Supernatural Elements in English Literature: the Werewolves

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  • Topic: Werewolf, Gray Wolf, Shapeshifting
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Supernatural Elements in English Literature: The Werewolves
A werewolf, also known as a lycanthrope, is a mythological or folkloric human with the ability to transform into a wolf or an anthropomorphic wolf-like creature, either purposely or after being placed under a curse and/or lycanthropic affliction through a bite or scratch from a werewolf, or some other means. This transformation is often associated with the appearance of the full moon, as popularly noted by the medieval chronicler Gervase of Tilbury, and perhaps in earlier times among the ancient Greeks through the writings of Petronius. In addition to the natural characteristics inherent to both wolves and humans, werewolves are often attributed strength and speed far beyond those of wolves or men. The werewolf is generally held as a European character, although its knowledge spread through the world in later times. Shape-shifters, similar to werewolves, are common in tales from all over the world, most notably amongst the Native Americans, though most of them involve animal forms other than wolves. Werewolves are a frequent subject of modern fiction, although fictional werewolves have been attributed traits distinct from those of original folklore. For example, the ideas that werewolves are only vulnerable to silver bullets or pierced by silver weapons, or that they can cause others to become werewolves by biting or wounding them derive from works of modern fiction. Werewolves continue to endure in modern culture and fiction, with books, films and television shows cementing the werewolf's stance as a dominant figure in horror. The werewolf of the last 60 years is largely the product of Hollywood. The first big werewolf film was The Werewolf of London (1935) followed by The Wolfman (1941), Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) and The House of Frankenstein (1944). THE CHILDREN OF LYCAON

The Greeks and Romans included the werewolf in their mythology, in the story of Lycaon, the Tyrant of Arcadia.   Lycaon served Zeus (pronounced as ‘zeoos’) human flesh at a banquet.   In return the god transformed the evil man into a wolf, reflecting the shape of his soul.   The very first transformation scene in werewolf literature was penned by the Roman poet, Ovid.   Written in the 1st Century AD, the scene shows even the ancient writers knew what readers wanted to see: ...There he uttered howling noises, and his attempts to speak were all in vain.   His clothes changed into bristling hairs, his arms to legs, and he became a wolf.   His own savage nature showed in his rabid jaws, and he now directed against the flocks his innate lust for killing.   He had a mania, even yet, for shedding blood.   But though he was a wolf, he retained some traces of his original shape.   The greyness of his hair was the same, his face showed the same violence, his eyes gleamed as before, and he presented the same picture of ferocity.  From Lycaon's name we get the word "Lycanthropy" or the state of being a werewolf. From mythology, the werewolf entered legend.   In the works of Herodotus and Petronius, the werewolf goes from being a mortal cursed by a god to a shape-shifting witch or warlock with evil intentions.   In Petronius' The Satyricon is a segment sometimes called "Niceros' Story. Stories like "Niceros' Story" were common well up to the feudal times.   The werewolf was a man, transformed into the animal with all its vulnerabilities. Geraldis Cambrensis tells about two Irish folk cursed by an abbot, to be wolves for their ungodliness.   After seven years penance as wolves, they were to change back into humans and return home.   The Rawlinson Manuscript tells about "King Arthur and Gorgalon".   Gorgalon is another poor individual cursed to be a wolf.   These medieval werewolves did not kill men or livestock, and could even speak the Name of God to prove their goodness.   They are victims of priests, witches and often their own sin. THE LITERARY WEREWOLF

The Renaissance ushered in a new...
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