This week I talked to my friend, Elsa Carruthers. She’s been busy editing a book of critical essays on Westworld and preparing a critical essay chapter for Not a Fit Place: Essays on the Haunting of Hill House. She also has works in Amazing Stories Magazine Spring 2019 edition and NonBinary Review 19. Fortunately, Carruthers took time to discuss her favorite monster—the werewolf.
Lycanthropy, for the unaware, is the clinical term for werewolfism. This condition and monster has been around as long as time itself. Werewolves are some of the first monsters to come about in folktales. Termed as lycanthropy, it was one of the first identifiable mental illnesses, which was probably a form of schizophrenia.
Carruthers is very aware of the ancientness of the werewolf legend. She believes that some of the oldest ideas of the origins of how a person becomes a wolf needs a change. A person who is under the influence of an ancient curse “needs to be updated,” she says as does the role the werewolf plays as a “subservient” character to vampires. On this point, Carruthers says, “I’d also like to see werewolves stand alone in work that also features vampires.”
Not everything old needs to be discarded. Carruthers points out the link between lycanthropy and bloodlust found in some folklore needs to be revived. “That idea is very relevant today,” she says.
Carruthers, who also has interest in monsters of Jewish folklore, said that she had no idea that werewolves had been a part of Jewish folklore for centuries until she went to graduate school for creative writing and began researching monsters academically. She says that according to several sources including the book Sacred Monsters and Rabbi Slifkin discuss how medieval biblical scholar commentaries “compared Benjamin to a ravenous and/or predatory wolf.”
The concept of the werewolf has been around a very long time, but Carruthers doesn’t just dwell in the past, pouring over folklore accounts. She gets out occasionally and finds the werewolf in contemporary culture, which is good since a lot of what people think about werewolves comes from contemporary takes on the creature, especially from movies. Silver bullets killing the monsters comes straight from the movies.
Carruthers says that she has some favorite werewolf movies, stating that she loved The Howling when she first saw it. Now she says her favorites are Underworld: Rise of the Lycans and Gingersnaps. Both of these movies have strong female leads. Carruthers can see the similarities between lycanthropy and being female.
She says of the female werewolf, “I think beyond the issues that all werewolves face, female lycanthropes would wrestle with the bringing forth of more monstrosity into the world.” Carruthers states baby werewolves would be innocent for a while, but by the nature of the beast, this would change. “I think some [she wolves] might chose to not to become mothers. Others might become obsessed with finding a cure.”
A female werewolf character can also lend itself to humor as well. Carruthers believes that things like shaving legs and explaining “heat” to a human significant other is fodder for a very humorous werewolf. She says, “Writing these stories would be a lot of fun.”
Carruthers recommends the books Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones and When the People Lights Go Out. She adds, “The Hunger by Alma Katsu is really about Skin Walkers, but it still fits and it’s a great read.” In a similar vein, she also considers The Incredible Hulk and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to be werewolf stories as well. Although Bruce Banner and Henry Jekyll do not turn into wolves, their alter egos fit the animalistic nature of the creatures in classic werewolf mythology.
Werewolves are a monster that can represent different things for different people, so don’t be surprised if other interviews don’t pop up discussing the same creature. If you like Elsa Carruthers’s ideas about werewolves, check out her work. I’ll know you’ll appreciate it.