Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thinking It Won't Stop a Werewolf

Has the time of the werewolf come and gone? The underlying dichotomy within humans personified as the monstrous “wolf” within being the unbridled fury and passion side while the genteel human side represents the civilized potential of mankind. I don’t think the time is gone. In the grander scheme of things it is good versus evil only the eternal struggle is internal with the werewolf story versus external.

All that being said, I was given two werewolf stories this semester, Cycle of the Werewolf and The Wolfman, “A Novelization by Jonathan Mayberry” as the cover advertises. I fear this fact (a novelization) truly hurt this book, but more on that later.

First the nuts and bolts of the story. The Talbots are a mysterious family. The mother died while the boys were very young. Lawrence, the youngest, witnessed her death and was sent away to an asylum. He eventually recovered enough to become a highly praised stage actor. The elder son, Ben, stayed on at Talbot hall only to be killed in a gruesome and mysterious way. Now all that remains is Sir John the patriarch, his trusty man-servant Singh, and the grieving ex-fiancé of Ben, Gwen Conliffe.

Lawrence returns home to find Ben dead, Gwen enchanting, and Sir John as standoffish and stubborn as ever. The details surrounding Ben’s death are odd as it appears a madman or possibly a beast did the deed. This all takes place in and around Blackmoor, a semi-rural enclave in England where superstition can still motivate and the towns people don’t trust outsiders. The detective sent to investigate the ghastly crime, Aberline of Scotland Yard (who also sought The Ripper the reader learns) is not trusted by Blackmoor, neither are the gypsies who pass through.

So, all in all we have a pretty excellent set up, right? Mysterious death, rumors of beasts, the exotic influence of the gypsies, a bit of historic tie in with Aberline, Jack the Ripper, and Scotland Yard. All well and fine, all very nice.

But I bet most people could guess at the plot points and progression of the story. There is indeed a werewolf; the Talbot family is indeed cursed. The gypsies know more than they are saying, and Scotland Yard can’t quite keep up.

I guess if I was to pinpoint the glaring error of this narrative it would be how aware it is of itself. After Lawrence is attacked and mortally wounded in the act of saving a gypsy child the elder gypsy woman, Maleva, nurses him knowing all the while that if he lives he will become a werewolf (or wolf man) at the next full moon. Her young friend/assistant Saskia knows Lawrence should be put down as the wild beast he will become, but Maleva refuses:

“The young woman looked at the wound and then raised her eyes to Maleva.

“Why do you save him?” asked Saskia. The sounds of weeping and grief still filled the camp. She knew everyone who had died, and grief was a knife in her heart.

“He risked his life for one of ours. For a child that he did not even know.”

“He has been bitten! If you have compassion for this man, then you should end his misery before it begins.”

Maleva shook her head. “You would make me a sinner?”

Saskia set aside the needle and took Maleva’s hands in hers. “There is no sin in killing a beast”” (128).

As a story point this would have been much more powerful had one tried to kill him and the other stopped her, or they were trying to kill him when others arrived and thought them mad for trying to kill a wounded man. Their thoughts, and the thoughts of the reader, do not match their actions. This happens a couple times in the story and it detracts from the tension and the believability of the characters.

After Lawrence wolfs-out and goes on a killing rampage through London he awakes naked and bloody, and overcome with grief. He seeks out Gwen and says he wants to kill himself. He says it … but he never tries to do it. If he really is so overwrought with emotion why doesn’t he do it? It would be much more effective for Lawrence to have gone to Gwen’s father’s pharmacy and downed a bunch of pills or a toxic tonic and then Gwen has to save him.

Yet another example of action that should be taken but is not is Singh, Sir John’s trusted man servant. Lawrence discovers that Singh has a veritable anti-werewolf arsenal and that he’s known about the Talbot family curse almost from the beginning. He knew from minute one how Lawrence’s brother Ben died. He probably knew what really happened to Lawrence’s mother. Yet with all this knowledge, with all this evil unfolding before him, much like Lawrence … he does nothing. He thinks the right things, but he doesn’t act on them.

I guess that is what kills the book for me. There is a lot of intense emotion alluded to, a lot of grief and anger and knowing of the next action, but the next action is not taken. It reminded me of Interview With The Vampire, a book in which much is spoken about but nothing is really done, lots of emotion, very little action. Hey, that book had Louis; this one has Lawrence, coincidence? But I digress.

On top of all that emotion without action the book started to be a historical fiction piece with references to Jack the Ripper and how ice blocks were stored with straw and the like, but the details really weren’t there. The world of the book, and Blackmoor and the nightly forests and cityscape of London really could have been fleshed out with a few concrete details. Instead that opportunity to ground the reader and to give The Wolfman a more real flavor did not ever come about.

