Saturday, 18 September 2010

Werewolf Literature and Native Wolves

A question was asked in one of the sessions at the She-Wolf conference that has got me thinking. In our panel on contemporary fantasy fiction, one delegate asked why so much of the current crop of werewolf fantasy is coming out of the US and Australia. Another delegate suggested that it was related to the fact that wolves (and other wild dogs) are native to these countries. This sparked some debate, as traditionally werewolf literature has been more common in countries where wolves are not native.

My own work is on European literature of the 12th-14th centuries, but also on 21st-century fiction, so I thought I'd give the question some thought. Feel free to comment!

Medieval werewolf literature (and by this I mean entertainment literature, rather than church texts) was generally produced in areas in which there were (are) no wolves. I remember once giving a paper on Marie de France's Bisclavret at a conference and being asked whether this text was influenced by the fact that folkloric belief and a 'fear of wolves'. It's hard to imagine the 12th-century aristocratic Marie, who was possibly residing at the Plantagenet court in England when she composed her poem, actually being frightened of wolves! Chances are she'd never so much as seen one.

However, medieval romance is a genre characterized by nostalgia. If we look, for example, at the 14th-century William of Palerne, the relationship between this generic nostalgia and the werewolf becomes apparent. Having been helped by the friendly werewolf to escape a forced marriage, William and Melior flee to the forest. Once there, they intend to live a rural and simple existence - Melior suggests that they survive by eating berries that they find. The werewolf and the forest form part of a rural idyll for which the lovers long.

Yet, as critics such as Corinne Saunders and Gillian Rudd have shown, the forest of 14th-century England (the country in which William of Palerne was produced) did not spread as far as has been previously believed. The forest had already been cut back, removed and urbanized in many areas. As is clear from romance texts, a fond folk-memory of the days when the entire country was covered by forest remained in the later Middle Ages - might we not also assume that this folk-memory also involved wolves? Though there were still some wolves left in Britain at the time when William of Palerne was produced, they were being hunted by the 'civilized' court. Thus a memory of wolves may also have been a 'memory' of a time when human beings lived in 'harmony' with nature, the forest and the wolves. Whether or not this 'harmony' ever actually existed is another question.

In medieval romance what we find is a nostalgic view of the 'olden days' - once upon a time, all this was forest and wolves/werewolves roamed free. And those of you familiar with Marie de France's Bisclavret will recognize that this is a fairly close approximation of the opening lines of the poem.

Jump forward to the 21st century...

Contemporary fantasy fiction also concerns itself with a certain type of nostalgia. However, the generic concerns are, in many respects, distinctly different to those of medieval romance. While a discomfort with urbanization and the destruction of 'nature' is apparent in both genres, this manifests itself in quite different ways.

Ecological concerns and the issue of how human beings impact on the natural world are common themes in contemporary urban fantasy. In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, the problem of hunting is raised, as the werewolf Sam is shot by Tom Culpeper - who believes he is simply hunting wolves. Werewolves are thus moved from the the 'once upon a time' world of the romantic forest, and into an arena in which the natural world comes into (often violent) confrontation with the urban.

One of the defining characteristics of contemporary urban fantasy is that it is set in the 'here and now'. It distinguishes itself from other types of fantasy fiction through its thoroughly 'realistic' setting in the modern world. Thus, it is harder to imagine a world in which werewolves might wander freely without running into problems of verisimilitude and believeability. It makes sense, therefore, that such fantasy takes place in a world in which there are already wolves - making it only a small imaginative leap to the existence of werewolves.

Both medieval romance and contemporary urban fantasy imagines a space in which werewolves could conceivably exist. Romance utilizes its generic tropes of nostalgia to conjure up a vast forest in which supernatural beings walk; urban fantasy depicts the 'realistic' world of the US/Australia, where people really do live alongside wolves or other wild dogs, before adding that some wolves may not be what they seem. By comparing the generic concerns and characteristics, it is clear that the former would be more common in areas where there are no wolves, whereas the latter (by necessity) is likely to be produced in areas where human beings live alongside native wild dogs.

That's my take on the problem. I'd love to hear other people's thoughts.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A big thank you to everyone who helped us with the conference last week...

Ah... the She-Wolf Conference has been and gone. And what a fantastic few days it was. A lot of fascinating papers, stimulating discussions and engaging conversations. It was an absolute pleasure to host an event with such an interesting and diverse range of papers.

A quick word on some future developments... I will be continuing to run this blog as a resource for all things female werewolf - and related - issues/ideas/events. So if you come across anything of interest, please do get in touch. I'm already in the process of putting together an edited collection of essays on the female werewolf in art, literature and culture. I'll post more details of this as it happens.

