Werewolf Wednesday: the Case of Dr. Broniervski (1912)

In the same chapter that it provides a detailed outline of a lycanthropy ritual, Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book on werewolves offers a supposedly true account of a meeting with such a shapeshifter. Attributed to one Dr. Broniervski, the story should be taken with the same helping of salt as all of the other “true” stories retold b O’Donnell, but even if fictional it marks an interesting blend of the werewolf theme with the intangibility of a ghost story.

Taking place ten years before Dr. Broniervski met O’Donnell (a date that is meaningless, as the book never reveals when the two met), the story begins with the doctor travelling in Montenegro. He hires a local guide named Kniaz, but his companion Dugald Dalghetty warns him against this choice: “Kniaz has the evil eye,” says Dalghetty; “he will bring misfortune on you. Choose some one else.”

Broniervski ignores this warning and sets off with Kniaz on a journey from Cetinge to a town called Skaravoski, the latter of which appears to have never been mentioned in any other publication. Along the way, the conversation turns to the supernatural:

He asked me several times if I believed in the supernatural, and when I laughingly replied ‘No, I am far too practical and level-headed,’ he said ‘Wait. We are now in the land of spirits. You will soon change your opinion.’ The country we were traversing was certainly forbidding—forbidding enough to be the hunting ground of legions of ferocious animals. But the supernatural! Bah! I flouted such an idea.

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Werewolf Wednesday: “The Man-Wolf” by Émile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian (1859)

800px-Erckmann-Chatrian_woodburytypeThis week I shall be taking a look at an early piece of French werewolf literature, courtesy of authors Émile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian. The story was originally published in either 1859 or 1860 (the sources I have at hand are inconsistent) as “Hugues-le-loup”, while an English translation entitled “The Man-Wolf” was published in 1876 and can be read online here.

The story by Erckmann-Chatrian concerns a Germanic family cursed with a (possibly psychological) lycanthropy that dates back to their ancestor Hugues, whose name anglicises to Hugh. This is an interesting overlap with “Hugues, the Wer-Wolf” by the British writer Sutherland Menzies, published nearly thirty years previously, which involved a (supposedly) lycanthropic family surnamed Hugues.

Menzies appears to have borrowed the name from Hugh Lupus, a Norman earl; I know of no folklore association the real-life Hugues with lycanthropy, but his name fits. Were Erckmann and Chatrian also inspired by the same individual? It seems curious that two French writers would model a family of fictional German aristocrats upon a Norman-British personage, but the trnaslator’s note at the start of the story playfully suggests a connection:

The English reader will not fail to notice the correspondence between the title and the well-known designation of the illustrious head of the noble house of Grosvenor. Whatever connection there may or may not be between that German Hugh Lupus of a thousand years ago and the truly British Hugh Lupus of our day, all the base qualities of his supposed progenitor have disappeared in him who is adorned with all the qualities which make the English nobility rank as the pride and the flower of our land.

“The Man-Wolf” begins with the protagonist, a doctor named Fritz, being visited by his sometime foster-father Gideon Sperver. The latter reveals that his master the Count of Nideck is suffering from “a terrible kind of illness, something like madness” and needs medical help.

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Werewolf Wednesday: The Damnable Life and Death of Stubbe Peeter (1590)

Peter Stubbe

No survey of werewolf history would be complete without discussing The Damnable Life and Death of Stubbe Peeter, a 1590 text that was (so the front matter claims) “Truly translated out of the high Dutch, according to the copy printed in Collin, brought over into England by George Bores ordinary post, the 11th day of this present month of June 1590, who did both see and hear the same.” An online copy can be read here.

After some pious opening remarks upon the evil of those who stray from God, the document introduces us to its chief personage:

In the towns of Cperadt and Bedbur near Collin in high Germany, there was continually brought up and nourished one Stubbe Peeter, who from his youth was greatly inclined to evil and the practicing of wicked arts even from twelve years of age till twenty, and so forwards till his dying day, insomuch that surfeiting in the damnable desire of magic, necromancy, and sorcery, acquainting himself with many infernal spirits and fiends, insomuch tat forgetting the God that made him, and that Savior that shed his blood man man’s redemption: In the end, careless of salvation gave both soul and body to the Devil for ever, for small carnal pleasure in this life, that he might be famous and spoken of on earth, though he lost heaven thereby.

We are told that Stubbe Peeter was motivated by malice rather than greed. Instead of riches, this sorcerer asked the Devil for the ability to turn into a ferocious beast, and his wish was granted by a magic girdle:

The Devil, who saw him a fit instrument to perform mischief as a wicked fiend pleased with the desire of wrong and destruction, gave unto him a girdle which, being put around him, he was straight transformed into the likeness of a greedy, devouring wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like unto brands of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth, a huge body and mighty paws. And no sooner should he put off the same girdle, but presently he should appear in his former shape, according to the proportion of a man, as if he had never been changed.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell on How to Become a Werewolf (1912)

This week I’m returning to Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book Werwolves, which previously provided the account of Estonia’s luminous lycanthrope. In the fourth chapter, O’Donnell discusses how a person might become a werewolf; once again, his seeming inability to actually cite his sources gives the general impression that he’s just making things up on the fly, but his book nonetheless has interest as a stage in the development of werewolf literature.

