edited by Mark Valentine
Review by Hereward L.M. Proops
The Wordsworth “Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural” (http://www.wordsworth-editions.com/) series of books has got me rather excited indeed. Not only are the budget publishers reprinting a number of classic horror stories, they are also putting together collections of stories that are long out of print and have hitherto been very difficult to get hold of. In the UK, the books retail for ￡2.99 each - less than the price of a magazine – and are adorned with suitably moody, blood-spattered covers. Authors such as HP Lovecraft, Denis Wheatley, Henry James, Wilkie Collins, Gaston Leroux, Sheridan Le Fanu and Robert E. Howard are included, showing a good balance between the nineteenth century “classics” and the “pulp” authors of the early twentieth century. I've recently purchased a stack of said books with the intention of reviewing each one as I plough through them.
First up is “The Werewolf Pack”, a collection of fairy tales, folk tales and short stories dealing with werewolves. Though zombies and vampires seem to enjoy bursts of popularity every five to ten years, werewolves appear to have remained steadily popular cultural icons for several centuries. Authors such as Alexandre Dumas, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and Ambrose Bierce all penned werewolf stories in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The silver screen became the domain of the werewolf in the twentieth century with Lon Chaney's iconic “The Wolf Man” and its numerous sequels. The 1950s saw lycanthropy being used as a metaphor for teenage delinquency in “I was a Teenage Werewolf”. After the success of 1981's “The Howling” and “An American Werewolf in London” the lycanthropic floodgates were opened and we were treated to a glut of cinematic skinwalkers including Michael J. Fox's “Teen Wolf” and Michael Jackson's “Thriller” video. In the past decade we've had the werewolf as a metaphor for PMS in “Ginger Snaps” and the goofy thrills of the blackly comic “Dog Soldiers”. Werewolves even made their way into C.S. Lewis' “Prince Caspian” and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, showing that the ravenous hairy beasts weren't just limited to adult fiction. However, thanks to the “Twilight” series, most younger readers will now associate werewolves with the shirtless, sexy Jacob Black.
The majority of the werewolves we meet in “The Werewolf Pack” aren't particularly sexy. However, not all of them are likely to want to rip your throat out at the first opportunity either. Editor Mark Valentine has assembled an eclectic collection of stories for this relatively short collection. Though ostensibly a collection of horror stories, a significant proportion of the collection do not fit easily into this genre and those in search of more traditional tales of lycanthropes may find themselves disappointed. A number of the stories are re-tellings of folk tales. Andrew Lang's “The Boy and the Wolves” is a very short but effective American Indian tale. Gail-Nina Anderson's revisionist werewolf fable “The Tale Untold” is likely to appeal to those looking for a feminist angle and Count Stenbock's “The Other Side - a Breton Legend” is full of pretty imagery but will unfortunately leave most readers scratching their heads. Other stories in the collection take the form of family-friendly fairy tales. “The White Wolf” and “William and the Werewolf” both feature a heroic werewolf whose curse is lifted at the end of the tale enabling everyone to live happily ever after. Saki's misanthropic, twisted tale of a wild-boy “Gabriel-Ernest” makes an appearance here, as does the comic “The She-Wolf”. The final tale of the collection is R.B. Russell's “Loup-Garou” which has the narrator viewing a French art-house film about a werewolf and finding himself strangely affected by it.
Interesting as these stories are, the majority of readers won't be picking up this book to read these alternative takes on the werewolf mythos. Most people will want to read the more conventional stories of full moons, silver bullets and hideous transformations. Sir Gilbert Campbell's “The White Wolf of Kostopchin” and Barry Pain's “The Undying Thing” are both grisly tales featuring the more traditional werewolves. “The Terror in the Snow” is an effective little detective story penned by B. Fletcher Robinson, the man who helped Conan Doyle devise “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson themselves make an appearance in Ron Weighell's “The Shadow of the Wolf” which sees the famous sleuth up against a killer who may or may not be a werewolf. The stand-out story in the collection is “The Clay Party” by Steve Duffy. Here, the author relocates the traditional werewolf story to the American West and what begins as a tale of a doomed wagon train headed to California in 1846 quickly becomes a tale of murder, cannibalism and shape-shifters.
“The Werewolf Pack” is an ambitious little collection. Rather than opt for the safer option of cobbling together a handful of conventional man-turns-into-wolf-then-kills yarns, Mark Valentine has instead chosen to gather a disparate group of stories that chart the evolution of the werewolf mythos from cursed creature of legend to more subtle, contemporary portrayals of the monster within. Though some readers might grumble that there aren't enough stories that are red in tooth and claw, there is enough variety in the small anthology to satisfy most people.
Hereward L.M. Proops