“Werewolves,” says Ekaterina Sedia in the introduction to Running with the Pack, “are not the expression of our own wildness, but the longing to be like those who hunt us, the desire to become the predator.”
Running with the Pack offers a variety of takes on the werewolf story. Some agree with Sedia’s assertion above and others go more for the “beast within us” angle. The table of contents features writers like Jeffrey Ford, C.E. Murphy, Laura Anne Gilman, Mike Resnick, N. K. Jemisin, and many more. Below, I asked six of the contributors to Running with the Pack about the appeal of werewolves to them as readers and as writers. The result is a round-table discussion of much more than just fangs, fur, and blood.
Marie Brennan is the author of the Onyx Court series, including the forthcoming A Star Shall Fall. Her contribution to Running with the Pack is “Comparison of Efficacy Rates for Seven Antipathetics as Employed Against Lycanthropes”.
Jesse Bullington is the author of The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart and the forthcoming The Enterpise of Death. His contribution to Running with the Pack is “Blamed For Trying To Live”.
Karen Everson is a freelance writer working on a novel, Crown of Shadows, among many other projects. Her contribution to Running with the Pack is “Deadfall”.
Geoffrey H. Goodwin stories have appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Rabid Transit. He writes regularly for Bookslut, Weird Tales, and Tor.com. and non-fiction. His contribution to Running with the Pack is “Are You a Vampire or A Goblin?”
Molly Tanzer is an assistant editor at Fantasy Magazine, as well as a freelance writer. Her contribution to Running with the Pack is “In Sheep’s Clothing”.
Carrie Vaughn is the author of the Kitty Norville novels and the forthcoming Voices of Dragons. Her contribution to Running with the Pack is “Wild Ride”.
What is the appeal of werewolves to you as a reader? As a writer? What do werewolves allow you to do in fiction? And what unique spin do you put on the werewolf in your story in Running with the Pack?
Molly Tanzer: Though it’s simplistic, as a reader, I enjoy it when just about any monster shows up in a book or a story because I love monsters. I get excited about werewolves, specifically, because they tend to signify a number of things: the transformation of one thing into another, the beast within, clannishness and/or loneliness, and, I feel obliged to say, loss of innocence/discovering one’s sexuality (but I might be feeling that because I just last night re-watched The Company of Wolves).
Geoffrey H. Goodwin: Werewolves are monsters that haven’t been defanged yet. “Are You a Vampire or A Goblin?” is my first werewolf story but I doubt it will be my last.
Vampires used to be frightening because it was a sales pitch that you had to be buried in consecrated ground and all the rest or else you would rise from your grave and eat your relatives. That was scary and not one bit sparkly: convert or eat grandma. I loved Buffy as much as anyone, but I like my vampires and werewolves with their fangs bared.
Werewolves are interesting because there’s less preconceived cultural baggage. I wanted to explore an origin myth and avoid packs or silver bullets. Lycanthropy dates back to Ovid, but my generation had Teen Wolf and An American Werewolf in London. Both played for laughs, but the latter mattered to me and the former offended my sensibilities. I don’t look at a hungry wolf and want to date it. I look at a hungry wolf and I want to run as fast as I can, even if Duran Duran plays in my head while I flee.
Karen Everson: What is it like to own the night? How does the world change when perceived through different senses, when, instead of our human visual orientation, the mind seeks its first clues from scent or sound? What is it like to read the textures of the earth against your flesh? And how would our purely human senses change, once that other world had been opened to our minds? Modern humans live at a remove from the natural world. What if, by a twist of magic, we were turned, a-tuned, to more primal selves? Would we find those changes savage and bestial, or liberating and somehow innocent?
Of all the non-primates, wolves are closest to our shadow selves. The ancient Lapps saw them as another tribe, humankind’s rivals in the eyes of the gods and nature. Wolves use many of the same food sources as humans. They live in family groups, exhibit a fidelity in their pair-bonds that humans might envy. They care carefully for their young, they play, they hunt co-operatively. Closer study, such as I made for a yet-unpublished werewolf novel, implies very strongly that they have a complex language of sounds, facial expressions, and body language. Though their societies have firm patterns, the personalities of individual pack members can change those patterns, and those personalities, in and of themselves, can vary from the nurturing care-giver to the truly vicious. Wolves show behavior that, displayed in humans, would be called loyalty, love, and even grief. But unlike humans, they have no distance from the more savage realities of their lives. They hunt. They kill. That they take only what they need to live does not diminish the merciless persistence of the hunt, their deadly swiftness, nor the hard truths of tearing teeth and blood-stained ground.
