The Werewolf of Paris
Werewolves are enjoying a fine romp across current literature and cinema. Though the filming techniques were cheesy, watching Lon Chaney transform from wolf to human in the 1941 Wolfman made me shiver when it was replayed on Saturday afternoons. I was similarly chilled by Dracula and Frankenstein in both film and print. Two years after those films were released in 1931, The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore was published. Endore’s book is now back in print.
The wolfman myth is especially intriguing, since I may become one myself. Chaney’s wolfman appears after he is bitten by another werewolf. However, according to Romanian myth, people like me who were born in the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany (thus conceived during Easter when sex was forbidden) are destined to become werewolves.
Like Romania’s lycanthropes, Endore’s wolfman was born, not bitten. Bertrand Caillet is conceived when his mother is ravished by a false priest; scion of an ancient, degenerate family. Young Bertrand is a charming, puppyish boy, but when he nears puberty mangled animals begin to appear, and his guardian locks Bertrand in at night. His appetite seems to be tamed by a raw meat diet, so the young man is allowed to attend school in Paris, just as France is trembling on the brink of revolution. Then the killings begin …
The Werewolf of Paris holds up well after several decades, though its pace and graphic depictions are rather tame by today’s standards. However, it is a fine tale of compulsion, both physical and sexual, and it questions human nature itself. Can the beast within Bertrand Caillet be controlled? And what about the rest of us – does a ravening wolf dwell within our souls, to be revealed when stress or temptation overcome our better natures? An intriguing and entertaining read.