Monday Monster Profile: Werewolves

Werewolves were the winners of last week’s poll so they have the dubious distinction of being the focus of the first Monday Monster Profile:

What are Werewolves?

Werewolves fall into the larger category of ‘shapeshifters’. Specifically, werewolves are humans who are capable of turning into either completely into wolves or into wolfmen (half wolf/half human hybrids). Some werewolves can change shape at will, others can only change during the full moon. It is generally understood that even a werewolf that can change at will must change under the influence of a full moon.

How do I know if I’m looking at one?

When they’re in human form you probably won’t. Unless it is fast approaching full moon, when werewolves in human form have been known to act grouchy, jumpy, depressed or just hyper. In their alternative forms, werewolves will either look like an ordinary wolf (often retaining a ‘human’ look to their eyes), or a very large wolf, or a large, hairy person with wolf-like features (hands, feet, elongated muzzle, pointy ears etc). You should try very hard to be elsewhere at this point.

How does a person become a werewolf?

It seems in some cases it is hereditary, a rare form of lycanthropy where instead of the person just believing they can turn into a wolf they actually do.  Hereditary or ‘born’ werewolves are rare though – most often people become werewolves as a result of being bitten by other werewolves.

Current theories suggest that there is something in werewolf saliva that ‘infects’ the person bitten, and the ‘virus’ begins a period of incubation in the host. During the incubation period, the host commonly suffers from a high fever, increased hunger (often a craving for rare meat) and discovers heightened senses of smell and hearing. After the first full ‘change’ (either at the next full moon or at the end of the incubation period for change-at-will shapeshifters) the person is now a werewolf.

Is there a cure?

No. Most werewolves simply adapt to their condition, locking themselves away during the full moon, or only opting to change when it is safe to do so, and refraining from biting in social situations. Death is also a cure of sorts to those who no longer feel able to live with their condition.

What should I do if a werewolf is after me?

It is important to remember that a werewolf is also a human being and has very little say in their condition. Some werewolves retain no memory of their ‘wolf’ times and may be quite surprised when confronted with evidence of their condition. If at all possible a werewolf should be trapped and held at a secure location until they revert to human form and can be reasoned with. Usually hereditary or change-at-will werewolves are adept at managing their condition and pose few problems – it’s usually the recently bitten, who may have no idea what’s happening to them, that cause all the havoc.

In some cases a werewolf goes ‘bad’ and chooses to give in to their worst impulses while in wolf form (it is unfair to say they choose to act like wolves, for even wolves don’t chase and kill humans for the fun of it). In this situation you will probably need to kill it.

How am I supposed to do that?

Usually ‘silver’ in some form is recommended for the destruction of werewolves – and since you don’t want to get too up close and personal, silver bullets tend to be the weapon of choice.  You can stab them with a silver knife, or slice them up with a silver sword but these methods are not recommended for amateurs (for one thing – how expensive do you think a silver sword is?). You can also get good results with fire and decapitation – there aren’t too many things that you can’t kill in this way.

Lastly, if at all possible try not to just run away. Firstly, it won’t work. They’re much, much faster than you (they have more legs – even a wolfman can choose to run on all fours). Secondly, even otherwise respectable werewolves have reported that the urge to chase something that’s running away is just overwhelming.

What do I do if I get bitten in the process?

Clean and dress the wound. Stock up on rare steaks and invest in some chains and handcuffs. Sorry.

I want more information!

Sabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Werewolves (1865) is a seminal work on the subject. But if Victorian folklore isn’t your thing you could opt for one of the more modern ‘documentaries’. There are hundreds, but I’d recommend:

The Wolfman (1941)

The Howling (1981)

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Teen Wolf (1985)

Wolf (1994)

Ginger Snaps (2000)

Dog Soldiers (2002)

Underworld (2003)

The Wolfman (2010)

Please recommend any other tips or sources for our database!

And don’t forget to vote for your favourite werewolf movie in our poll! (if yours isn’t there, send us a comment and tell us about it!)


14 Responses to “Monday Monster Profile: Werewolves”

  1. There is airing currently a very good series about a werewolf attempting to live a normal life (and a ghost and a vampire) called Being Human. Now in its second season. I highly recommend it.

    Other cultures have equivalents of “weres” such as the celtic selkie that wears the skin of a seal:

    They’re another “hidden enemy” horror before “insidious alien invasions” were invented.

    Roleplayiing games expand the types of were varieties to all forms of predator, and even some non-predator animals.

    The name werewolf comes from the Anglosaxon for “man” and means man-wolf.

    Shifters in the True Blood TV series (and the Sookie Stackhouse books series it is based on by Charlaine Harris) generally can change into any animal although they have a preferred animal that usually reflects their personality. The werewolves are a variant of shifter that only have one shape, but are more powerful, aggressive and pack-oriented than other shifters.

  2. Also – Wolf’s Bane will ward off werewolves in some legends – and I think possibly stuffing their mouths with it (or was it roses?) will kill them.

  3. Can women be werewolves?

    • In modern literature and media, certainly.
      Historically they never were – always victims, never perpetrators (that I know of).

    • Absolutely in modern accounts – though the term means ‘man wolf’ in Anglo Saxon I believe this to be referring to ‘man’ as ‘human’ not as a gender. There are certainly stories of female werewolves since the 1800s but I would need to did a bit deeper into the folklore to look for a case before then – will see what I can dig up….

  4. Uncle Screwtape Says:

    Some legends I believe say that Werewolves can’t cross running water, I think this was shown in Dog Soldiers.

    • I thought that was vampires?

      • The running water thing shows up quite a bit for all sorts of ‘monsters’. I suspect it it one of those ’symbolic’ barriers against evil, just like silver which also crops up in all sorts of legends.

      • interestingly that one seems to have fallen out of common usage – it seems modern monsters are overcoming some of their cultural superstitions!

  5. I’d recommend the book “Bareback” for a different take on werewolves. The premise is that the people who *don’t* shift are the minority, but a necessary one – they work as “dogcatchers” on moon nights and try to prevent fallout from activities during the change leaking into weres’ lives.

    • That looks interesting – I’ll keep an eye out for it. I also like Kelly Armstrong’s werewolf books, Bitten, Stolen, and so on. Great for a look at a female werewold trying to cope in the modern world (she has two small children, a crazy husband- who is the one who bit her in the first place – and works as a journalist!)

  6. Oo forgot to mention – though I’m not sure how Pratchettisms count as actual folklore they’ve certainly infiltrated AAFspeak – what about the “yennorks” from the Fifth Elephant. They’re werewolves who are born stuck in one form or another (wolf or human). I knew the protagonist from Bareback reminded me of something.

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