Monday, April 2, 2012

What is it about werewolves?

Just what is it about werewolves?  What makes them so compelling? Why do I scan through book titles and descriptions, and find myself with a growing pile of books about Alphas and mates and pack relations? What makes them sexy instead of scary?

It is all in the writing, or course.  An author with a mind to create truly scary werewolves could do so with great success. A man who turns into a ravening beast, controlled by his base instincts?  This could be terrifying.

Or damn sexy.

The werewolf's history is as long reaching as that of the vampire.  Herodotus wrote of an ancient Greek tribe that transformed into wolves once a year for several days before returning to their human forms.  Ovid and Virgil tackled lycanthropy in their writing, as well.  The ability to change into animal form has been attributed to sorcerers, as well as saints.  Some scholars had even considered lycanthropy to be a form of devine punishment.

Werewolves and shape shifters cross cultural and international borders. You can read of the skin walkers in Native American legends. In Haiti Je-Rouge is a werewolf spirit that can possess the unaware and cause them to nightly transform into a cannibalistic lupine creature. While in Mexico the nahual does not kill, but instead steals cheese and rapes women.  Legends of such creature can be found in nearly all European countries, from Italy and France to Hungary and Russia.

Hollywood has long been fascinated with werewolves and shifters. You can look back to Lon Chaney Jr. to see the terror of a beast stalking the night.  An American Werewolf in London took a horror-comedy turn with the old trope. Werewolves have been portrayed as the villain (The Howling), the sympathetic victim (the Harry Potter series), and the oppressed (the Underworld series).  Legends of lupine shifters have been used to muddy the waters in such movies as The Brotherhood of the Wolf. (If you have not seen this movie I highly recommend you get it ASAP.)

Authors have taken an equally diverse approach to the theme. J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Patricia Briggs, just to name a few.  In Romance, however, the werewolf and their shape shifting bretheren are more often than not the heroes.  Not always, of course.  Just as there are good and bed humans, there are good and bad shifters.  What is important to note is that authors of paranormal romance treat their were-anything characters as they do their human characters, with the added bonus of powers and a mating bond.  The lycanthropy does not shape who they are at a deep moral level, though it influences how they might react.

As I said earlier, it is all in the writing.  An author who really puts the time and detail into world building creates a canvas against which these larger than life creatures can come to life.  Tough men with a strong protective instinct.  Men who are in control of themselves and their environment.  Men who are in control of their inner beast.  Werewolves are the embodiment of both our humanity and our animal sides.  These characters live within the greater world, but also within the world of their pack structure.  The laws that govern them tend to harken back to days of old, to feudal law. They are strong in mind, body and passions.  They will fight to protect what, and who, belongs to them.  If you threaten what is theirs, be prepared to face their wrath.  If you are the object of their desire... you just may be one lucky lady.

So what is it exactly that keeps me coming back to these werewolf and shifter centered Paranormal Romances?  It is everything mentioned above and something extra.  Some indefinable something.  These are men you would likely avoid in real life.  That deep instinctual fight or flight response would kick in and send you walking in the opposite direction.  But for the time it takes to read from cover to cover in the book, the reader can live dangerously.  You can flirt with the creature and live on the edge.  One can allow possessive behaviors to set their heart a flutter that would, in reality, have steam pouring from their ears. You can be overwhelmed and over powered and love it in the safety of the pages of a book.

Just what is it about werewolves?  It's just about everything.


Tracy said...

I have no idea what it is about shifters that call to me but they do. I like paranormal romances but the shifters are the ones that I head towards rather than vamps, witches or fae.

little alys said...

Great rundown! I love learning about the history, folklore and various cultural aspects about the supernatural. Romance novels with these aspects are great since it allows more expansion of characters rather than the black and white views in all other mediums (tv, movies, etc.). Also, I found shifters/witches/mutants as an almost symoblic manifestation of cultural alienation - if that even makes any sense. The shy, weird kid that's picked on instead because of a cultural race, is actually of a different race. Kind of like tapping into the feelings people sometimes get of not fitting in. Now I'm just kind of rambling. Lol.

As you've mentioned, it's almost as if werewolves and the like are a more balanced aspect of man/beast.

I do have my limits though since there really are a lot of these heroes are fun to read, but I will run as fast as possible away from in real life. Thinking Kresley Cole's awesome series. Lol.

Shannon said...

Tracy- I know what you mean. I will read about other shall we say denominations of paranormal creatures, but the shifters win every time.

alys- I think authors are able to explore cultural conflicts through paranormal characters that would be considered extremist in humans. I guess what I mean is that an author could revisit the bigotry and Civil Rights movement of the 50's and 60's, but still have their book set in the present day if the conflict involved werewolves or vampires. Slavery, inter-racial marriage, etc. have been touched by numerous authors, yet they could still have the action take place in a setting that would more typically not be known for such things. Ethnic cleansing would not happen in present day Seattle, but this could be written into a paranormal romance without having to create an alternate history for the entire world.

naida said...

Great post! I'm more of a vampire gal, but I can see the werewolf appeal.