Werewolf Wednesday: “The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains” by Frederick Marryat (1839)

The Phantom Ship, Captain Frederick Marryat’s meandering 1839 novel about the Flying Dutchman, touches upon the werewolf theme in an example of the story-within-a-story technique popular in novels of the period. The chapter in question has aged better than the rest of the novel: it was included in Montague Summers’ 1931 Supernatural Omnibus as a self-contained short story under the title “The White Wolf of the Hartz Mounters” and has been reprinted many times since then.

During the chapter, the character of Hermann Krantz tells the story of his father, a Transylvanian serf (note that this was before Bram Stoker had rendered Transylvania indelibly associated with vampires). The account starts off with the elder Krantz murdering both his wife and his master after catching them having an affair:

The evidence of my mother’s shame was positive; he surprised her in the company of her seducer! Carried away by the impetuosity of his feelings, he watched the opportunity of a meeting taking place between them, and murdered both his wife and her seducer. Conscious that, as a serf, not even the provocation which he had received would be allowed as a justification of his conduct, he hastily collected together what money he could lay his hands upon, and, as we were then in the depth of winter, he put his horses to the sleigh, and taking his children with him, he set off in the middle of the night, and was far away before the tragical circumstance had transpired.

Krantz and his three children relocate to a remote cabin in the Harz Mountains. In the snowy wilderness he catches sight of a rare white wolf and chases after it. His pursuit takes him to one of the “peculiar spots on those mountains which are supposed… to be inhabited by the evil influences” and he loses sight of the wolf, but encounters a pair of mysterious travellers: a huntsman and his beautiful daughter.

While staying in the cabin the hunter outlines his life story, which is familiar: he claims to have come from Transylvania, to have worked as a serf to a nobleman, and to have murdered his master after catching the cad in an affair with his wife. He then reveals himself to be none other than the elder Krantz’s first cousin, Wilfred of Barnsdorf.

His wife’s infidelity has left Krantz a misogynist (he even physically abuses his daughter Marcella) yet he takes a liking to the alluring Christina. The children, on the other hand, are afraid of her:

She was young, and apparently twenty years of age. She was dressed in a travelling-dress, deeply bordered with white fur, and wore a cap of white ermine on her head. Her features were very beautiful, at least I thought so, and so my father has since declared. Her hair was flaxen, glossy, and shining, and bright as a mirror; and her mouth, although somewhat large when it was open, showed the most brilliant teeth I have ever beheld. But there was something about her eyes, bright as they were, which made us children afraid; they were so restless, so furtive; I could not at that time tell why, but I felt as if there was cruelty in her eye; and when she beckoned us to come to her, we approached her with fear and trembling.

Indeed, Krantz becomes so infatuated with Christina that he decides to marry her. Wilfred presides over the marriage ceremony, and insists on some most unorthodox vows:

“‘Then take her by the hand. Now, Meinheer, swear.’

“‘I swear,’ repeated my father.

“‘By all the spirits of the Hartz mountains–‘

“‘Nay, why not by Heaven?’ interrupted my father.

“‘Because it is not my humour,’ rejoined Wilfred; ‘if I prefer that oath, less binding perhaps,

than another, surely you will not thwart me.’

“‘Well be it so then; have your humour. Will you make me swear by that in which I do not believe?’

“‘Yet many do so, who in outward appearance are Christians,’ rejoined Wilfred; ‘say, will you be married, or shall I take my daughter away with me?’

“‘Proceed,’ replied my father, impatiently.

“‘I swear by all the spirits of the Hartz mountains, by all their power for good or for evil, that I take Christina for my wedded wife; that I will ever protect her, cherish her, and love her; that my hand shall never be raised against her to harm her.’

“My father repeated the words after Wilfred.

“‘And if I fail in this my vow, may all the vengeance of the spirits fall upon me and upon my children; may they perish by the vulture, by the wolf, or other beasts of the forest; may their flesh be torn from their limbs, and their bones blanch in the wilderness: all this I swear.'”

Wilfred abruptly departs the morning after the ceremony, while Christina begins exhibiting strange behaviour. The children see her sneaking out of bed and into the snow, still wearing her nightclothes, while her new husband sleeps; they then hear the sound of a wolf outside and fear for Christina’s life, but she returns unscathed.

Determined to learn her secret, the eldest child Caesar waits until his stepmother has left before taking a gun and following her. She then returns with a gunshot wound in her leg, while Caesar’s body is found apparently mauled by a wolf. Caesar is buried, but Krantz later finds that his son’s body has been dug up and devoured to the bone.

Marcella is the next to die, killed by a white wolf; the surviving brother then relates the chilling sight of Christina exhuming her body: “I perceived my mother-in-law busily removing the stones from Marcella’s grave… She was in her white night-dress and the moon shone full upon her. She was digging with her hands, and throwing away the stones behind her with all the ferocity of a wild beast.” The boy then alerts his father:

Imagine his horror, when (unprepared as he was for such a sight) he beheld, as he advanced towards the grave not a wolf, but his wife, in her night-dress, on her hands and knees, crouching by the body of my sister, and tearing off large pieces of the flesh, and devouring them with all the avidity of a wolf. She was too busy to be aware of our approach. My father dropped his gun; his hair stood on end, so did mine; he breathed heavily, and then his breath for a time stopped. I picked up the gun and put it into his hand. Suddenly he appeared as if concentrated rage had restored him to double vigour; he levelled his piece, fired, and with a loud shriek down fell the wretch whom he had fostered in his bosom.

When he goes over to investigate Christina’s remains, he finds not the body of a beautiful young woman, but the corpse of a wolf. Then Wilfred re-appears and reveals himself to have been a spirit all along:

“‘Ha—ha!’ replied the hunter, ‘would you harm a potent spirit of the Hartz Mountains. Poor mortal, who must needs wed a werewolf.’

“‘Out, demon! I defy thee and thy power.’

“‘Yet shall you feel it; remember your oath—your solemn oath—never to raise your hand against her to harm her.’

“‘I made no compact with evil spirits.’

“‘You did, and if you failed in your vow, you were to meet the vengeance of the spirits. Your children were to perish by the vulture, the wolf–‘

“‘Out, out, demon!’

“‘And their bones blanch in the wilderness. Ha!—ha!’

The elder Krantz aims an axe-blow at the spirit, but the blade passes through Wilfred’s incorporeal form. The curse on Krantz’ family, we find out, remains potent: shortly after narrating the story, the surviving Krantz son is killed by a wild animal.

Marryat’s story makes for an interesting comparison with Sutherland Menzies’ roughly contemporaneous “Hugues, the Wer-Wolf”. Of the two, it is Menzies’ story that comes closer to the werewolf genre as we know it today: even though the lycanthrope turns out to be merely a man in a suit, the surrounding narrative touches upon the motifs of the tragic curse and the social pariah that would become so well-used by Universal Pictures.

“The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains” is a different matter: the werewolf is authentic, but quite distinct from the werewolves of modern cinema. She is implied to be a purely demonic entity, rather than a mortal under a curse. She is also a beautiful temptress, a role that would become more closely associated with vampires than with werewolves (note that she preys on children, like Bram Stoker’s Lucy and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla). Meanwhile, where Menzies appears to have drawn upon the accounts of lycanthropy produced during witch-trials, the roots of Marryat’s tale lie within the folkloric motif of the animal bride.

Although unusual to modern readers, Marryat’s temptress-werewolf is not entirely unique, as Eric Stenbock and Clemance Housman would create similar characters later in the nineteenth century.

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