A werewolf is abroad in the French countryside; it has started by feeding upon sheep, but it will soon move on to two-legged prey. The wolf is pursued by a group of men, and one of their number – Loreux – has realised that their quarry is the loup-garou of legend. “Gâloup or plain wolf,” replies Tillet, a farmer who has lost his livestock to the beast, “I’ll have his hide! I’ll stuff his belly with lead!” Will mere lead be sufficient, they wonder? Loreux declares that only the “lead of God” – consecrated bullets – will kill the beast.
But while the scenes dealing with the hunting party are written in the third person, the bulk of the story is narrated by the werewolf – while in his wolf-form, no less. The werewolf’s internal voice comes replete with an entire cosmology, a sort of inverted solar myth:
Men believe me stupid, dull. Men! They imagine they are the only masters of this vulnerable clod of earth, and that their nest is governed by the laws of the universe. Yet, since its creation, the world has been ruled by a powerful and everlasting king – a horned king. And he entrusted it to two lesser lords of unstable but equal power: the one black – night, my pasture; the other white – day, that of men. These two squabble, each encroaching on the other in an imperceptible but constant trial of strength, predetermined, each gaining in turn a temporary period of moderate victory.
To the werewolf, the human race is weak and foolish, one reliant upon guns and dogs (“the false wolves”) to gain the upper hand. Human weakness is embodied by Christianity and its “god of gentleness”. If wolves ruled the world, he declares, they would not bow down to the image of a crucified wolf – although they would eagerly crucify dogs. He boasts that, while he may howl like a wolf, he is far cleverer than his “adoptive clan” and regrets that they are incapable of joining him in overthrowing humans. Indeed, the lycanthropic narrator has a habit of judging animal species by their relationship with homo sapiens, as when he derides sheep as the “wool-bearing stooges” of humanity. In one passage, the werewolf pictures how the world might look were the human race finally overthrown by animals:
[Y]ou would see flocks of naked men guarded by true wolves, aided by keen, bad-tempered sheep, happy to bite the flanks of this pallid and insipid livestock. The strong men would carry horses on their backs and threatening donkeys would whip them to death. The women would be handled by brutal cows, anxious to offer the wolves juicy white flesh. The wolf children would play with children of men, and would love them as brothers, but only until the little humans’ experiences showed a gleam of intelligence, that deadly danger. The pigs, so adept in fathering flesh, would be charged with feeding the flocks of men, wallowing in foul man-sties – where the wolves would sometimes go, when the mood took them, to indulge in the intoxicating joys of butchery.
Favouring animals over humans, the werewolf sees his reverse-Kafka transformation back into anthropoid guise as a harrowing process of emasculation:
My claws have dwindled away, and the backs of my paws have become supple and so tender that the stony ground seems to bite at them, drawing from me a howl that is only a piercing cry – a cry coming from another being than myself – the dizzy cry of a man…
Flashing a glance at the canopy of the sky, I can see that the moon has put a mask over its luminous face. Its eye mocks, its mouth gapes with laughter – which suddenly grows so deafening that I must put my forepaws over my ears. Oh – how soft is my cool skin, how long and supple my paws have become, how small my ears!
The story sometimes recalls “Wolves Don’t Cry”, Bruce Elliott’s tale of an inverted werewolf. But while that story had its roots in werewolf films, “The Gâloup” is true to the folklore of the witch-hunts, with the werewolf an unambiguous servant of the Devil. In one sequence, the wolf runs into a swarm of vipers which, in a grotesque orgy, merge together to produce the figure of Satan:
Hardly breathing, I await the apotheosis which must surely come, hurling thousands of segments of satisfied vipers everywhere around me. And at this moment the earth trembles, the dark landscape is laid bare by a blinding light.
Then, gigantic, there emerges from the earth a being faceted in many colours – a being of gold and silver, and of power. Half-man, with his long legs sheathed in harlequin motley and his long arms lost in a huge crimson doublet – half-beast, with his tail of shaggy hair, his horny hoofs and his infidel goat’s face. He is both at once, as well I know. He is my Master.
This hallucinatory scene concludes with the Devil spitting forth vipers: “they have human faces, some with the familiar features of men and women whom I probably met in another life, now forgotten – and who recognize me too, for some bow as they pass.”
These otherworldly goings-on and the (simultaneously internal and external) struggle between beast and man culminate in a twist ending that, while not especially original, serves to tighten and enrichen the narrative that came before. “The Gâloup” is an interpretation of the werewolf that retains the authentically weird aura of folklore.
Some additional background: this post was based upon Ada Lorain’s English translation of the story, published in the 1966 paperback Way of the Werewolf. The book credits the story as having been reprinted from “Récits Diaboliques”, which appears to be a reference to a 1965 collection of Claude Seignolle’s work entitled La Malvenue et autres récits diaboliques. A number of sources, however, indicate that the story was originally published in 1960. A 96-page illustrated book by Seignolle, entitled Le Gâloup, came out that year – but the story as printed in Way of the Werewolf is nowhere near long enough to sustain 96 pages. Is this an abridged version? Is the Le Gâloup book a collection, or a single short story with extensive illustrations? Or, perhaps, an unrelated work that happens to have the same author and title? I would be interested to find out.