- The Nature Of The Beast: Transformations Of The Werewolf From The 1970s To The Twenty-First Century by Carys Crossen
Of the many shapeshifter characters found in cultures around the world from prehistoric times to today, the werewolf remains quintessential. The image of a man—or more often in contemporary depictions, a woman—horribly undergoing a painful transition from human to wolf resonates in our collective consciousness, appearing in novels, movies, and other forms of popular culture. Carys Crossen’s The Nature of the Beast offers readers an insightful and well-researched investigation into the evolution of our ongoing fascination with the werewolf over the previous half century.
Before the modern era, werewolves were most commonly depicted in folk tales, literature, and films as rational humans that shapeshifted into violent wolves, fully animal and devoid of thought, memories, emotions, logic, or [End Page 348] rationality. Crossen asserts that the werewolf character has been evolving since the 1970s, becoming less animalistic, although still in its lupine form, and more “subjective,” defined as “possessing conscious experiences, thoughts, and feelings” (5). While werewolf stories have been around since ancient times, dating back to the Greek myth of Lycaon turned into a wolf by Zeus, only in the last few decades have werewolves been depicted in a manner that explored the possibility of their subjectivity rather than relying entirely on their bestial nature.
Throughout the book, Crossen cites the work of philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari to support her argument that in contemporary literature the werewolf has become a more subjective creature. She disa-vows Freudian notions of the “beast within,” prevalent in pre-1970s literature and film, in favor of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “multiplicities.” These theorists advocate “the concept of the continually-evolving self, of shifting and changing subjectivity” (37), which Crossen documents in werewolves appearing in Anne Rice’s The Wolf Gift (2012), Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series (2001–2012), and Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf trilogy (2012–2014), among others.
Crossen emphasizes werewolves in contemporary fiction but includes an interesting discussion of werewolves in film in her first chapter, “The Werewolf ’s Journey towards Subjectivity.” She claims that, while werewolves in fiction after the 1970s have become more subjective and are ever-evolving, contemporary film still favors a male-oriented, “beast within” type of werewolf. She cites Barbara Creed’s assertion that the cinematic werewolf, like many shapeshifter types, represents a “deep-seated anxiety over the definition of what it means to be male and human” (48). Crossen adds that female werewolves are becoming ever more popular in contemporary fiction, perhaps mirroring the rise of female empowerment in society, but that the cinematic werewolf remains predominantly male. Although not mentioned by Crossen, the first werewolf movie ever made, the 1913 silent film The Werewolf (dir. Henry MacRae), features a female werewolf—and one who is subjective, as she retains the century-old memory of wrongs committed against her and administers a vengeful punishment on her tormentor. The female subjective werewolf in the movie contradicts Crossen’s assertion of such characters coming into vogue only after the 1970s, but this film and the 1898 short story by Honoré Beaugrand on which it is based may be unique outliers.
In her second chapter, “The Lycanthrope, the Werewolf Pack and Human Society,” Crossen examines how werewolf packs form and the roles that individual werewolves, especially female, play within them. Recognizing that the developing subjectivity among individual werewolves is what allows packs to [End Page 349] form, based on like-minded individuals coming together for mutual support and survival, she points out that packs may differ from one another as much as discrete human societies do. Further, not every pack member may have equal standing. There is, for example, the “exceptional female,” a werewolf of superior intelligence, cunning, or even physical strength that may be perceived as a threat to pack leaders...