion, and is subjected to peppermint bombs and other similar devices to prevent her from following a trail. There is also a werewolf, Lougarry, who has been trapped in her wolf form by a wizard in Jan Siegal's Prospero's Children trilogy and becomes his companion. Then today, having finished re-reading HP6 last night, I began reading The Book of Atrix Wolfe, by Patricia McKillip, and I find that Atrix Wolfe is a wizard/werewolf also. It appears that the Western world's fascination with werewolves is just as strong as it ever was, and of course the fascination is not limited to fantasy literature. There have been numerous werewolf movies too, and Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series features a young man named Oz, whose baby cousin Jordy is a werewolf who bites Oz for tickling him, and turns him into a werewolf. Whilst in the spin-off series, Angel, a young woman named Nina is also turned into a werewolf, and features in one of the funniest episodes of Angel ever aired, 'Smile Time'.

(1) "Werewolf." Encyclopedia Mythica from
Encyclopedia Mythica Online


Mrs. Coulter said...

I've been avoiding your blog for the last few days because I haven't read the new book yet, but I was interested to see this point...I started reading and thought: "Oh, what about Oz in Buffy!" LOL

Interesting about the Deatheater Werewolf...we have a plaster gargoyle named Fenric that sits on our mantelpiece. Lyra likes to pet him.

Michele said...

Sorry about that - HP6 was rather consuming my thoughts after I read it...

What made you so sure I'd know about Oz in Buffy ? After all, I've never mentioned Buffy here before (that I recall) - and there's no mention of Buffy in my profile !

Fenric ? The wolf in Norse literature (and the Death Eater werewolf in HP6) is called Fenrir - or was that a typo on your part ?