January 4th, 2006


[Eliptony Core Sample] Davis-Dro

Douglas, Adam, The Beast Within: Man, Myths and Werewolves (Orion, 1993).

I'm a big fan of werewolves. Not as neighbors, mind you, or eco-friendly Gaia-cuddlers, but as, you know, werewolves. It's probably all down to the effect of Lon Chaney, Jr.'s acting (and Curt Siodmak's script) on me as a wee lad watching Sunday Afternoon Monster Theater on Channel 43, but I think the werewolf legend is stunningly underused in fiction as well as in folklore studies. This does have the happy result that unlike, say, vampirology, I can claim to have read pretty much every important work on the topic in English. Douglas' book is, quite simply, the best single book on the werewolf. Stamp it with a paw-print, it's done. Obviously, he's not going to be able to go into the detail in 263 pages that I might wish, but he reaches areas of the lore (e.g., St. Christopher's cynocephalia, Charlemagne's luporii, and Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy) that much larger compendia -- such as the remarkably thin broth of Brad Steiger's The Werewolf Book -- omit. Individual chapters cover individual aspects of the werewolf, from 'shamanic hunt rite' to 'medical lycanthropy'. To be sure, nobody would recommend Douglas' chapter 'Journey to the Land of the Dead' as a replacement for Carlo Ginzburg's Night Battles, or his terse chapter on the French Werewolf Trials if you could dive right into the lurid meat of 'Father' Montague Summers' The Werewolf, and nothing in Douglas' final chapter ('Howling All The Way to the Bank') obviates the value of Brian Frost's The Essential Guide to Werewolf Literature, which was after all written a decade later, in 2003. That said, Douglas extracts more than sufficient insight from those sources, and many more, to put anyone on the scent.

Honorable Mentions: Decker, Ronald, Depaulis, Thierry (vol. 1 only), and Dummett, Michael, A History of the Occult Tarot (both volumes); Dolan, Richard M., UFOs and the National Security State: An Unclassified History Volume One: 1941 to 1973.