Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell in the Harz Mountains (1912)

The ninth chapter of Elliott O’Donnell’s book Werwolves is devoted to German lycanthropes. Curiously, O’Donnell makes no mention of Stubbe Peeter, surely the most famous example of a “real” werewolf in history, although he is possibly alluding to the Stubbe affair when he comments that “many of the best-authenticated cases have been told so often, that it is difficult for me to alight on any that is not already well known”.

Instead, his main source of inspiration appears to be Frederick Marryat’s story of the White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains. After characterising Germany as a country rich in supernatural folklore, O’Donnell declares that here, the werewolf “seems to have confined itself almost entirely to the Harz Mountains, where it was formerly most common and more dreaded than any other visitant from the Unknown”. He then launches into a narrative entitled “The Case of Herr Hellen and the Werwolves of the Harz Mountains”; although this is presented as a true story, anyone familiar with Marryat’s fiction will be rubbing their chins in suspicion.

Set in 1840, the story deals with two men, Hellen and Schiller, who go on a trip in the aforementioned mountains; after Shiller sprains his ankle, Hellen goes looking for help and meets a man with an injured hand. After Hellen assists in this fellow’s bandages, the stranger – named Wilfred – offers to call upon his daughter (“who is very strong”) to help carry Schiller home with him. He also claims that, by coming to that area at that precise hour, the travellers are now entitled to have their wishes granted.

During a short chat, Hellen casually wishes that the wife and children he left behind in Frankfurt were with him presently. His wish is granted: when he arrives at Wilfred’s cottage, his family has somehow turned up there. They are not happy with this:

“And to us, too,” they all cried. “A few minutes ago we were in our beds in Frankfort, and then suddenly we found ourselves here—here in this dreadful looking forest. Oh, take us away, take us home, do!”
Hellen was in despair. It was all like a hideous nightmare to him. What was he to do?

We then meet Wilfred’s daughter Marguerite:

he was clad in what appeared to be a travelling dress, deeply bordered with white fur, and wore a most becoming cap of white ermine. Her feet were shod in long, pointed, and very elegant buckskin shoes, adorned with bright silver buckles. Her hair, which was yellow and glossy, was parted down the middle, and waved in a most becoming fashion low over the forehead and ears; and her features—at least so Hellen thought—were very beautiful. Her mouth, though a trifle large, had very daintily cut lips, and was furnished with unusually white and even teeth. But there was a peculiar furtive expression in her eyes, which were of a very pretty shape and colour, that aroused Hellen’s curiosity, and made him scrutinize her carefully. Her hands were noticeably long and slender, with tapering fingers and long, almond-shaped, rosy nails, that glittered each time they caught the rays of the fast fading sunlight.

Poor old Schiller seems to have been forgotten in all of the confusion. When Hellen stumbles upon his friend, he finds that “there was now very little left of him but the face and hands and feet; the rest had only too obviously been eaten.” He spends a period dwelling on Schiller’s death, but his emotions suddenly shift and he begins forcibly kissing Marguerite:

Throwing discretion to the winds, and oblivious of wife, children, home, honour, everything save Marguerite—the lustre of her eyes and the dainty curving of her lips—he slipped his arm round her waist, and pressing her close to him, smothered her in kisses.
“How dare you, sir!” she panted, slowly shaking herself free. “Aren’t you ashamed of such behaviour? What would your wife say, if she knew?”
“I couldn’t help it,” Hellen pleaded. “I’m not myself to-night. Your beauty has bewitched me, and I would risk anything to have you in my arms.” He spoke so earnestly and looked at her so appealingly that she smiled.

So strong is Marguerite’s hold over Hellen, he declares that “if you were to ask me to do so I would go to hell with you this very minute.” She tells him that he yet has wishes to be granted. After she has “looked at him in a way that sent all the blood in his body surging wildly to his head” he apparently forgets all about his dead friend and wishes to have Marguerite for eternity.

They head back to the cottage, and Hellen is aghast to hear his wife and children screaming for help:

The shrieks from the cottage were gradually lapsing into groans and gurgles, all horribly suggestive of what was taking place, but it was not until every sound had ceased that Marguerite permitted Hellen to rise.
“You may go now,” she said with a mischievous smile, kissing him gaily on the forehead and giving his cheeks a gentle slap. “Go—and see what a lucky man you are, and how speedily your first wish has been gratified.”
Sick with apprehension, Hellen flew to the cottage. His worst forebodings were realized. Stretched on the floor of their respective rooms, with big, gaping wounds in their chests and throats, lay his wife and children; whilst cross-legged, on a chest in the kitchen, his dark saturnine face suffused with glee, squatted Wilfred.

“Fiend!” yells Hellen at the diabolical Wilfred. “I understand it all now. I have been dealing with the Spirits of the Harz Mountains.” Hellen grabs an axe and swings it at the villain, only for it to pass through him as though he is insubstantial.

“Fool!” exclaims Marguerite upon entering the scene; “fool, to think any weapon can harm either Wilfred or me. We are phantasms–phantasms beyond the power of either Heaven or Hell.” She then reminds Hellen that he still belongs to her, and gives her a token of her presence in the form of a wisp of her golden hair. Before departing, she scratches his forehead and tells him that she will return to him when the mark heals.

Hellen then collapses, and wakes up to find himself back in the woodlands. He tries to persuade himself that the whole ordeal was just a dream, but when he finds Schiller’s corpse he realises that it was true after all. He also finds a tuft of white fur in his hand, the implication beyond that the wisp of Marguerite’s hair has transformed. Hellen heads to an inn, where the landlord tells him of a local legend: “Wilfred and Marguerite, who are werwolves, only visit these parts periodically. I last heard of them being seen when I was about ten years of age, and they then ate a pedlar called Schwann and his wife.”

Finding no trace of Wilfred’s cottage, Hellen returns to Frankfurt and learns that, on the very same day as his ordeal in the forest, the mutilated corpses of his wife and children were found in their beds. The story ends with the detail that the scratch remained on Hellen’s head, and did begin to heal until the days before his death – suggesting that Marguerite came back to him.

This allegedly true narrative is quite obviously derived from Frederick Marryat’s story. Although there are several key differences (the element of wish-granting is new, for one) the basic framework remains: a man heads into the wilderness of the Harz mountains; he meets a stranger with a beautiful, blonde-haired daughter; he falls in love with the woman, only for her to turn out to be a werewolf who proceeds to kill his children. Note that in both accounts, the father of the werewolf-bride is named Wilfred; and in both accounts, Wilfred turns out to be intangible when the protagonist aims a blow at him.

Marryat’s story, thick with the fog of fairy tale, seems a strange choice of narrative to try and pass off as a true case of lycanthropy. But then, O’Donnell’s Werwolves puts little effort into plausibility.

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