So, is there anything to like about this book? Yes, the werewolve(s) themselves. The description of Lawrence’s miraculous recovery from his grievous wounds is well done. Much of the description of Lawrence’s body as it transforms and as he discovers himself after a transformation is excellent. There is no mistaking the wolf takes control when the full moon rises. The difference is Lawrence tries to fight it; the other werewolf relishes the change.

The wolf personas are beyond savage. This was a good touch. When the original werewolf tears through the gypsy camp it destroys everything it comes across. They aren’t just furry men, they are eight feet tall, covered in sinewy muscle that can rend flesh and trees and more. They can leap great distances and run faster than a normal wolf. In short, they are supernatural creatures. This is a good thing, and it does add some level of emotion to the futility of trying to bring one of these things down.

Ultimately this book doesn’t hold up. I don’t know if it is because it is a movie first and a novel second, though I have read some good books that followed that timeline. The characters, all of them, end up being too passive. In the face of the werewolf they react only in spirit. In the flesh they do not respond. When facing werewolves you have to respond in the flesh if you are to best the fur.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head. I don't think werewolves are the problem here (though are they being relegated to second fiddle in paranormal romances?). I think the problem is the script for the movie, which is what Maberry used to write his book. I almost wish he'd said no to the project or made some changes to it to make it more dynamic and active. His regurgitation of the mediocre movie didn't impress me.

  2. I agree with a lot of what you said here. Singh annoyed me (noble savage, much?), I wondered WTF was up with that pointless medal Lawrence wore, WTF was up with that high drama when Gwen confronts Maleva, WTF with all the Latin Gwen waded through in two days, etc.

    That said, I don't see Lawrence as so passive. He's emo, yes, but he's an actor. Go figure. From the start, he's going against the tide - refusing to be caught up in the actor lifestyle anymore but riding the reputation - and then he's off and running to Talbot Hall to find his brother and then to find his brother's killer and avenge Ben and then to save Gypsies and then (after some time being out of sorts post-injury) killing old papa. He does want to kill himself, but I think maybe Maberry fell down a bit by not emphasizing that he very much planned to kill himself as soon as he'd killed his father. That detail gives the end a bit more justice but also makes it completely unsurprising and lacking any emotional punch whatsoever.

    I like your idea about Maleva and Saskia trying to kill him as a more interesting detail. I was also annoyed by the rather sentimental love story. For crying out loud, it's nearly incestuous, and Ben hasn't even started to really decompose before the Magic Hoo Hoo calls to the Mighty Wang (to borrow some Smart Bitches vocabulary). So uncool. Really.

    That said, I enjoyed the story for what it was, and the faults, I think, are with the screenplay. I'd have to see the movie to confirm, but that's my suspicion. I think Maberry did a good job with what he had. It was certainly meatier than I ever expected a novelization to be.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly about the lack of action. I wanted to use the book and crack every one of them upside the head. I just couldn't quite buy the fact that everyone knew what was happening-- particularly Singh-- but didn't do anything about it.

    Interesting, KL, that you think the faults lie with the screenplay. How much liberty do you think he was given to write the novelization? That's something to think about. And I wonder if he felt limited.

  4. Almost all of the action in the book is from the movie. This being said the rest of it is over dramatization of the other events and places of the movie. As I read it I felt that it was a verbatim rendition of the movie. this would account for all of the endless descriptions of people and places and the lack of action. This prompted me to watch the movie. There were some differences and i attributed it to Mayberry's touch. However I read in another post that he only used the screenplay and had not watched the movie. Thats when it came to me. The screenplay would probably tell the things that are rendered in the novel but not paint a picture. I think Mayberry focused too much on painting a cinematic picture.


  5. Great post! You make several convincing arguments and I agree with most of what you have to say. The novel didn't work for me at all and in part it may have been because this was a novelization. I like your thoughts about the scene with the gypsies. It would have been more interesting had one or both tried to kill him and then were caught. I enjoyed reading your post.

  6. As usual, I agree with 99% of what you have to say, and I'm glad to see a man was also bothered by the total lack of respect Lawrence showed for his dead brother's memory RE: Gwen. I found it not just personally and morally reprehensible, but in fact completely out of line with what would have actually taken place in that era. Victorian era women spent an entire year mourning when their husbands died; I'd think they'd spent at least a few months grieving for their intended husbands.

    Also, as you might suspect, I was deeply disappointed by the possibility of a Ripper tie in that just never materialized.

  7. I think you're 100% right when you point out all of the inaction in this story. There are quite a few characters who know about the wolf curse and do nothing to stop or prevent it. It's hard to believe a monster like the werewolf is truly scary when people have it in their power to put the beast down and just don't. When its destruction is allowed to happen, rather than just feared. Good post!