Marc Hoover:
Legend of the werewolf: From the European tales to Hollywood films

Werewolves are mystical creatures commonly known as lycanthropes—a combination of the Greek word Lykoi for wolf and Anthropos for man. The werewolf legend has continued and still remains the subject of many horror movies. The legend originates from European tales about a fierce, wolf-like creature that attacked, killed, and ravaged innocents. According to legend, you can spot a werewolf in its human form.

Marc Hoover

Allegedly, in its human form, a werewolf has curved fingernails and bushy eyebrows that meet at the nose bridge. This murderous creature has a distinctive walk, bristles under its tongue, and fur protruding from its wounds. It may even have one seriously bad attitude. If this sounds like someone you know, then he or she might possibly be a werewolf.

Early legends describe the werewolf as a wolf with human traits. The beast has a human’s soulful eyes, no tail, and the ability to speak. For instance, consider Little Red Riding Hood, a classic tale written by Charles Perrault. In Perrault’s story, a greedy wolf devours the naïve Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. Authors Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm replaced the original dark ending with one not so terrifying. In their version, a hunter cut the wolf open with an ax and rescued grandma and Little Red. However, the lesson remains the same—children should avoid strangers.

Most people familiar with this classic tale recognize the wolf as the adversary, but he wasn’t your average wolf. Little Red Riding Hood described the hungry wolf as if it were human. We know this because Red referred to the wolf’s oversized eyes, arms, and legs. Who can forget the famous, “My Grandma, what big eyes you have.” The old critter had the capacity to think and speak like a human.

However, original European werewolf legends differ from Hollywood versions that starred actors David Naughton, Michael Landon, and Lon Chaney. Europeans thought that anyone who lived a wicked lifestyle was punished by becoming a werewolf. They believed people could become werewolves if they drank rainwater from a wolf’s paw print, engaged in a Satanic ritual, or if they had angered God. Europeans even thought werewolves could transform at will. Then you have the Hollywood werewolf that can only change during a full moon and be killed by a silver bullet.

Hollywood werewolves can also turn others into werewolves with a savage bite. Legend has it that anyone who survives an attack from a werewolf is destined to become one. Werewolves also have super strength and are stronger than any individual human or wolf with heightened senses and can easily pick up the scent of their prey. Based on folklore, werewolves can only be cured by exorcism, medicine or surgery.

Although the werewolf phenomenon has existed for centuries, no one knows how the myth began. Most likely, it started like other legends—as a result of superstition and fear. Consider two events from the 1500s. In 1521, a trio of killers named Philibert Montot, Pierre Burgot, and Michael Verdun were executed as the werewolves of Poligny. Another serial killer named Gilles Garnier was a recluse and a cannibal. A court tried him and charged him with being a lycanthrope and a witch after he confessed to killing at least four children.

He claimed a ghost had given him an ointment that enabled him to transform into a wolf. For his crimes, he was burned at the stake on January 18, 1573. Combine the horrific acts of serial killers and superstition and you have the making of an elaborate werewolf legend.

With so many Hollywood remakes I am surprised that we haven’t seen any new werewolf movies. Anyone else ready for a new werewolf movie?

Marc is a grandparent and longtime resident of Clermont County. Visit his author page Life with Grandpa and he also just wrote Just Bite Me: A Guide to Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Walking Nightmares, which is available on Amazon.com.