Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Manly Banister's Werewolves [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

At the age of 13, Manly Banister (March 9, 1914 - June 1986) like many Science Fiction writers began in the fanzines. In the 1950s he wrote for Science Fiction standards like Astounding and Thrilling Wonder, but a decade earlier his output was exclusively for Weird Tales. Manly wrote seven stories for WT from September 1942 to May 1954. Of these seven tales one theme dominates: werewolves.

Pulp werewolves are a strange lot. Unlike in earlier fiction, the werewolf was no longer bracketed with solid rules. Pulp writers wanted to explore their boundaries. So, a traditional lycanthrope might appear in Manly Wade Wellman's "The Werewolf Snarls," but the same rules might not apply in a Seabury Quinn story like "The Blood Flower." The movie The Wolf Man in 1941 might have curtailed this experimenting, but writers like Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, and GG Pendaves put the shape-changers to their own purposes.

"Satan's Bondage" (September 1942) is an unusual debut for Weird Tales. The story got the cover but instead of the title and author by-line it bore the words "New - Utterly Different - A Werewolf Western." This is a bit of a misnomer if you are expecting a High Noon-ish tale. The story is set in cattle country, but in the present. (Perhaps more surprising, Banister has a scene with a very naked werewolf girl, but she does not appear on the cover, though this was after Margaret Brundage's day.)

Kenneth Mulvaney comes to the town of Wereville because he finds his mother's diary. He discovers a community under siege, for the ranchers outside the valley war with the town. Mulvaney also meets Joan Jordan, attractive but possessing the same weird quality as the other inhabitants of Wereville: strangely flat colored eyes. Mulvaney goes to his family's old home and soon learns the secret. It is the full moon and Joan comes to him naked. Taking him to a pond close by she shows him how to transform himself into a wolf. In wolf form, Kenneth attempts to defeat Bock Martin, the black wolf who rules the valley. He learns that Martin is no man-become-a-wolf but a demon from Hell, who holds all the inhabitants in bondage because of an ancient deal between the demon and their witch ancestors. Martin has summoned Mulvaney back to Wereville to lead the wolf people to greater evil.

Mulvaney wishes to find some way to save the souls of his kin, but is powerless. He takes the werewolves out into the nearby cattle herds to feast. Unfortunately for the lycanthropes, Sam Carver and the other ranchers have taken up with a French Canadian priest who has armed them with holy water and silver bullets. The ranchers block the wolves from the creek where they must transform before daylight. Mulvaney sees his chance and leads the werewolves to their doom.

In his debut, Banister is offering up some pretty familiar werewolfery. The man who returns to the old homestead was a good, mysterious start but the name Wereville is much too obvious. A town full of lycanthropes is not new. Algernon Blackwood had a town full of were-cats in the John Silence tale, "Ancient Sorceries" (1908). H Warner Munn had written his tales of a clan of werewolves lead by a dark demoniac figure in "The Werewolf of Ponkert" (Weird Tales, July 1925) and this must have been familiar to long-time readers of WT. But Banister's biggest problem is that the story is structurally weak. He brings Mulvaney to Wereville, sets him up as leader quickly, has him go on his first adventure, then kills him off almost as the story feels like it is beginning.

On the plus side, Banister combines much of the folklore of vampires with the werewolves. They cast no shadows in the light of the full moon; in a silver mirror, the wolves appear as their human selves; and last, they can not endure sunlight in their enchanted forms. To a stickler on previous werewolf lore these might seem like transgressions, but they actually make the story more interesting because they are novel and less predictable. Banister also has the werewolves transform using water which is different and a key element of the story.

"Devil Dog" (July 1945) is very much a tale of its time, which was the end of WWII. Set in the Pacific theater, it follows soldiers who use dogs to sniff out Japanese traps and machine gun nests. But something is killing the dogs, ripping their throats out. Lieutenant Barkis is in charge of the dog squad and goes to investigate one of the dead animals. He is attacked by a large, black, wolf-like beast and receives a bite in the arm. He knows he shot the creature point-blank four or five times but there is no blood at the scene. Later, while recuperating from his wound he finds that the dogs whimper and cringe in his presence. He receives the army chaplain, Father Murphy, with a sudden, new hatred.

Meanwhile Sargent Stranger approaches the priest and they make preparations to deal with the werewolves. Barkis goes to a pool at night and transforms. The original werewolf, probably a shipwrecked sailor long ago, comes and Barkis and he have a duel to the death, with Barkis winning. The Sargent and the priest lie in wait and put holy water in the pool. This traps Barkis in wolf form as the sun rises. Stranger kills his officer with a silver bullet and the two men cook up a tale of a Japanese patrol to explain the two corpses.

