Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell Goes to Spain (1912)

And so we come to chapter 12 of Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book Werwolves: “The Werewolf in Spain”. The author opens with another helping of dubiously-sourced lore:

Werwolves are, perhaps, rather less common in Spain than in any other part of Europe. They are there almost entirely confined to the mountainous regions (more particularly to the Sierra de Guadarrama, the Cantabrian, and the Pyrenees), and are usually of the male species. Generally speaking the property of lycanthropy in Spain appears to be hereditary; and, as one would naturally expect in a country so pronouncedly Roman Catholic, to rid the lycanthropist of his unenviable property it is the custom to resort to exorcism. Though they are extremely rare, both flowers and streams possessing the power of transmitting the property of werwolfery are to be found in the Cantabrian mountains and the Pyrenees. And in Spain, as in Austria-Hungary, precious stones—particularly rubies—not [195]infrequently, and often with disastrous results, attract the werwolf.

After this introduction comes the latest of O’Donnell’s allegedly true narratives. This is set in September 1853 and deals with a “rich, idle, sleek” young man named Paul Nicholas, who travels from Paris to Pamplona and stays at l’Hôtel Hervada. Here, he becomes infatuated with a beautiful woman named Isabelle de Nurrez; but the lady apparently has eyes only for “a very commonplace, middle-aged gentleman with hardly a hair on his head and a paunch that was voted quite disgusting.”

When Isabelle wanders off with her beau and returns alone, Paul takes the opportunity to begin courting her by performing love songs outside her door. But Isabella again departs with a portly middle-aged man, leaving Paul “immeasurably shocked at the bad taste of his adored one”. Once again she returns alone and Paul resumes courting her, this time with scented letters.

He finally succeeds in getting her attention, and she reveals that she is an orphan who is set to inherit her father’s estate on the sole grounds that she marry a Hindu prince named Dajarah (who is implied to have had a hand in her father’s death). “Marry a black man! Mon Dieu, how terrible!” exclaims Paul. “You are right”, replies Isabelle. “It was terrible!” The two middle-aged men, she reveals, were would-be heroes who “swore they would confront the black tyrant and kill him” but each man ended up fleeing.

Paul vows to deal with the dastardly cad himself and sets off with Isabelle to the vast, forbidding house where Dajarah supposedly resides. Once the two are inside, Isabelle reveals that her entire narrative was a lie and that the truth is much stranger:

“Fool!” she cried. “Do you think I could ever love a man as fat as you? The story I told you was a lie from beginning to end. I don’t remember either of my parents—my mother ran away from home when I was two, and my father died the following year. I married entirely of my own free will—married the man I loved, and he—happened to be a werwolf!”

Isabelle’s lycanthropic husband arrives “in the gay uniform of a Carlist general”. Isabelle then departs, leaving Paul to his fate as her husband proceeds to transform.

As with the previous chapter, the story of Paul and Isabelle looks like nothing so much as a dark joke on the part of O’Donnell, this time using a werewolf as a punchline to a satire of racist adventure fiction. The biggest question that remains is whether O’Donnell seriously expected his readership to believe him. Werwolves is presented as a book of true supernatural events, but a story like this — so perfectly structured as a joke, and raising the obvious question of who survived to tell the tale in such detail — would surely fail to convince even the most gullible reader.

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