Monthly Archives: October 2013

What Big Teeth You Have.

When the moon is full take care, for that is the time that someone afflicted by a curse may undergo the terrible transformation, their feet and hands grow long and hair sprouts all over their body as they writhe in agony. Finally their face pushes forwards in to a slavering, canine snout and, head back, they let out a spine chilling howl. Now, in this monstrous form, they search for a lonely victim to rend, tear and devour. Only a silver bullet can stop them.

This werewolf, however, is a Victorian literary concoction. The werewolf of folktale is a very different beast. The full moon plays no part. Transformations being brought on by the donning of a wolf skin, the application of an ointment, or simply because the mood takes them. How are we to cope? At least with the lunar induced metamorphosis we know when to get the special ammunition on standby. Fortunately as well as being less predictable the folk wolfman is less invulnerable and can be killed by most normal methods for dispatching mammals.

The Daughter Of Ulkolak has a werewolf for a father. He is a woodcutter and one day starts eliminating his nine daughters because the are too expensive. When the youngest (and prettiest) is brought to the edge of the pit in which her sisters lie dead she asks Ulkolak to turn away while she undresses for her impending immolation. When his back is turned she pushes him in the pit and runs away. The werewolf is soon in pursuit so she throws her handkerchief behind her which he stops to rend into pieces. As she flees amongst the trees with the paws of death hot on her trail, she slings bonnet, gown, apron, petticoat and shift behind her, each buying her valuable moments. The now naked girl comes to a hay field and hides in a rick where the wolf fails to find her and she is eventually rescued.

“You want me to do what?”

In a little Red Riding Hood variant the werewolf, having slaughtered granny and disguised himself in her bed, bids the girl take off her clothes one by one, throw them in the fire and climb in to bed with him. At the end of the the classic “Oh, granny what big eyes you have” sequence, when they reach “All the better to eat you with” she cleverly escapes and is chased naked through the forest.

In these two tales we see a number of common threads: the separation from older feminine family members, the sequential destruction of clothing and a naked woodland flight to safety. The origin of this story lies, not in the transmutation of man in to wolf, but in the rebirth of girl in to woman. The story has been told for generations by mothers to daughters to prepare them for the inevitable changes of life, a classic warning of what is to come. The werewolf is either a symbol of the predatory male or a metaphor for the newly awakened sexual urges of adolescence. The youthful maiden ventures out of the home environment leaving the support and advice of her family. Her childish self is stripped away from her bit by bit and she has to face the frightening world of sexuality.

Our attitudes to the wolf are changing. In more recent re-workings of the werewolf trope, such as Being Human, they are regaining control. Maybe the warnings of this tale help us all towards taking responsibility for our animal side. 


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…and Things that go Munch in the Night

It’s that time again, as darkness falls upon the land and the dead rise from their crypts to walk amongst us, reaching out with cold, unfriendly fingers to suck life from the living… though I hope my previous wafflings on this subject have shown that the dead are exactly that and can do us little harm beyond spilling our cocoa in mild surprise at their re-appearance. It was a noticeable feature of several of the stories that I came across in my research for last year’s “The Raven and other Underworld Journeys” that the doors to the land of the dead are firmly shut and once you get down there you are not coming back. If the conditions are right you might be able to get a phone call through though.

Originally the late October feast, Samhain (pronounced Sawain) in the celtic language of the Britons back before the Romans came here, was a time to relax and enjoy the fruits of the years labours; the storehouses were full from the harvest and the year’s work was done. At the death of the year and the thinning of the veil between past present and future, it was also a time to give thanks to and commune with the ancestors, an opportunity to seek advice from late Uncle Jack or Grandmother Jane. With the coming of Christianity the tradition of talking to deceased relatives went from normal to dark and terrible. Since then our low mortality rates and hurried funerary practices have distanced us from death to such an extent that we no longer have the psychological means to deal with it, our collective terror of death being so great that we have demonised the dead themselves. The result of this is a vast mountain of zombie flicks in which the touch of the dead can transform even our nearest and dearest in to ravenous fiends hungry for our brains, at least one of the gang of plucky survivors having to pull the trigger in the face of their best friend or closest relative.

Our fear of re-animated corpses and ghosts is all in our minds, a projection of our fear of death and could be easily laid to rest by accepting deaths inevitability and celebrating the lives of those that have passed on before us. Needless to say I will be leaving the waking dead for the movies to deal with. If you want something to be scared of, and it would appear that many of you do, then I would choose the living.

For the spooky season this year I shall be concentrating on beings far more likely to creep in to your bedroom under cover of darkness and fasten their fangs in your goose-bump covered flesh than zombies or ghosts. My Halloween tour takes me from Evolution in Exeter on the 18th October, across the country to London and back with eleven gigs on the way ending on November the 9th at the Skittle alley of my local pub, the London Inn in Morchard Bishop. My entourage for this spine chilling venture will be “Goblins, Ghouls And Long Legged Beasties”… all of them very much alive!


Goblins, Ghouls and Long Legged Beasties tour poster

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Filed under Autumn, Halloween, October, Samhain, Spooky, stories