Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 7 (1865)

Having given us an overview of various French werewolves in chapter 6, Sabine Baring-Gould devotes chapter 7 of The Book of Were-Wolves to one of the most famous loups-garoux of all: Jean Grenier.

This narrative will need little introduction to anyone familiar with the ranks of “real” werewolves, although Baring-Gould’s retelling is worth a read for its prose stylings. After opening with a description of a charming village setting (“The brightness of the sky, the freshness of the air puffing up off the blue twinkling Bay of Biscay, the hum or song of the wind as it made rich music among the pines which stood like a green uplifted wave on the East, the beauty of the sand-hills speckled with golden cistus…”) the author turns to the carefree banter of the village maidens. Banter which, I scarcely need point out, is most unlikely to have been recorded in any of the documents relating to the Grenier case — this is essentially Baring-Gould’s fictionalisation.

Then, the girls meet Jean Grenier:

The girls ran to the spot, and saw a little fall in the ground, in which, seated on a log of fir, was a boy of thirteen. The appearance of the lad was peculiar. His hair was of a tawny red and thickly matted, falling over his shoulders and completely covering his narrow brow. His small pale-grey eyes twinkled with an expression of horrible ferocity and cunning, from deep sunken hollows. The complexion was of a dark olive colour; the teeth were strong and white, and the canine teeth protruded over the lower lip when the mouth was closed. The boy’s hands were large and powerful, the nails black and pointed like bird’s talons. He was ill clothed, and seemed to be in the most abject poverty. The few garments he had on him were in tatters, and through the rents the emaciation of his limbs was plainly visible.

There follows a strange conversation where Grenier announces that he’ll marry the prettiest of the girls, and then declares that he has a wolf-skin given to him by Pierre Labourant, “a man with an iron chain about his neck, which he is ever engaged in gnawing” and who lives “in a place of gloom and fire” where people are subjected to various flaming torments. The lad then declares that he is a werewolf:

“You want to know about the wolf-skin cape?” continued he. “Pierre Labourant gave me that; he wraps it round me, and every Monday, Friday, and Sunday, and for about an hour at dusk every other day, I am a wolf, a were-wolf. I have killed dogs and drunk their blood; but little girls taste better, their flesh is tender and sweet, their blood rich and warm. I have eaten many a maiden, as I have been on my raids together with my nine companions. I am a were-wolf! Ah, ha! if the sun were to set I would soon fall on one of you and make a meal of you!” Again he burst into one of his frightful paroxysms of laughter, and the girls unable to endure it any longer, fled with precipitation.

Young Grenier’s conduct grows enough of a concern that he is taken before a court and testifies as to how he became a werewolf: ““When I was ten or eleven years old, my neighbour, Duthillaire, introduced me, in the depths of the forest, to a M. de la Forest, a black man, who signed me with his nail, and then gave to me and Duthillaire a salve and a wolf-skin. From that time have I run about the country as a wolf.” He confesses to numerous atrocities, including killing and eating a baby, and asserts that his father accompanied him when he ate a village girl. The court then reaches a verdict:

Before the court gave judgment, the first president of assize, in an eloquent speech, put on one side all questions of witchcraft and diabolical compact, and bestial transformation, and boldly stated that the court had only to consider the age and the imbecility of the child, who was so dull and idiotic—that children of seven or eight years old have usually a larger amount of reason than he. The president went on to say that Lycanthropy and Kuanthropy were mere hallucinations, and that the change of shape existed only in the disorganized brain of the insane, consequently it was not a crime which could be punished. The tender age of the boy must be taken into consideration, and the utter neglect of his education and moral development. The court sentenced Grenier to perpetual imprisonment within the walls of a monastery at Bordeaux, where he might be instructed in his Christian and moral obligations; but any attempt to escape would be punished with death.

A pleasant companion for the monks!

Baring-Gould ends the chapter by agreeing with the court’s conclusion that the boy’s lycanthropy was purely psychological, and muses over the disturbing thought that such people may still live today.

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