Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Oct 222013

I don’t want to give the wrong impression with this post title. I sort of liked Jonathan Maberry’s The Wolfman. Depending on when you ask me, I might even tell you I liked it a lot. I certainly enjoyed the book for a while, but as it got closer to the end, its appeal diminished. I’ll get to that in due time, so there will be spoilers in this post.

At least it really was Lon Chaney, Jr.

At least it really was Lon Chaney, Jr.

First, though, I’d like to briefly talk about werewolves, wolfmen, whatever you want to call them. Of the classic monsters, I’m the least familiar with them. Off the top of my head, I went into this book most familiar with Angua von Uberwald, Remus Lupin, Chris Jennings, Quentin Collins, and Lawrence Talbot. But don’t get your hopes up at that last one–I haven’t seen the original The Wolf Man movie, either. Instead, I’ve seen Talbot in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. So if I say anything that suggests I’m missing the point, well, I don’t have as much knowledge about this particular monster.

For example, is there a difference between a “wolfman” and a “werewolf”? Years ago, I thought there was, but more and more I think the two terms are used for the same thing–a man who transforms into a wolf (usually at the full moon). The Wolfman confused me even further about this near the end (spoilers!) when it arbitrarily assigns the name “The Wolfman” to one character and “The Werewolf” to another. I did appreciate that Maberry did something to keep track of who was who in that scene, but it also felt to me like there should be something significant about the names if they were to be assigned that way. It bugged me.

I have not seen the movie that this book was adapted to, so I cannot compare the two. I will say that I’ve read several novel adaptations of movies and games. Sometimes they work really well, and other times it’s painfully obvious that they’re adaptations. This fell somewhere in the middle for me.

Then again, no one was beaten with it.

Then again, no one was beaten with it.

Back to the story overall, I liked the first half of the book or so. It might have had a slow start, but I liked the mystery and the atmosphere. I also liked that a random Frenchman gave Lawrence a silver wolf’s head cane, because I liked to pretend it was Barnabas’s cane from Dark Shadows. (Since then, I’ve read that the cane was featured in the original Wolf Man movie. I still like to pretend it belonged to Barnabas.) It also was a sword, which made it even cooler. I’m glad it had a role in the plot at the end, because I was starting to wonder if they’d forgotten all about it. It confused me that Lawrence seemed to sense some malevolence from the wolf’s head, but by the end I decided that maybe it was because of his suppressed memories of what he really saw the night his mother died (which would also explain his sense of the moon as “threatening” (Maberry 18). What it doesn’t explain is why the Frenchman had “an enigmatic smile” (24) on his face when Lawrence reacted to the cane, but maybe he’s just familiar with the legends about Blackmoor.

All right, enough about the cane. Let’s talk about the Wolfman itself. It made a good monster–threatening, ruthless, and super-strong. The scene when it ravages the gypsy camp is notable not only because Lawrence is bitten in that scene, but also because it just demonstrates the monster as a majorly destructive force. The later scenes worked in that regard as well. So on that level, the Wolfman is a great monster.

However, I thought a key point of this sort of story was the werewolf character’s guilt and sense of responsibility for the people he kills during the full moon. As a wolf, he is an unreasoning, amoral monster, while as a man, he suffers from the knowledge that he’s dangerous. I expected a lot more of that in The Wolfman than we got. There were a couple of scenes where Lawrence brought it up, and of course we saw Sir John’s method of containing himself in the past (though he’s given that up by the time the story takes place and has become a pretty malevolent werewolf), but it didn’t feel like a central theme. After Lawrence was bitten, more of the focus seemed to be on Sir John as the primary monster, with Dr. Hoenneger and his lackeys as secondary monsters (of the human variety).

My other problem with the second half of the book is that after Lawrence transforms, we aren’t left with anyone to root for. We can root for the Wolfman when it goes after someone like Hoenneger, but not when it goes after innocent people, and it’s hard to feel any connection with an assortment of random innocent people there to be killed by the monster. We can root for Gwen Conliffe, but she only gets a couple of point of view chapters near the end. Maybe we were supposed to root for Aberline, but if that’s the case, it missed me entirely. I didn’t like him.

My feelings on The Wolfman are mixed. I enjoyed many things in this book and found some parts to be handled quite well, especially at the start. But with the lack of emotional connections and the lack of focus on Lawrence’s internal conflict, the last parts of the book felt hollow to me. It might be because it was an adaptation of a movie, but whatever the reason was, it didn’t work for me. At least the wolf’s head cane-sword made a reappearance.

That’s about that, but one thing I want to say before I end this is that I was pleased that the townspeople and Lawrence himself readily accepted the existence of the Wolfman when they saw it. It was a refreshing change from stories where characters persistently deny the supernatural even in the face of evidence.

Works Cited
Maberry, Jonathan. The Wolfman. New York: Tor, 2010. Print.
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  6 Responses to “The Wolfman: Maybe I Just Don’t Get Werewolves”

  1. I’ve always felt like a “wolfman” is a more humanoid version of the monster, and a “werewolf” is either a more balanced anthropomorphic creature, or a man who turns into a quadrupedal wolf.

    And the French guy threw me too. The scene was like a painfully obvious intentional plot point. I didn’t like it at all. That said he said he got the cane from Gevaudan which has one of the more famous werewolf “accounts.” The beast of Gevaudan killed a bunch if people over a few seasons and sort of became a werewolf as the tale morphed in folklore. The retellings of this myth also appear to be where silver was first introduced to werewolf folklore. Eventually the tale was told so that the beast was killed with a silver shot.

    • Hmm, maybe that’s it. When I think “wolfman,” I do picture the bipedal, clothes-wearing version. xD

      I kept expecting the French guy to come back or turn out to be important to the plot. I looked it up, and apparently that scene was filmed but cut from the movie.

    • I actually think the different naming was more symbolic and really pictured the creatures looking the same. But John was a werewolf because he fully surrendered to his animal half even when human, whereas Lawrence never did, therefore he gets to stay a wolfMAN.

    • I agree with Kathleen that the naming was intentional. It not only differentiated Sir John and Lawrence while transformed (to use their names would have kept them human), but implied that Sir John had given himself over to the monster while Lawrence still clung to a piece of humanity. Outside of this book, I picture a werewolf as a shape-shifter, turning into the wolf as we know it. A transformed werewolf might not be evil (wolves are sometimes kept as pets), but would be perceived as frightening. A wollfman, on the other hand, has the conscience and reasoning powers of the human removed and his dark side is freed.

  2. I liked that Gevaudan was mentioned. Made me think of the movie Brotherhood of the Wolf, which gives a bit of a different twist to that legend. Funny enough the scene with the Frenchman (played by Max Von Sydow) apparently was cut from the movie, and can only be seen on the director’s cut.

  3. I wondered what was up with the Frenchman, too. It seemed like a loose end that he never came back or explained what he was doing there in the first place. I half expected him to be a Van Helsing type figure, who swept in with knowledge of the monster later on.

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