O’Donnell lists a few alleged methods of obtaining lycanthropy: “by eating a wolf’s brains, by drinking water out of a wolf’s footprints, or by drinking out of a stream from which three or more wolves have been seen to drink”. These sound to me as though they may be genie folkloric concepts, although I have yet to find earlier attestations to them (the detail about footprints turns up in a number of later publications). O’Donnell, meanwhile, is unimpressed: “but as most of the stories I have heard of werwolfery acquired in this way are of a wild and improbable nature, I think there is little to be learned from the modus operandi they advocate.” Given the fanciful nature of the stories he chose to include, this really does raise questions about the ones he rejected.

O’Donnell notes that “in some people lycanthropy is hereditary”, possibly drawing upon the theme of the cursed werewolf family found sometimes in nineteenth-century literature, “and when it is not hereditary it may be acquired through the performance of certain of the rites ordained by Black Magic.” The author states that these rites “vary according to locality” before outlining what he apparently considers to be a typical werewolf ritual.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell’s Luminous Lycanthrope (1912)

Elliott O’Donnell (1872-1965) was a writer who presented himself as something like a real-life version of the occult detectives found in Edwardian weird fiction. H published volumes of purportedly true supernatural encounters, not only describing the stories but providing his own theories as to the supernatural underpinnings. Across his oeuvre, he depicted a world haunted by many varieties of occult entity that he was nonetheless able to fit into a generally coherent theoretical framework.

How seriously any of this should be taken is a matter of debate, however. His habit of removing names and locations (and therefore corroborating details) from the accounts he relates does not inspire confidence; not, indeed, does the fact that these narratives – even when supposedly recorded word-for-word from the people who shared them with O’Donnell – share a remarkably similar writing style. Whatever we make of his claims to veracity, however, we can hardly deny that his prolific output has earned him a place in the history of supernatural literature.

In his 1912 book Werwolves [sic] O’Donnell expresses a belief in the literal existence of these beings beings and dismisses as “grotesque and ridiculous” the idea that lycanthropy can be anything other than supernatural in origin. He acknowledges the possibility of psychological lycanthropy amongst the “bloodthirsty and ignorant” people of West Africa, but cannot see how such a thing could ever affect the “kindly and intelligent” populations of Germany, France and Scandinavia. In an idiosyncratic touch, O’Donnell speculates that certain werewolves may actually be the ghosts of people who showed a specific set of traits in life:

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Werewolf Wednesday: “The White Wolf of Kostopchin” by Sir Gilbert Campbell (1889)

Frederick Marryat’s “White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains” appears to have been influential in its time, and its lycanthropic temptress Christina has a number of clear descendants in werewolf fiction of the nineteenth century. One example of this can be found in Sir Gilbert Campbell’s “The White Wolf of Kostopchin”, published in his 1889 collection Wild and Weird: Tales of Imagination and Mystery.

The main character of this story is Paul Sergevitch, “a gentleman of means, and the most discontented man in Russian Poland”. Once noted for his extravagance and loose-living, Paul was forced to retreat into his estate of Kostopchin in Lithuania after killing the prime minister of an unspecified country in a duel. Here he sired two children, Alexis and Katrina, their mother dying three years after marriage.

Katrina desires that her father bring her squirrels form the forest, but Pauk’s servant Michal warns him that the woodlands are dangerous: “there are terrible tales told about them, of witches that dance in the moonlight, of strange, shadowy forms that are seen amongst the trunks of the tall pines, and of whispered vies that tempt the listeners to eternal perdition.” Michal recounts his own experience of encountering a pack of wolves there; he was able to ward most of them off with a crucifix, but the leader – a fearsome white she-wolf – continued to pursue him.

Paul dismisses Michal’s claims, but reconsiders his position when he finds the mutilated body of a local poacher in the forest. Days pass and more bodies turn up in similar condition: in each case the heart has been removed, and in each case a tuft of white fur is found nearby. Paul arranges for a band of men to beat thei way through the woods in search of the beast responsible; they find not a white wolf, however, but a beautiful woman with red hair, blue eyes, a green travelling cap and a mantle of white fur. Her hands are stained with blood, which she claims to have picked up after an encounter with the wolf.

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Werewolf Wednesday: “The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains” by Frederick Marryat (1839)

The Phantom Ship, Captain Frederick Marryat’s meandering 1839 novel about the Flying Dutchman, touches upon the werewolf theme in an example of the story-within-a-story technique popular in novels of the period. The chapter in question has aged better than the rest of the novel: it was included in Montague Summers’ 1931 Supernatural Omnibus as a self-contained short story under the title “The White Wolf of the Hartz Mounters” and has been reprinted many times since then.