Our shadow selves, indeed.
Jesse Bullington: I’ve always been a sucker for werewolves, both as a reader and a writer. The concept allows us to preserve the childhood fear of the wolf long after we’ve realized the mundane animal poses no threat to us, and expand upon it as we see fit. Do we represent the werewolf with the same compassion and understanding that we now view the endangered wolf with, or do we channel that primal terror of teeth and claws and fur into a monster worthy of the name? I’m fond of both approaches, personally.
Molly Tanzer: Monsters are fun to write about because they can occupy space in stories in exciting ways, often very differently than human (well, with werewolves, fully human) characters. They are intrinsically flexible and thus they can be used to talk about social issues, or yield an awesome visual image, or just provide a chance to write a character with a consciousness alien to the author’s. I guess that’s why I’ve never minded “new” takes on classic monsters–I like to see people get creative. While old-school tropes can be rad when used well, I’ve found that they can (sometimes, not always) become crutches for lazy world-building. I think it’s fun to see writers (and I try, as a writer) to strike a nice balance between hearkening to the past and exploring what one’s own mind might create if, for example, one had just come up with the idea of “what if this person could transform into a wolf! What then?”
Marie Brennan: I’d never written about werewolves before this story. The inspiration came about from an article on Patricia Briggs’ website, written by her husband Michael, on the topic of silver bullets. It turns out they’re surprisingly hard to make; no melting grandma’s cross over the campfire. When I read that article, the idea really stuck in my mind: taking this bit of folklore and approaching it scientifically, to see what really works. I think werewolves especially lend themselves to that approach, more than some of the other things you see in urban fantasy. (I spend most of my time writing about faeries.)
Carrie Vaughn: I have to confess that the number one reason I started writing about werewolves is that they’re not vampires. I had a story I wanted to tell in a supernatural setting, and I realized I didn’t have anything new or interesting to say about vampires. Werewolves, on the other hand, had been sadly neglected, stuck in bloody retellings of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the last hundred years. Struggling against the beast within, unleash destruction, die horribly, yadda yadda. What happens if you get werewolves past that story? If you have werewolf main characters and assume that they’ve learned to live with it, that they’re not a slave to the beast within and destined to die a horrible death? What you get is a character living on the border between civilization and the wild, between human and animal. This can be a powerful way of looking at the world. And to me it’s a far more interesting metaphor than simply battling the beast within.
Karen Everson: There are wolves of some variety in every environment. Forest, tundra, jungle, mountain, even desert, the wolf has found some adaptation. No wonder the werewolf is ubiquitous, and that there are so many myths concerning how they may come to be. They are the servants of ancient gods and goddesses. They are born, or made by a curse that may be singular or carried in a bite. They are the other-selves of warriors, shamans, wizards, witches fair or foul. They are the children of elder gods who shift at will, or humans twisted into monsters at the call of the moon. How do such dual selves co-exist? And if, in a world of magic, all of these variants exist, how would they interact if they met?
What could be richer ground?
Geoffrey H. Goodwin: Werewolves have mileage right now because the rules are murkier. The predatory incarnation will come back for vamps, for sure—but it’s going to take a lot to get the blood flowing again. We like to be reminded that people can be monsters, but we also need to remember that monsters aren’t always people.
Jesse Bullington: As a kid I was positively obsessed with werewolves, particularly becoming one, and for “Blamed For Trying To Live” I revisited that childhood desire, with the twist being on the former word instead of the latter in the description “urban werewolves”–in marketing “urban” is often synonymous with “African-American,” or worse, “ghetto,” and so I set my piece in a rough neighborhood in the city where I grew up, with a protagonist a bit different from the stereotypical “urban” character.
Molly Tanzer: If I had to pick what I love most about my story in Running with the Pack, I’d be torn between the setting and the way my character becomes a werewolf (if indeed that’s what she is). I imagined my character’s town as being Gold Hill or Ward, one of those little mountain towns close but not too close to Boulder, and writing something set in that sort of environment was new for me. I’d just moved to/fallen in love with Boulder when I wrote “In Sheep’s Clothing” and so I wanted to write about where I lived, and what weirdness might ensue if something catastrophic happened here, given the location and the general mentality of the folks found within The Republic of Boulder and its outlying satellite colonies.