For now, I'd like to offer our thanks to everyone who helped to make the conference a big success. As many of you know, we didn't receive any funding for the conference, but we were able to make it happen through the support of the following people:

Carys Crossen - conference co-organizer
Kathy Frances and Helen Taylor - conference assistants
Linda Sever - conference fringe assistant

Rosie Lugosi, Chantal Bourgault du Coudray and Tom Fletcher - our panel of writers for the Wednesday night fringe discussion

The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, the Manchester Museum and Kro Bar - excellent and helpful venues that helped us to host a professional conference (despite being on a very limited budget),, The Werewolf Cafe, The F Word and - excellent websites that offered inspiration and support, and also helped to promote the conference

Juniper Manton Limited, The International Bram Stoker Film Festival, the Royal Exchange Theatre and Grimm Up North! Film Festival - who offered support and donated stationery and raffle prizes

Thanks to all of you!

The following people won prizes in our raffle:

Linda Priest - two tickets for Faustus at the Royal Exchange Theatre
Linda Sever - two tickets for the Vampire Ball at the International Bram Stoker Film Festival
Jules Grozier - a bottle of Czech absinthe

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

She-Wolf Fringe: Final Event Announcement

Our final event for the She-Wolf Fringe will be something a little different... and aimed at a slightly different audience to our other events!

So... here's one for the kids...

Saturday 11th September: Design a Monster at the Manchester Museum.

A drop-in activity session for young children, running from 11am-4pm, in the Manchester Museum Discovery Centre.

Free and no booking required.

Entry to the museum is also free. Opening times: 10am-5pm. For more information about the Manchester Museum, click here.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Vegetarians, VILFs and Fang-Bangers: Modern Vampire Romance in print and on screen

A one day conference, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Keynote Speaker: Dr Nickianne Moody, Liverpool John Moores University

Vampites have had a long and complex relationship with human beings and have been threatening and attracting us through folklore, literature, film and television for centuries. But now they walk among us, seeking to integrate themselves into our culture, to be our business partners, friends and lovers.

Why do we now prefer our vampires with a sensitive nature or with their ruthlessness focused on business deals? How does this change affect the relationship between both species and genders?

This one-day conference seeks to understand and criticise the phenomenal popularity of what is sometimes termed Dark Romance.

Papers are sought on authors such as Stephanie Meyer, Charlene Harris, and Lauren K. Hamilton, the adaptation of Dark Romance books for both film and TV and a general consideration of the change in our relationship with the vampire.

Proposals are invited for 20-minute papers, which might address (though not exclusively) the following areas:
  • 21st-century vampires in the Gothic literary tradition
  • Vampires and gender/relations
  • Adaptation and the shift of audience
  • Debates on the Other
  • Difference between film and television adaptation
  • Colonialism/postcolonialism/postnationalism
  • Vampires and money/business
  • Vampires and class relations
  • Vampires, authors and fans

Please send abstracts, or not more than 200 words, to

Dr. Deborah Mutch
Department of English
Clephan Building
De Montfort University

Email: Deborah Mutch

Find us on Facebook.

For more information, click here.

Conference fee: £30/£15 postgraduate/unwaged, including lunch and refreshments.

Deadline for abstracts: 8th September 2010.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Two Horror Film Festivals for October

We'll be absolutely spoilt for horror films this October.

First up... The Bram Stoker Horror Film Festival runs in Whitby from the 14th-17th October. Featuring 'independent narrative features, documentaries and shorts from around the world', this festival promises to offer films that you may not have chance to see elsewhere, including some world premieres. In addition to this, awards will be given in several categories.

As well as the films, there will be some pretty impressive special guests, a Hammer exhibition, talks and a Vampires' Ball on Saturday 16th October. And, of course, the whole thing takes place just yards away from where the Demeter ran aground (and spiritual home of all goths) - Whitby.

There are a few different passes and ticket options available on their website, and (if you don't fancy the films) tickets can be bought separately for the Vampires' Ball.

And if that's not enough...

Grimm Up North! Manchester's Premier Horror and Sci Fi Festival is returning for its second year. Running 28th-31st October at The Dancehouse in central Manchester, this festival features films, talks and special guests (including Ramsey Campbell and Christopher Priest).

Among the films already announced are Reel Zombies and Alien vs. Ninja. Visit their website and sign up for the newsletter to find out more.

Again, there are a variety of ticket options, including a few early-bird passes that allow you to save up to £40 on tickets.

(I should add that we are quite big fans of Grimm Up North! here at She-Wolf, as they've been really supportive while we've been getting the project off the ground.)

So between the two festivals, you should be able to get enough frights to keep you awake for most of November. Enjoy.