Like "Satan's Bondage," Banister has his werewolf requiring a pool of water to transform and again the light of morning is lethal to the creature. Better written that the previous story, "Devil Dog" has as its central conflict the same idea, that of werewolves being trapped away from water. This time Banister sets it up better and plays it for all the emotional value it deserves. As with "Wereville," calling his main character "Barkis" is an unfortunate giveaway. Banister's tale may have influenced later war-werewolf tales such as "Best of Luck" (1978) by David Drake or The Wolf's Hour (1989) by Robert R McCammon. Like Drake (who served in Vietnam), Banister saw real warfare in Guam during WWII. He wrote this story shortly after his return. I had hoped that Barkis would become a good werewolf (as Michael Gallatin does in McCammon's novel) and use his powers to fight the Japanese, but in Banister's world lycanthropes are always intensely evil.

"Loup-Garou" (May 1947) changes tone entirely. A men's club has a visitor who regales them with an ancient tale of a French governor who is faced with the problem of the loup-garou. Hubert du Montreuill is a man of power and his passion turns to a beautiful woman named Clarisse, whom he finds naked in the road. She spurns his advances until Hubert discovers her secret. She is the lycanthrope that is savaging the countryside. He arranges with the commissioner of police to ambush her then falters and tells her that he saw her change form in the fountain. She bites his lip when they kiss, infecting him with lycanthropy. Now they can be lovers for all eternity. They transform then set off into the night. Hubert has forgotten his ambush and Clarisse is shot with silver bullets. He will have to endure eternal life alone. The stranger leaves and the club members think his tale is a fiction, but the narrator sees a wolf leave the building.

This tale is perhaps Banister's least interesting and is certainly his most predictable. The club frame is traditional and the tale of old France is pretty standard stuff. Unlike the jungle, which he knew from his service in the Pacific, there is nothing about this setting that makes it special. Hubert is unlikeable and Clarisse only become fascinating moments before her death, as we see her loneliness within her curse. Like the previous two stories, Clarisse has to use the water to transform, but no one traps her away from it this time.

"Eena" (September 1947, only five years after "Satan's Bondage") is without doubt Banister's most famous tale, often anthologized. The story portrays a werewolf sympathetically which was not usual in the Pulps. It is also filled with other unconventional ideas. Eena begins life as white wolf (Banister's female werewolves are always white). She is a foundling pup raised by Joel Cameron, who comes to the woods in the summer to write and hunt for bounty money. Eena escapes into the woods when he leaves to go back to the city. She becomes the scourge of the area, leading the wolf pack with an almost human cunning. Cameron is cursed out for allowing her to live.

When he returns the next summer, he feels obliged to spend his time trying to hunt down the she-wolf, which he fails to do. But Eena returns to him, for she remembers him kindly, coming back in the form of a beautiful, naked woman (like Joan and Clarissa before her), and becomes a woman by the power of desire and moonlight. While Cameron hunts the she-wolf, he is also falling in love with the wild woman of the woods. The tale ends when a thousand dollar bounty brings hunters to the area. Hunters dog her every step and she only wants the man who has finally taken her in. Wounded, she flees across Wolf Lake back to Cameron's cabin. Joel, not quite understanding, takes up his gun and kills the white wolf. She transforms into her human self just as night falls and Joel is devastated to see the truth.

"Eena" does several things the three earlier tales did not. Banister reverses the wolf-human relationship, making it a tale of a wolf that becomes a woman. Bruce Elliott would use this idea seven years later in "Wolves Don't Cry" (Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1954). Banister also eschews the folklore of lycanthropy, the need for water to transform, the silver bullets, etc. Instead he focuses on the powerful emotions of the two lovers: Eena wanting the man she was raised by, and Cameron falling for the beauty from the woods. He makes Eena's transformation by moonlight into a woman feel orgasmic while her return to wolfishness is painful. Like Peter Beagle's "Lila the Werewolf" (New Worlds of Fantasy #3, July 1971) twenty-four years later, Banister shows the emotional power of the human-wolf conflict. It most likely took Banister's writing of "Loup-Garou" to show him the way to "Eena", for we have a small, tantalizing glimpse of the werewolf experience just before the death of Clarisse. The two stories were only three months apart and it is not hard to imagine Banister jumping from one tale to the other with a flash of inspiration.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

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