Werewolf Wednesday: O’Donnell’s Whimsical Werewolves (1912)

Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book on werewolves continues its European travelogue with its eleventh chapter, entitled “Werwolves in Austria-Hungary and the Balkan Peninsula”. O’Donnell begins by telling us that in the mountains of Austria-Hungary and the Balkan Peninsula are flowers which, according to local folklore,  have “the property of converting into werewolves whoever plucks and wears them”. O’Donnell neglects to identify the species, but relates a story that he purportedly heard the summer beforehand: “The Case of the Family of Kloska and the Lycanthropous Flower”.

This tale introduces Otto Kloska, a storekeeper in the Transylvanian village of Kerovitch, along with his wife Vera and children Ivan and Olga. While playing, little Olga stumbles across “a large, very vivid white flower, shaped something like a sunflower, but soft and pulpy, and full of a sweet nauseating odour” which she decides to pop in her buttonhole. Thus begins Olga’s lycanthropic transformation:

And Ivan was preparing to salute her in the proper military style, taught him by a great friend of his in the village, a soldier in the carabineers for whom he had an intense admiration, when his jaw suddenly fell and his eyes bulged.
“Whatever is the matter with you?” Olga asked.
“There’s nothing the matter with me,” Ivan cried, shrinking away from her; “but there is with you. Don’t! don’t make such faces—they frighten me,” and turning round, he ran to the place where he had made his descent and tried to climb up.

Ivan screams for help, and the kids’ mother comes running so fast that she breaks a leg and falls unconscious. When she recovers, she sees Ivan being attacked by a wolf:

For some seconds she was unconscious, and the first sight that met her eyes on coming to was Ivan kneeling on the ground, feebly endeavouring to hold at bay a gaunt grey wolf that had already bitten him about the legs and thigh, and was now trying hard to fix its wicked white fangs into his throat.
“Help me, mother!” Ivan gasped; “I’m getting exhausted. It’s Olga.”
“Olga!” the mother screamed, making frantic efforts to come to his assistance. “Olga! what do you mean?”
“It’s all owing to a flower—a white flower,” Ivan panted; “Olga would pluck it, and no sooner had she fixed it on her dress than she turned into a wolf! Quick, quick! I can’t hold it off any longer.”

Fortunately, Vera happens to be armed with a skewer. Despite her broken leg, she gets close enough to attack the wolf. At the same time, however, she has no trouble believing Ivan’s claims that the beast is actually her daughter. This raises a question — which child should be spared?

“Take care, mother,” Ivan cried, as she raised it ready to strike; “remember, it is Olga.”
This indeed was an ugly fact that the woman in her anxiety to save the boy had forgotten. What should she do? To merely wound the [179]animal would be to make it ten times more savage, in which case it would almost inevitably destroy them both. To kill it would mean killing Olga. Which did she love the most, the boy or the girl? Never was a mother placed in such a dilemma. And she had no time to deliberate, not even a second. God help her, she chose. And like ninety-nine out of a hundred mothers would have done, she chose the boy; he—he at all costs must be saved. She struck, struck with all the pent-up energy of despair, and in her blind, mad zeal she struck again.
The first blow, penetrating the werwolf’s eye, sank deep into its brain, but the second blow missed—missed, and falling aslant, alighted on the form beneath.

The “form beneath” is, of course, Ivan: Vera has not only killed her werewolf daughter but also accidentally slain her son. The narrative ends with a local discovering the unfortunate woman, who has lost her sanity:

“Vera Kloska!” he screamed; “Heaven have mercy on us, what have you there?”
“He! he! he!” came the answer. “He! he! he! My children! Don’t they look funny? Olga has such a pretty white flower in her buttonhole, and Ivan a red stain on his forehead. They are deaf—they won’t reply when I speak to them. See if you can make them hear.”
But the villager shook his head. “They’ll never hear again in this world, mad soul,” he muttered. “You’ve murdered them.”

Having told (with, one suspects, his tongue in his cheek) this tragic tale of the dreaded white flower, O’Donnell informs us that there are two other flowers — a yellow one the size and shape of a snapdragon, and a red specimen similar to an ox-eyed daisy — that are likewise capable of turning the wearer into a werewolf. He also asserts that lilies-of-the-valley, marigolds and azaleas are prone to attracting lycanthropes, so any gardeners out there should best check their flowerbeds. Diamonds, too, have this property according to O’Donnell, something that he illustrates in the second of the chapter’s two stories.

This time we meet Madame Julia Mildau, “one of the prettiest women in Innsbruck”, who boasts amongst other things “a smile that would melt a Loyola”. Her husband, however, possesses “the perversity characteristic of gout and middle age” and resents the attention that she receives from other men. This is no hurdle for her: after cajoling him into buying her an expensive diamond tiara, she drugs him so that she can sneak off and have all the fun she desires.

While travelling between balls Madame Mildau finds that her carriage has been infiltrated by a mysterious young man who accuses her of sneaking around behind her husband’s back. She initially concludes that the man is a spy hired by her husband, but he denies this:

“Then, in mercy’s name, what are you?” demanded the lady.
“Well!” the stranger replied, speaking with a slight snarl, “I am a man now, but I shall soon change.”
“A man and will soon change?” Madame Mildau cried; “oh, you’re mad, mad–and I’m shut up in here with a lunatic! Help! help!”

The man tries to calm her down and turns the conversation to the question of why she dislikes her husband. She obliges with an answer:

“Calmly, calmly,” the stranger exclaimed, lifting her hands to his lips and kissing them. “I’m perfectly sane, and at present perfectly harmless. Now tell me, madame—and mind, be candid with me—why don’t you love your husband?”
“How do you know I don’t?” Madame Mildau faltered.
“Tut, tut!” the young man said. “Anyone could see that with half an eye. Besides, consider your conduct to-night! Answer my questions.”
“Well, you see!” Madame Mildau stammered, having come to the conclusion that even if the man were not mad it would be highly impolitic to provoke him, “I’m so much younger than he is. I’m only twenty-three, whereas he is forty-five. Besides, he detests all amusements, and I love them—especially dances. He is too fat to——”
“Are you sure he is fat? Will you swear he is fat?” the stranger asked, grasping her hands so tightly that she screamed.
“I swear it!” she said, “he is quite the fattest man I know.”
“And tender! But no, he can’t be very tender!”
“What questions to ask!” Madame Mildau said. “How do I know whether he is tender! Besides, what does it concern you?”

Finally, the man reveals that both he and his servant are werewolves, due to transform in an hour, and that the carriage is presently in the Wood of Arlan — “one of the wildest and least frequented spots in this part of the Tyrol.” He promises to spare her on the grounds that he and his servant instead be allowed to eat her fat, juicy husband (who, as an added perk, lacks the make-up that contaminates Madame’s meat). The story ends with the heroine driving the carriage herself while the two lycanthropes feast on her husband. “Ah, well! thank God, the man wasn’t a robber”, she says to herself. “My diamonds are safe.”

At this point O’Donnell appears to have given up trying to make his stories plausible and is simply indulging a rather macabre sense of humour.

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