Werewolves always get the short end of the stick. Or at least it seems that way sometimes. Time and time again, werewolves are pitted against vampires in the battle for our cultural affection, and time and again they're shunted aside, playing a perpetual second fiddle to the children of the night. Somehow it's the vampire who always gets the girl, not the werewolf. (Even when the vampire's a sparkly wuss and the werewolf rides a sweet motorcycle.) Buffy the Vampire Slayer's token werewolf, Oz is at least sympathetic, and he even snags resident overachiever Willow for his girlfriend, but he disappears after Season 4, while the vampire Angel gets a whole series to himself in which to vent his angst. Don't even get me started on the fate of Remus Lupin. Werewolves deserve more. They deserve better.
One of the earliest werewolf tales, “Bisclavret,” appears in one the twelfth-century lais of Marie de France. Marie explains in an aside that a werewolf is a “ferocious beast” possessed by madness, who “devours men, causes great damage, and dwells in vast forests.” “Bisclavret” itself is a poem about a knight-- Bisclavret-- beloved by all, but hiding the secret of his lycanthropy. In this tale, werewolves transform weekly rather than according to the lunar cycle, living as wolves for three days of the week and as humans for the rest. Here the werewolf form is also significantly more vulnerable than in modern lore: Bisclavret's wife betrays him by stealing his human clothes while he is in the shape of a wolf; without his clothes, he cannot change back. Clothing, the outward trappings of civilization, become the key to humanity. Without his clothing Bisclavret must wander naked in the woods, trapped in inhumanity, unable to regain his senses.
Later renditions of werewolves adhere to similar principles: transformation is performed consciously, often through the donning of wolf-skins or simply through belts made of wolf-skin. Where transformation was linked to a particular time, it was linked to the passing of the seasons rather than the phases of the moon, until 1943's Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. And the concept of lycanthropy not as hereditary but as a disease-- an infection spread by the bite of another werewolf-- seems to have first appeared in The Werewolf of London, in which the protagonist was the victim of a Gypsy werewolf's bite. In either mythos, the transformation tends to be about unleashing the “beast within,” the darker side of human nature. There is a pulp fiction tradition of werewolves who prey on female victims. These werewolves are, if a little hirsute, also seductive and charismatic, tempting legions of Little Red Riding Hoods to stray from their paths. In older legends werewolves are demonic servants of the Devil, as in the tales of female were-witches who raid the countryside, until their husbands discover them in animal form and shoot their paws, only to discover the next day their own wives bearing a wounded hand.
But is that all there is to werewolves? Hardly. Modern revisionist fantasy literature, while it takes more effort to uncover, often makes an eloquent case for sympathy for the werewolf: stories like Angela Carter's In the Company of Wolves, where Red Riding Hood goes willingly to sleep with the wolf in his bed, or Wolf-Alice, where the half-human girl shows more humanity than any of the townsfolk. There's also Annette Curtis Klause's Blood and Chocolate, about a teenaged female werewolf who revels in her dual nature. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter are less forthcoming; both portray the werewolf as one who loses all humanity during the wolf phase of transformation, however good-natured in human form. The werewolves of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series are a mixed bag: some are good and even use their wolfish traits for good-- Angua of the City Watch uses her enhanced sense of smell to solve crime-- but she is an outlier; all her family are werewolves of the monstrous, beastly variety.
But why, even in within increasingly sympathetic portrayals, do werewolves always seem to get short shrift, especially when vampires hit the scene? Maybe it's the fur, the slobber: they cannot be as charming as the suave, sophisticated vampire with slicked-back hair and a silken cravat, plying his intended victim with wine before turning his attentions to her smooth white neck. And yet werewolves used to be more popular: the Wolf Man series put out by Universal Pictures comprised the most popular of the monster movies, eclipsing both the Frankenstein and Dracula franchises. Perhaps werewolves suffer from the lack of a basic generative text, one that is present for Frankenstein's creature and for Dracula. Modern werewolf stories draw mainly from a set of essentially inauthentic film scripts from seventy or eighty years ago--though admittedly, Frankenstein and Dracula are not so much older themselves. Still, either story draws on rich backgrounds of lore and legend-- not for nothing does Frankenstein bear the subtitle “A Modern Prometheus”--rather than inventing new tropes wholesale, as the Wolf Man films do.
Sam Merlotte pines for Sookie on "True Blood," but his were-collie doesn't hold a candle to brooding vampire Bill. Oz is eventually replaced in Willow's affections, though the replacement, Tara, is winsome enough to withstand any strong objections. But there is hope: Tonks loves Lupin as man and wolf, and Blood and Chocolate's Vivian finds love too, if not in the place she expected. Maggie Stiefvater's exciting new werewolf trilogy (of which the first book, Shiver, has been published; books 2 and 3 are forthcoming)-- one that reverts to the medieval tradition as a sourcefor its werewolf mythos-- also holds promise for werewolves who won't finish last. Where the literature is still lacking, let us take that as a challenge: as a call to write it ourselves, expand it to fulfill our own needs. Every werewolf should have his day in the sun.