Metanarrational Monsters, Part Three – Wolfman: Fear of the Unrestraineable Nature of Oneself

(Part 3 of 8)

Archetype Two: Wolfman  –

Fear of the Unrestraineable Nature of Oneself

David: I’m a werewolf.

Alex: Are you all right?

David: I don’t know, I’ll let you know the next full moon.

                           -An American Werewolf in London [1981].

         The werewolf mythology first lit up the screen under the creative banner of prolific writer/director Curt Siodmak in his smash hit The Wolf Man[1], [2] [1941].[3] Siodmak took the myth and embellished it with the classic idea of silver being the bane of the hirsute protagonist[4] and created one of Hollywood’s most terrifying creatures.

Werewolf mythology likely shares a dual root system in terms of its own genesis.  The mythical term for being a werewolf is called Lycanthropy and owes it etiology to the Greek writer Ovid.  In his book Metamorphoses,[5] Ovid tells the story of King Lycaeon. In his story, the king is visited by traveling gods. The king, however, is not impressed at all by his travelers and he suspects that they may not actually be gods at all but only mere mortals. He conducts a test to satiate his curiosity by serving the visitors human flesh during a feast, never telling them what they are eating. His reasoning is that only true gods could immediately tell that they are being served a human. In Ovid’s story, the visitors immediately realize the nature of Lycaeon’s culinary offerings and demonstrate their power as gods by cursing him with a wolf’s form: a not-so-subtle hint that he may now go about more freely, doing what he seemed to enjoy trying to get his guests to do themselves; feasting upon human flesh.[6] Later, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – the ‘Brothers Grimm’ – who were German academics and cultural history researchers,[7] included in their famous collection, Grimm Fairy Tales, the story Rotkäppchen, or “little red cap.” The story’s title evolved into Little Red Riding Hood. The story of the two brothers and even Little Red Riding Hood continues to occupy their own rightful place within cinematic tradition, being subjects of movies of somewhat recent vintage. The Brothers Grim[8], [9] [2005], directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as the famous brothers, employs a bit of creative license by portraying the brothers as essentially being fly-by-night conmen who cunningly offer well-staged ghost exorcisms to bewildered and superstitious villagers who inadvertently happen upon a situation where the reality of magic is no deception, nor anything to be trifled with. The adventures that ensue form the basis for the stories that they then write so convincingly of and a retelling of the fairytale with Red Riding Hood [2011].[10],[11]

A second source is decidedly well known and both understood and documentable today but in years past was attributed to feared curses. The disease of Hypertrichosis involves the excess growth of body hair prematurely and/or in atypical locations.[12] Victims of hypertrichosis were legendary members of iconic ‘Freak Shows’ that traveled around and showcased bizarre and distressing human conditions. Julia Pastrana, the so-called “Bearded Lady”[13] or Adrian Jefticheiev, the world famous Jo-Jo the Dog-faced Boy[14] are classic examples of individuals who suffered from it and found their own peculiar places in the public spotlight secondary to it. Whatever the source of their mythological portent, the werewolf’s monster meta-narratives remain loose in the woods of the modern cinematic imagination.

Not always to be exclusively feared, in Meeting The Shadow – The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams quote a British Jungian analyst who argues that this ‘dark side’ can be appropriately appreciated, even celebrated.[15] In Jungian psychology, each of us have a shadow self that represents our subconscious desires. In many ways, this could be thought of as the ‘wild wolf-person’ in each of us, ready to come out at a moment’s notice. While the traditional werewolf is evoked by a full moon, Jungian psychology believes that other things can provide it a mediatory nature, perhaps, if properly controlled, allowing it a degree of beneficent existential power on the part of the individual who is wise and capable enough to use their ‘dark side’ for their own benefit.[16]

Existential ruminations aside, most people fear that part of themselves, which they cannot readily control. This forms the core of the fear of the Wolf Man archetype. The fear of potentially hidden, personal natures residing with us and those around us, waiting to spring out unexpectedly, is indeed the ways and means to many deep-seated insecurities, those both personal and inter-relational. How and what could change us is itself a topic that engenders a great deal of discussion. Much talk is made of the classic story of Phineas Gage whose personality was changed after a railroad tamping spike was driven through his head while he worked on a railroad construction crew.[17] While we may not fear railroad spikes, we might fear brain tumors altering our personality, or the slowly encroaching mental debilitations of geriatric senility. Anyone who has worked in a nursing home knows that old age does not always produce gentle grandmothers and soft-spoken, white-haired gentleman. An experienced geriatric nurse knows to always be wary of savagely swung canes.[18] Age may prove to bring out with stunning veracity the savage, violent wolf in all of us.

