Searchlight: The Werewolf

The Werewolf by Montague SummersWhen you run out of stories to read about a monstrous subject, sometimes it’s best to visit the folklore that fuels those tales. When it comes to the werewolf, there’s a ton of fiction out there, but not much of it is very good. Fortunately for us, the best werewolf fiction out there delivers the goods and is essential reading for your horror education. Most of the non-fiction is standard fare, but one would be hard-pressed to find a reference guide as thorough as The Werewolf in Lore and Legend by Montague Summers.

Montague Summers (1880-1948) is kind of hit and miss when it comes to horror reference. The author of several non-fiction titles such as The History of Witchcraft and Demonology, The Vampire: His Kith and Kin, and the translator of the Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, it’s not that he was wrong about any of his information, it’s just that today’s readers might find his research a little light in the factual information department. Nonetheless, Summers made excellent use with what he could research and wrote a remarkable guide full of folklore and strange case-studies, with a massive bibliography at the end for further reading, though many of the volumes cited are long out of print or available only at university libraries.

Originally published in 1933, The Werewolf in Lore and Legend begins with a means of defining Lycanthropy, its history and possible origins. Presenting the history and case studies, each chapter covers a different geographic locale known for werewolf folklore, going through Greece, Italy and Portugal, moving over west to England and Ireland, shifting east to France, then finally to the North and east covering Germany and Russia. One of the more fascinating case studies, the legend of the German werewolf Peter Stübbe, is covered in detail, including a reproduction of the original pamphlet written about his case. Summers closes out with mention of the current (for that time) fictional literature about werewolves, and a section on witch ointments by Dr. H. J. Norman.

Lukas_Mayer_1589_Hinrichtung_Peter_StumpThough quite dated, the reading is scholarly yet completely engrossing. Advances in psychology shine a brighter light on lycanthropy case-studies, giving us the opportunity to view the afflicted not as cursed, but as individuals suffering from severe psychosis. A belief in the supernatural is not required to see the massive benefits from this volume, as it is full of story prompts to inspire the imagination. And though the sources cited within may no longer be available, the book is quite easy to find online at an affordable price. Those seeking in-depth knowledge of werewolves will find The Werewolf in Lore and Legend worth the price of admission, and delightfully creepy reading, especially when the moon is full.

 

BOB PASTORELLA

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