Jun 14, 2012

Defining Werewolves

The other day I talked about how I chose to define vampires in the setting of my novel, Locked Within. That post actually became something I wasn't expecting, and I thought it would be interesting to look at another classic monster and how you can make sure it fits in your own writing.

The werewolf is perhaps and older myth than the vampire. Many cultures have tales of animalistic shapeshifters, with a variety of different desires. Typically they are bestial, at least in their animal form, and prey on humans and other animals. In some stories the transformation is ruled by the phases of the moon. In others it is a voluntary act. Some werewolves retain their human intelligence, while others have their minds overridden by animal urges.

Whatever the details, the werewolf has long been a metaphor for the struggle between the civilised, ordered side of humanity, and the primal, passionate instincts we must so often resist. This is similar to how the vampire, in the 19th century, represented a dangerous sexuality and rejection of social rules.

In fact, there has long been a strong connection between vampires and werewolves. Vampires have frequently been depicted with the same shape-shifting powers as werewolves, and often share their vulnerability to silver. Some folklore even suggests that slain werewolves can rise as vampires, or that those who die in sin can rise as blood-drinking wolves.

It may be this folkloric connection which has led to the popular links between the two in mainstream fiction over the last several years. Movies such as Underworld and Van Helsing depict very strong links between them, as does the Twilight series. Unfortunately, many of these simply reduce the werewolf to nothing more than a badass monster for the vampires to fight, and don't really take the time to explore what purpose werewolves serve in having a place in the story.

As of yet, there are no werewolves in the setting of Locked Within. Neither the first book, nor any of the books I have planned, feature werewolves. That said, there are shapeshifters of a sort, and some do play important roles. If I were to apply my thinking on vampires to werewolves, this is how I would apply them in my setting.

The first and most important question to ask is whether they are immortal or not. In some cases, werewolves are functionally immortal. If werewolves are immortal, they would be potential members of the Council of Chains, who all want to live forever. So far I've kept the Council thematically focused on forms of undeath and deals with demons, very much a choice made by the individual. I like the idea of werewolves not choosing to be what they are, so I'll keep them mortal.

So being mortals with an element of the supernatural in them, should they be possible allies of the reborn, those who draw strength from their past lives? It's certainly possible that a reborn could have been a werewolf in a past life. Werewolves are pretty dangerous when they change, and would probably need places to go to be locked up on a full moon so they don't harm innocents. So reborn Conclaves would make good save havens for them.

Still, I need to decide what causes werewolves to exist. I've always liked the idea that lycanthropy is a curse, so I'll say that the first werewolves were men punished for some crime, ideally violent. Perhaps people who killed an innocent in the heat of rage, leaving family and friends distraught? Their victims' loved ones call upon the gods to enact revenge, which results in the killer becoming a werewolf and killing their own family and loved ones. Of course, the kinds of gods who would do this are capricious, and would delight in seeing such a curse spread, so the bite of a werewolf will infect any who survive it, and cause the violence in their heart to overcome them. The only cure for the condition is to treat the victim with wolfsbane before they make their first kill and hope that they can control their savage instincts long enough to make it through the next full moon without transforming.

To make things interesting, and keep from werewolves being "the good guys," I think that some werewolves come to relish their new form, and embrace the curse. They join up with rogue bands of magic-users and warriors, or pledge themselves to one of the many spirits, demons, or gods who seek to gain influence and power in our world.

Overall, werewolves are, forgive me, wild cards. They are simply individuals dealing with a particular curse in many different ways. They're not super-powered action heroes. In fact, most probably see little benefit in their condition, unless they are given a way to control their transformations, which nearly always requires loyalty to a powerful supernatural creature, whose goals might not be entirely noble.

There we have it. Werewolves as they would appear in The Memory Chronicles. As I said, they don't make an appearance so far, and I'm currently working on book 3 of the series. Still, I kind of like this write-up, so I may have a minor character or two show up as werewolves.

No comments:

Post a Comment