But it may be another ‘s-word’ that brings out the wolf in us all (not “senility”) but rather sex. The neo-feminist writer Camille Paglia, in her book Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, asserts – contra standard feminism – that there is a huge difference between the sexes, one that is much more than just cultural coding and biological plumbing. Paglia argues that the “Feminine Essence” stands in stark contrast with that of the Masculine, and that it is itself a source of a kind of ‘deep, artistic, literary, and cultural mythology’ that represents a danger, impulsiveness, risk, and earthiness – or as she describes it: the Cthulian; which forms a kind of dialectic in contrast with its presumed opposite, a masculine myth-ethos: the Apollonarian-archetype. Paglia follows after Freud who argued that the unpredictability of the impulsivity of human nature could be unmoored from its ‘Apollonarian’, steadfast, logically-mediated anchors by the wild and unpredictable Cthulian nature embodied by the Feminine Essence.[19] Could we see the werewolf monster meta-narrative as a sort of sexual intercontextual sublimation? Does it represents the conflict between the Paglian dichotomatic modalities of the Apollinarian vs. Cthulian and how the security and predictability of the ‘high and strong’ is subsequently irrevocably transfigured by the ‘low and weak’ earthiness of the Cthulian? Or could this transfiguration-reconfiguration (taking place either on such a high meta-level, or at such a deep, subconscious, foundational level) be such as that its own effects are as equally hidden to the degree that the pre-existent, innately repressed sexuality was predisposed to hide itself to begin with: does this monster play out on the grander stage of our lives, or is it a conflict that only rules the nightmare dreamscapes that we gracefully almost always never remember the moment we awake? Even those who fancy themselves to have a habit of disciplined sexuality for a lifestyle, would deeply fear the wolf that would bring out their own sexuality against their will. This destabilization metanarrative prefigures any sense of assured and fully confident sense of infallibility and has been a very distinct source for persecution of women – often to the point of building campaigns of witch hunts or the creation of comprehensive repressive cultural practices designed for the express purpose of repressing women sexually.[20] Such a fear is not based on the idea that the woman is expressly some kind of curse, rather that she is potentially capable of bringing out in the man that which he may feel that he is unable to control.

Most werewolf movies feature an individual unsuspectingly stuck with his lycopean curse. In Stephen King’s Silver Bullet,[21], [22] (1985) it is the pastor of a small church. In John Landis’ classic horror-comedy interpretation, An American Werewolf in London[23], [24]it is an American hitchhiker. However, as Landis proves with his successful horror-comedy smashup, monster metanarrative archetypes are always open to reinterpretation by the storywriter. When Stephanie Meyer wrote her best-selling Twilight series, she wrote of werewolves as a native American tribe who use their powers for protecting others and sets them up as defenders against the bad vampires that make up the core of her own stories narrative. Jacob Black, a werewolf, actually makes a play for the love of Bella against Edward Cullen, the good vampire character. These two “good monsters” vying for the same good, normal girl sets up a power dichotomy in the cultural imagination, one that sucked many a young girl into Meyer’s books. All over the roads, bumper stickers appeared supporting either “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” while websites offered quizzes to determine which Twilight “team” you belong.[25]


[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034398/ (Internet Movie Database entry for The Wolfman [1941].

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTNQEd8D4pg movie trailer for The Wolfman [1941].

[3] Monster Madness, pg. 22.

[4] Monster Madness, pg. 22.

[8] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3QkwDld1d4 movie trailer for The Brothers Grimm [2005].

[9] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0355295/ Internet Movie Database entry for The Brothers Grimm [2005].

[10] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekKMYAOmTj0 Red Riding Hood [2011] official trailer.

[11] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1486185/ Red Riding Hood IMDb movie entry.

[15] “British Jungian analyst Liz Green points to the paradoxical nature of the shadow as both the container of darkness and the beacon pointing towards the light: ‘It is the suffering, crippled side of the personality which is both the dark shadow that won’t change and also the redeemer that transforms one’s life and alters one’s values. The redeemer can get the hidden treasure or win the princess or slay the dragon because he’s marked in some way – he’s abnormal. The shadow is both the awful thing that needs redemption, and the suffering redeemer who can provide it.’” Meeting The Shadow – The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, pg. xxv.

