Last week on Mythical Monday I shared a vampire legend, so it seemed only fitting I share the tale of a werewolf today. I’ve been in love with werewolf folktales ever since I was a little girl and first set eyes on Quentin Collins of Dark Shadows. Since then my preoccupation with this tortured night prowler steadily grew until I eventually wrote my own story, Weathering Rock.
Today, I’d like to share an older tale with you, one that originates in the Auvergne province of France. According to legend, there was once a great lord and lady whose lands bordered an area dense with forest. All was well until a creature began slaughtering the lord’s flocks. This went on for several days each month but the creature, one of great stealth and savagery, could not be caught. Many men tried and failed.
Finally, the lord summoned his master huntsman and bade him kill the wretched beast. Surely if anyone could end its reign of terror, it would be the huntsman.
Vowing to succeed, the man set out grimly determined. As dusk fell and a pall of shadows smothered the land, he came upon the creature in a wood near the manor pastures. The huntsman drove it into the underbrush, but the beast turned on him, knocking him to the ground.
Drawing his knife, he managed to slice off of one its forepaws. With a blood-curdling howl, the wolf bolted into the woods. The huntsman tracked it through the night, but was unsuccessful in finding it. When dawn was still hours away, he returned to the manor and placed the severed paw in a wooden box as a trophy for his lord.
The next day the huntsman sought an audience with his master and relayed his tale with pride. He presented the box with the beast’s forepaw as proof of his encounter with the heinous creature. But when the box was opened, a woman’s hand lay inside. The lord’s expression turned thunderous, for the hand bore a signet ring twin to his own.
Stalking to his wife’s bedchamber he threw open the door and found her being attended by physicians. When he demanded to know why, she explained she’d suffered a terrible accident, and that her left hand had been severed at the wrist.
“Here is your hand, woman,” he thundered, displaying the grisly trophy. Then he commanded his physicians to bind her, condemning her as a werewolf. She pleaded with him for mercy, but he turned deaf fears and ordered her burned at the stake.
Not a very loving husband, was he? And you probably thought he was going to go ballistic on the huntsman when he first saw the hand (I did).
But these were dark times full of superstition and cruelty. Land and livestock held far more value than a wife. I’m sure the huntsman was richly rewarded, though the tale doesn’t go that far.
One of the things that attract me to the werewolf legend is the duality of strength and fragility, its immense power bound by the whim of moonlight. The anguish of conflict, human and creature. Vampires remember their mortal life, but once turned there is no going back. The werewolf has to constantly straddle both sides of a curse — mostly human but doomed to a bestial existence every full moon.
What about you? Are you a werewolf fan? Any favorite aspects of the werewolf curse you’d like to ponder? Or maybe there’s a particular wolf story or movie that resonated with you. Halloween is creeping right around the corner. Do share!