Are werewolves the next anything?

December 9th, 2010

In case you haven’t noticed, vampires and zombies are big these days. Really big. AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is the latest manifestation, and a fairly good one it is, too. (Although, as with “True Blood,” the show has garnered its share of critics who are willing to suspend disbelief on the question of vampires, witches, maenads, and were-panthers, but are fussily irritated at the inauthenticity of the actors’ Southern accents.)

Do you think werewolves are ever going to get their chance in the spotlight? I wonder.

Supernatural creatures work as metaphors. Vampires are superior to humans, but dependent upon them. They are takers, and a taker can serve as a metaphor for so many things: a decadent aristocracy, a demanding lover, an exploitative boss, a too-needy parent. (In “True Blood,” boy-next-door Hoyt is torn between his vampire girlfriend Jessica, who literally feeds on his blood with his joyous consent, and his controlling mother, who symbolically sucks the life out of him.)

Zombies are humans with no brains, and … well, you can kind of see how that could go in a lot of different directions. There’s a fundamental horror to the notion of facing another human being who can’t be reasoned with, whose motives are not fathomable to the normal mind. I’d submit that this is to a large extent the state of our political discourse today: both the left and the right seem convinced that the other side is brainwashed, unthinking, moved only by instinct and hunger.

So. Werewolves. What do they symbolize? What are they a meta for? And why don’t they ever seem to ride the wave of pop-culture glory as their supernatural colleagues do?


4 Responses to “Are werewolves the next anything?”

  1. bluemoose on December 9, 2010 10:17 am

    Always assumed that werewolves were supposed to scare us by showing us the “beast within” or “under” our civilised human exteriors — what would happen if we dropped our “pretense” of civility and acted from instinct alone. The primitive within us as understood by those scared of it.

  2. KellyK on December 9, 2010 11:00 am

    I agree with bluemoose, the werewolf is usually loss of control, primal emotion, and instinct. It might also symbolize puberty or other physical changes, in the way that your body starts doing weird, scary stuff outside of your control. Werewolves done as sympathetic characters also tend to symbolize a lot of harmony with nature and a positive kind of wildness, if that makes sense.

  3. EA Week on December 9, 2010 11:42 am

    Werewolves are some of my favorite fictitious supernatural characters–Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Remus Lupin from the Harry Potter series; Lucian from the Underworld movies; and Jake from the Twilight series. All are sympathetic characters who have suffered to varying degrees because of their condition.

    Interestingly, three of the four also inhabit a world where vampires exist, and in two of those cases (Twilight and Underworld), there’s a lot of vampire-werewolf hostility (in Underworld, it’s an outright war). For some reason, JK Rowling never got into vampires. Go figure.

  4. Shulamuth on December 10, 2010 3:13 pm

    I agree that weres are generally symbolic of “the wolf within”, the raw emotions that we mostly, but not always, keep under control.

    I’ve noticed, and not just in the highly popular media stuff, but all across the genre’s that allow for them, A) more weres (not necessarily just wolves) and B) that they are generally subject to the overall tendency to “civilize” supernaturals and are shown trying to control or funnel they’re scary powers in positive ways.

    I’ve been trying to figure out for a while what this movement towards more cultured supernaturals signifies. I do suspect that one of the reasons for zombies’ popularity is that they can’t be tamed in quite that way.

    Speaking of “I wonder” — has anyone but me noticed the switch from classic zombies, who are created, with much work, by someone who then controls them, and the current bunch, who mostly seem to work on a disease model (where a carrier bits you and “catch” zombie-hood). This seems to have come about around the same time we started toying with the ideas of socially acceptable vamps and weres, do we need at least one contagious bad-guy?

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