Then there’s the actual transformation, caused (maybe? I think) by the wolf-fur belt my character dons. Despite what your average furry might think, there’s little more horrifying than an animal getting up on its hind legs and coming for you. Also, if you’ve ever been up in the Rockies or the Flatirons when it’s snowing, the whole world goes grey. If you hike or drive up to some of the higher elevations, you can’t see beyond the prominence you’re standing on. If you know, for example, you should be seeing the entire Boulder valley as you stand atop a rock, but what you do see is just blank endless grey, it’s unnerving and terrible and beautiful (Kant’s theory of the sublime comes to mind at those times, as well as “man it’s cold up here”).
The idea of one’s neighbor becoming something neither human nor wolf and emerging out of the snow to come and eat you. . . well. That’s, as they say, no good at all.
Carrie Vaughn: “Wild Ride” is the backstory of one of the characters from my first werewolf novel, Kitty and The Midnight Hour. One of the things I’m trying to do with the Kitty series is show that there are lots of ways that characters come to be werewolves, and lots of reactions to the situation afterward. T.J. is a character who chose to become a werewolf, and this story explains why, and what happens after.
Geoffrey H. Goodwin: To me, the most fertile ground with werewolves is in looking back. I put the Malleus Malificarum into “Are You a Vampire or A Goblin?” because I was sorting through the precedents. Up against Frankenstein or Dracula, werewolves need those elements to bring their myths forward. The legends are out there but they’re less monomythed. I’d even go so far as to say that goblins have more rules in myth, more requirements built up over the long haul. But that’s the magic in werewolves, they’re still unsettling.
Karen Everson: Olwen Ap Howell, the main character of “Deadfall” in Running with the Pack, is a recurring character in my work. (Another Olwen story, “Support Your Local Werewolf,” appears in Esther Friesner’s Strip Mauled anthology.) Her family traces their lineage to characters in early Welsh mythology. She Changes at will, and retains essential elements of her human consciousness in her wolf shape. “Deadfall” is my exploration of a question that, to me, is one of the most fascinating posed by werewolf myth. It is the wolf, the “Beast,” we are used to seeing presented as the savage, the killer. It is, perhaps, our own acknowledgement of the monsters that lurk in our own psyches, the “Id,” the “lizard brain” that whispers our most selfish desires, our most savage wills. But is it the wolf that is dangerous? The needs and wants of the wolf are fairly simple, after all. Or is the true danger of the werewolf that it is the perfect weapon — unknown, untraceable, even unbelievable — by which very human murder can be accomplished? Most people, somewhere in the course of their lives, have had some event or person that would tempt them toward the perfect, undetectable, murder. If werewolves, like wolves and people, live primarily in family groups, how do they govern such deadly possibilities? How do they live and love and joy in what they are, and still stay hidden and unknown?
What happens if they get tired of hiding?
There are interesting answers in Running with the Pack.
Geoffrey H. Goodwin: Mad scientists, corrupt priests and vampires, the more Gothic tropes, all have their place. Ghosts have been taken in almost every direction and they beg for reinvention every time they rattle their chains…but werewolves remain harder to tame than those others. The precedent is more entrenched in film than literature, unlike the rest. The actual accounts are far less codified or consistent. Fewer unbreakable rules are floating in the collective unconscious. In looking at the other stories in Running with the Pack, I was impressed by both the range and the writing. I think putting dangerous vampires and sparkly vampires in the same anthology would disappoint most everyone…with werewolves, we got away with fewer restrictions and more maulings.
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and part-time professor. Jones is a frequent contributor to Clarkesworld Magazine. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.
Editor’s Note: I was about to turn 11 years old in the summer of 1981 when American Werewolf in London came out. And it scared the crap out of me, especially the transformation scenes and the fang shots. Though I lived in an area of the world where alligators regularly ate our cats and water moccasins bit our dogs, American Werewolf re-populated the shadows of my psyche with fangs, fur and blood, with werewolves.
American Werewolf left me so unreasonably freaked out that I totally missed the humor while skewered to the seat in the theater. And I can find humor anywhere. Usually, at least.
For this reason, I avoided werewolf stories until I discovered last year that both James Lowder (Curse of the Full Moon) and Ekaterina Sedia (Running with the Pack) were editing werewolf anthologies. Jim Lowder has edited some of my favorite anthologies, including The Best of All Flesh, Worlds of Their Own, and Astounding Hero Tales, and Kathy Sedia… well, if Kathy Sedia digs werewolf stories enough to do an anthology, then I just had to see what they’re all about.