Lions & Tigers & Werewolves (Oh, My)

Originally posted last year at Darkeva’s Dark Delights.


I watched a lot of horror movies when I was a kid, and the only monsters that were able to scare me were werewolves.  It wasn’t until I grew older that I realized why that was the case.  Vampires didn’t frighten me, nor zombies, nor mummies or any manner of creature from beyond the stars.  It wasn’t even about special effects, though some films like “The Howling” and “An American Werewolf in London” had memorable transformation sequences.

No, it came down to what werewolves represented.  By day they walk undetected amongst us; at night they hunt us for food.  Scratch the surface of any normal-looking individual, and one might find a murderous predator lurking beneath.  That’s a very real fear for people, especially children and parents, the secrets of two-faced strangers.

Werewolves struck a nerve because I saw myself in them.  And I don’t mean the trite YA angle of a pubescent boy who suddenly sprouts hair all over and takes an animalian interest in the opposite sex.  It went deeper than that, the primal fear underneath the phobia.

In my novel The Shadow Wolves, I call it the Beast.  It dwells in every person, some more strongly than others.  It’s a bestial darkness that each person fosters.  Average people do their best to suppress it, while others give in to it.  (The latter are the ones you usually see in police mugshots or under a BREAKING NEWS headline on CNN.)

The issues lycanthropy raises are existential ones:  loss of identity, loss of self-control.  These are the same things that upset me when I looked into a mirror, so I was able to draw on that dread as I wrote the book.

I wanted to probe other aspects as well.  The Shadow Wolves are a Border Patrol unit that patrols a Native American reservation in Arizona.  In the novel, its members are corrupted by the power of skinwalking and begin to think themselves superior to mankind.  This sets up dramatic tension between the protagonist (Scout Hemene) and the team he so desperately wants to accept him.

As I broke the story in my head, initially I wanted Scout to fall in love with the team’s only female.  He’d help rescue her from the other werewolves and start a new life together.  Only through his love for her does he reconnect with his own humanity.

It didn’t take long to realize that’s the same plot to almost every classic werewolf book or movie, the woman who tames the beast within the man.  Since I didn’t want to tread ground that’s been already trampled, I mused about other types of love.  Everyone jumps to romantic love because it’s the most obvious, but there’s friendship love and familial love and — eureka.

Once I had the epiphany that this wasn’t a story about a man falling in love with a woman, the rest of the book quickly fell in place.  Instead it would be about two estranged brothers who reunite through the power of shape-shifting.

The Shadow Wolves allowed me to explore universal themes using a supernatural canvas to tell the tale.  I believe that’s what the horror genre does at its best.  And that’s how werewolves went from scaring my six-year-old self to becoming this author’s favorite kind of monster.

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