Werewolf Wednesday: “Canis Lupus Sapiens” by Alex Hamilton (1966)

A public park is nearing its closing-time at dusk, yet remains a hub of activity: an amateur football game is underway; a man walks his dog; a couple kiss; and the park keeper, Smithers, is trying without luck to drive everyone out. The park happens to be adjacent to a zoo, and contains animal enclosures; the football match ends when one of the players, Edward “Tubbsie” Tubbs, inadvertently kicks the ball right into the wolves’ habitat. Tubbsie goes to retrieve the ball – and is surprised when it is tossed at him from the enclosure:

At this moment the ball landed at his feet. He leaped back, startled by the suddenly loud noise immediately in front of him, and by the bounce. Then he clutched at it, and turned round. The wide avenue lay empty, down the hill to the gate, up theh ill to the stone memorial left by the parsee gentleman in gratitude to the British Raj for its protection almost a century ago. Tubbsie felt an uncomfortable sensation inside the sweaty red shirt which was not only the wind playing cold on his damp back. He wished that the British Raj were present at that moment. Even the parsee gentleman would have been better than nothing.

The ball turns out to have been thrown by a man standing in the wolves’ enclosure, seemingly ignored by the animals; Tubbsie takes him for “[o]ne of those scientific men you saw sometimes on telly, that kissed monkeys and wore snakes around their necks the way other men wore ties.” Polite and well=spoken, the stranger encourages Tubbsie to climb inside and apologise to the wolves for scaring them – “Like most creatures of the animal world they only attack when they feel threatened.” Despite his trepidation, Tubbsie does so:

‘How do you do?’ said Tubbsie with an ingratiating smile, but keeping his hands firmly behind his back. The wolf looked at Tubbsie, steadily.
‘At night they look different,’ said Tubbsie to the stranger.
‘You do too,’ smiled the stranger.
‘I wouldn’tl ike to meet one in his home country,’ said Tubbsie.
‘If you look at the map on the notice, in the areas filled in scarlet, you’ll see the lupis canis has home countries right round the globe. The sun never sets on the empire of lupus canis.’
‘No, but the sun sets on this park,’ said Tubbsie, feelign better for his clever reply, ‘so I’ll just say nice to have met you all…’

But it turns out that Tubbsie has made a grave error in opening the enclosure. The werewolves are now free – and the denizens of the park will have more to worry about than closing time.

WayoftheWerewolf

“Canis Lupus Sapiens” was first published in The Way of the Werewolf, a 1966 anthology otherwise consisting of reprints. Specifically, it came at the end of that anthology, serving as a punchline of sorts. This is very much a humorous story, with much of its build=up devoted to painting a droll little picture of everyday English folk. Even the romantic dialogue between the two lovers is distinctly unromanticised: “Come here, Beryl, love. I won’t hurt your new cardigan.”

Here, conflict comes in the form of little annoyances. The visitors to the park have to put up with the annoyance of the clocks going back, meaning that closing time arrives before it gets properly dark. The park-keeper, meanwhile, has to put up with the annoyance of the uncooperative visitors when he just wants to lock up and go home. Even the werewolves put up with annoyances: it turns out that their killing spree is simply a lot of hassle they have to go through to get clothes. Perhaps, as is implied by the zonversation about empires, werewolves and Englishmen are not as far apart as might be assumed.

Incidentally, author Alex Hamilton had a wide-ranging career: he wrote enough horror stories to full multiple collections, yet his work in this genre is barely mentioned by his 2016 obituary in the Guardian (where he worked as travel editor during the eighties and nineties). 1966, when “Canis Lupus Sapiens” was published, was one of his most productive years in terms of horror: it also saw his collection Beam of Malace, his edited anthologies My Blood Ran Cold (published under the pseudonym Donald Speed) and The Cold Embrace, and an appearance in Pan’s Tales of Unease.

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