We were in Philadelphia, at a science fiction convention, and found ourselves passing the time before dinner discussing, among other things, the physical limitations of lycanthropy. We pondered how one deals with clothing during the change, and where the excess mass goes during the transformation, and other questions which put the "science" back into science fiction.
After a while, and quite possibly a few drinks, we started talking about how truly sick and tired we were of werewolves. Nothing against them as a breed, but what about werebears, or werefish, or other werecreatures? Didn't they deserve equal time?
That got us thinking....
The idea of humans changing shape into various other animals predates the Saxon invasion of England, although mostly it has been the wolf. Greek and Roman mythologies, for example, are rife with examples of such werecreatures, including the most famous of them all, the king who challenged Apollo and was changed into a rude beast for that sin of pride. That king was Lycan, and his name became the basis for the "disease" of shape-shifting: lycanthropy.
While never as popular as the vampire, werewolves were an explanation for the things that went bump in the darkness beyond our fires, and so were fair game for storytellers huddled around said campfires. And when our societies evolved into something more sophisticated, those stories came with us.
Obviously, the werewolf strikes something primordial in all of us, based on its continued popularity in books, movies, and even psychology. But why? Let's ignore for a moment the popular icon, the intriguing aspects of fur and claws, and examine the wer rather than the wulf. Could there be more to it than our fear of what might be growling just out of the campfire's glow?
Looking back at many of the original stories, we find that the emphasis often was not on the fact that the character turned into a werewolf, but on the transformation itself. In point of fact, the continuing idea that seemed to cross cultural boundaries was the loss of the human Self, both in form and intellect. That it was a wolf often seemed secondary, thrown in only to titillate the reader by the flash of claws and fur.
There's more lurking within the human psyche than brute violence, however. Things which might be more frightening, more exhilarating, more revealing--more dangerous to our comfortable notions of who, and what, we are.
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