[16] “The aim of meeting the shadow is to develop an ongoing relationship with it, to expand our sense of self by balancing the one-sidedness of our conscious attitudes with our unconscious depths. Novelist Tom Robbins says, ‘The purpose in encountering the shadow is to be in the right place in the right way.’ When we are in proper relationship with it, the unconscious is not a demonical monster, as Jung points out.  ‘It only becomes wrong when out conscious attention to it is hopelessly wrong.” Meeting The Shadow – The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, pg. xxiv.

[18] Nursing assistants working in long-term care facilities have the highest incidence of workplace violence of any American worker, with 27% of all workplace violence occurring in the nursing home (NH).1,2 Aggressive and violent behavior, which is often seen in the NH, includes repetitive demands, verbal outbursts, sexual advances, and physically aggressive acts2,3-6 (Table I). Over time, such behavior creates a stressful environment for other residents and staff. Nursing home studies show that repetitive patterns of aggressive disruptive behavior occur regularly in 43-85% of NHs surveyed.3,7,8 This prevalence is likely an underestimate due to many episodes of aggression not being reported (ie, an estimated 55-80% of violent episodes).2

Staff surveillance studies show that 70% of NH staff are assaulted at least one time per month.5 Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are physically assaulted on average nine times a month.5,8,9 Approximately half of all NH staff have been injured by these attacks at least once during their careers, with 38% of those who are injured requiring medical treatment for the injury.2,5,8

Research has indicated that 75% of assaults against NH staff occur during periods of close staff–resident contact, such as during resident transfers/turning (26-33%), or when assisting with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dressing changes (43%), toileting (9%), feeding (12%), and bathing (19%).3,5,10 Assaults reported during these times include grabbing/pinching/hair pulling (38-40%), scratching/biting (4-28%), hitting/punching (12-51%), pushing/shoving (8-8.2%), hitting with object/throwing objects at staff (3-9%), kicking (2-27%), and spitting (1-11%).2,3,5 Typical verbal aggression includes verbal insults (18.1%), verbal threats (10.7%), and sexual advances (0.7%).3 In a study by Gates et al,10 5% of aggressive behavior (including verbal and physical assaults) resulted in injury to the staff. (From http://www.annalsoflongtermcare.com/content/nursing-home-violence-occurrence-risks-and-interventions).

[19] In her book Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Camille Paglia agues that the masculine-essence archetype represents an “Apollinarian” – or orderly, structured and predictable meta-narrative that stands in distinct contrast to that of the Feminine Essence, or Cthulian archetype. Paglia argues that the Cthulian represents the opposite of the masculine-Apollinarian, in that it represents unpredictability, danger, disorder, and earthiness. (http://www.amazon.com/Sexual-Personae-Decadence-Nefertiti-Dickinson/dp/0679735798)

[20] “The heavy sexual content of witchcraft prosecution in the sixteenth century parallels the well-documented rise in laws restraining sexual conduct. Among the legal charges on which a person could be brought up, sex-connected crimes – that is, adultery, bearing illegitimate children, abortion, infanticide, and incest – figured large, increasingly so as the two Reformations progressed. Women were more often and more severely punished then men for these crimes. The only sexual crime for which men were punished more then women were was sodomy, sometimes combined with the charges of witchcraft as well. Witchcraft, too, was often sex-related, and charges for all these crimes rose and fell together; the seventeenth century saw a peak of prosecution for abortion, infanticide, and witchcraft.” Witchcraze – A New History of the European Witch Hunts, pg. 133.

[21] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090021/ IMDb entry for Silver Bullet (1985).

[22] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hSkvsPs13I Movie Trailer for Silver Bullet (1985).

[23] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESh4t57L4Xs&NR=1 Trailer for An American Werewolf in London (1981).

[24] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082010/ IMDb entry for An American Werewolf in London (1981).

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About hollerscholar

I'm a theology & philosophy student, writer, web developer, and medical laboratory professional.
This entry was posted in Cinema Studies, Cultural Mythology, Dystopicism & Fear, Existentialism, Horror (Classic), Philosophy Studies, Propaganda Studies, Wolfman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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