During the chapter, the character of Hermann Krantz tells the story of his father, a Transylvanian serf (note that this was before Bram Stoker had rendered Transylvania indelibly associated with vampires). The account starts off with the elder Krantz murdering both his wife and his master after catching them having an affair:

The evidence of my mother’s shame was positive; he surprised her in the company of her seducer! Carried away by the impetuosity of his feelings, he watched the opportunity of a meeting taking place between them, and murdered both his wife and her seducer. Conscious that, as a serf, not even the provocation which he had received would be allowed as a justification of his conduct, he hastily collected together what money he could lay his hands upon, and, as we were then in the depth of winter, he put his horses to the sleigh, and taking his children with him, he set off in the middle of the night, and was far away before the tragical circumstance had transpired.

Krantz and his three children relocate to a remote cabin in the Harz Mountains. In the snowy wilderness he catches sight of a rare white wolf and chases after it. His pursuit takes him to one of the “peculiar spots on those mountains which are supposed… to be inhabited by the evil influences” and he loses sight of the wolf, but encounters a pair of mysterious travellers: a huntsman and his beautiful daughter.

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Werewolf Wednesday: “Hugues, the Wer-Wolf” by Sutherland Menzies (1838)

“Hugues, the Wer-Wolf” was published in 1838 and attributed to Sutherland Menzies; ISFDB mentions a theory that the true author was Elizabeth Stone, and I notice a few documents on Google Books indicating that a woman by that name did indeed use the pseudonym Sutherland Menzies. Whoever wrote it, the story is an early literary treatment of the werewolf theme – albeit one that lacks a bona fide werewolf.

The story takes place during the reign of Henry II and deals with a Norman family residing in the Kentish countryside. Although the family name is Hugues, their Anglo-Saxon neighbours know them as the Wulfrics, believing them to be werewolves – “so thoroughly was accredited the descent of the original lycanthropic stain transmitted from father to son through several generations.” While the story depicts belief in werewolves as merely a superstition, Menzies does offer some colourful descriptions of lycanthropic activity:

The churchyard at Ashford, and the stone cross, from whence diverged the several roads to London, Canterbury, and Ashford, situated midway between the two latter places, served, so tradition avouched, as nocturnal theatres for the unhallowed deeds of the Wulfrics, who thither prowled by moonlight, it was said, to batten on the freshly-buried dead, or drain the blood of any living wight who might be rash enough to venture among those solitary spots.

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Werewolf Wednesday: The Werewolf of Washington (1973)

WerewolfWashingtonWhite House Press Secretary Jack Whittier gets bitten by a werewolf during an assignment in Hungary. After he returns to the halls of American power, he finds that the full moon has a strange and dismaying effect on him – which, as it happens, turns out to disrupt things for his boss, as well.

The Werewolf of Washington is a comedy, that much goes without saying, although it’s a long way from the cartoonishly broad humour typical of monster comedies since Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Instead, it turns out to be an oddball film that mixes dry political satire, distinctly understated genre parody and the occasional bout of out-and-out weirdness.

The sequence in which Whittier gets bitten by the werewolf is essentially a remake of Lon Chaney Jr’s first lycanthopic encounter in The Wolf Man, so much so that the protagonist’s jaunt between countries feels like an analogy for a switch between genres. Whittier heads from political drama to Universal horror, taking something of the latter back with him on his return trip. The overall aesthetic, meanwhile, is very much the product of 1970s New Hollywood: erratic visual storytelling, hazy cinematography, and a steadfast refusal to pick a tone and stick with it.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Legend of the Werewolf (1975)

LegendWerewolfPosterA woman dies giving birth in the nineteenth-century French countryside on Christmas Eve, and the baby is brought up by wolves. As a result of these unusual circumstances, the boy is a werewolf. Years pass and the feral child is adopted by a travelling carnival, the owner of which dubs him Etoile; but his act becomes harder to sustain as he grows and becomes accustomed to civilisation. The adult Etoile leaves the carnival and finds work at a zoo – after which mysterious and gruesome deaths begin occurring in the vicinity…

Hammer made only one film about lycanthropy – Curse of the Werewolf from 1961 – but anyone curious as to what a second Hammer werewolf film might have looked like could get an idea from watching Legend of the Werewolf. Although made by rival studio Tyburn, some key talent from Hammer was involved: star Peter Cushing, director Freddie Francis and writer Anthony Hinds (alias John Elder) – who, as it happens, wrote and produced Curse of the Werewolf. Even the werewolves seen across the two films have remarkably similar make-up jobs.

Unsurprisingly, Hinds’ plots for the two films also overlap. Each has a prologue steeped in folklore, in this case incorporating superstitions regarding Christmas births (a detail also found in Curse) and the mythical upbringing of Romulus and Remus. Moving from legend to literature, we then have the sight of the young Etoile frolicking about like Mowgli; if nothing else, this is a werewolf film with a refreshingly eclectic range of influences.

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