Art by Gustave Doré
It's October! And like so many other blogs this month, I'm celebrating the Countdown to Halloween.
If you're not familiar with Countdown to Halloween, it's a marathon in which bloggers celebrate the spookiness of the holiday for the whole month of October. Literally anyone with a blog can join; just click the link above for details.
This is my fifth year participating. In 2009, I highlighted my 31 favorite monsters (Scary Clowns continues to be one of my most popular posts to this day, for some reason). In 2010, I talked about my 31 favorite things about the holiday itself. Then, in 2011, I drilled down into my all-time favorite monster for 31 Days of Frankenstein. As soon as I did that, I knew I had the next two years mapped out, so last year, I spent 31 Days with Dracula and this year I'm completing the unholy trinity.
The thing about the trinity though is that it's based on the most popular Universal monsters: Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man. Since Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula are based on public domain characters, it's easy to spend a month exploring different versions of them, but that's not true with Lon Chaney Jr.'s Larry the Wolf Man. So starting this year, I've got to go more general and look at werewolves as a whole. The exciting thing about that for me is that it opens up all sorts of possibilities for future Countdowns: 31 Ghosts, 31 Witches, etc.
Unlike 31 Days of Frankenstein and Dracula (where I wanted to provide as complete an historical overview as I could of those characters), for 31 Werewolves I'm limiting myself to just 31 specific versions. These aren't the 31 most important or even my 31 favorites, though many important and favorite ones will appear. For some of them, I let their prominence in pop culture override historical importance and my own taste. I also wanted to hit a variety of media, so I left out some great movie werewolves in order to fit in some literary, comics, and even musical versions. Feel free to yell at me if I leave out something I shouldn't have. I'm gonna hit them in chronological order, so you'll know when I've moved past something I should've mentioned. If I get enough complaints about a particular thing, I may circle back and add it as an extra.
To kick things off, I had to start with "Little Red Riding Hood." It's not the oldest werewolf story (those appear in ancient Greece), but it's the most popular, longest-enduring one. The well-known version that appears in children's books features a talking wolf instead of an actual werewolf, but the earliest versions often had a werewolf or an ogre as their villains and it's likely that the werewolf eventually became an anthropomorphic animal.
The story is all about the danger of the Wild and that's essentially what werewolves are about too, so it's a natural fit. I imagine I'll have more to say about wildness and control as the month progresses, so I don't want to shoot that arrow too soon, but it's what fascinates me most about these creatures.
I've included a werewolf version of the story from France below. If you want to read other versions though, including those by Charles Perrault (the first to write down and publish the story) and the Grimm Bros., D. L. Ashliman's folktexts has you hooked up.
There was a woman who had made some bread. She said to her daughter, "Go and carry a hot loaf and a bottle of milk to your grandmother."
So the little girl set forth. Where two paths crossed she met the bzou [werewolf], who said to her, "Where are you going?"
"I am carrying a hot loaf and a bottle of milk to my grandmother."
"Which path are you taking?" said the bzou. "The one of needles or the one of pins?"
"The one of needles," said the little girl.
"Good! I am taking the one of pins."
The little girl entertained herself by gathering needles.
The bzou arrived at the grandmother's house and killed her. He put some of her flesh in the pantry and a bottle of her blood on the shelf.
The little girl arrived and knocked at the door. "Push on the door," said the bzou. "It is blocked with a pail of water."
"Good day, grandmother. I have brought you a hot loaf and a bottle of milk."
"Put it in the pantry, my child. Take some of the meat that is there, and the bottle of wine that is on the shelf."
While she was eating, a little cat that was there said, "For shame! The slut is eating her grandmother's flesh and drinking her grandmother's blood."
"Get undressed, my child," said the bzou, "and come to bed with me."
"Where should I put my apron?"
"Throw it into the fire. You won't need it anymore."
And for all her clothes - her bodice, her dress, her petticoat, and her shoes and stockings - she asked where she should put them, and the wolf replied, "Throw them into the fire, my child. You won't need them anymore."
When she had gone to bed the little girl said, "Oh, grandmother, how hairy you are!"
"The better to keep myself warm, my child."
"Oh, grandmother, what long nails you have!"
"The better to scratch myself with, my child!"
"Oh, grandmother, what big shoulders you have!"
"The better to carry firewood with, my child!"
"Oh, grandmother, what big ears you have!"
"The better to hear with, my child!"
"Oh, grandmother, what a big nose you have!"
"To better take my tobacco with, my child!"
"Oh, grandmother, what a big mouth you have!"
"The better to eat you with, my child!"
"Oh, grandmother, I have to do it outside!"
"Do it in the bed, my child!"
"Oh no, grandmother, I really have to do it outside."
"All right, but don't take too long."
The bzou tied a woolen thread to her foot and let her go. As soon as the little girl was outside she tied the end of the thread to a plum tree in the yard.
The bzou grew impatient and said, "Are you doing a load? Are you doing a load?"
Not hearing anyone reply, he jumped out of bed and hurried after the little girl, who had escaped. He followed her, but he arrived at her home just as she went inside.