Showing posts with label female werewolves. Show all posts
Showing posts with label female werewolves. Show all posts

Thursday, 6 July 2017

OUT NOW: She-Wolf: A Cultural History of Female Werewolves (Paperback Edition)

My edited collection She-Wolf: A Cultural History of Female Werewolves is now available in paperback from Manchester University Press! Essays on lady-lycanthropes in folklore, history, witchcraft trials, literature, cinema, television and gaming, by Merili Metsvahi, Rolf Schulte, Jay Cate, Jazmina Cininas, Shannon Scott, Carys Crossen, Willem de Blécourt, Peter Hutchings, Barbara Creed, Laura Wilson, and me!

She-Wolf: A Cultural History of Female Werewolves
Edited by Hannah Priest
Price: £14.99

She-Wolf explores the cultural history of the female werewolf, from her first appearance in medieval literature to recent incarnations in film, television and popular literature. The book includes contributors from various disciplines, and offers a cross-period, interdisciplinary exploration of a perennially popular cultural production. The book covers material from the Middle Ages to the present day with chapters on folklore, history, witch trials, Victorian literature, young adult literature, film and gaming. Considering issues such as religious and social contexts, colonialism, constructions of racial and gendered identities, corporeality and subjectivity - as well as female body hair, sexuality and violence - She-wolf reveals the varied ways in which the female werewolf is a manifestation of complex cultural anxieties, as well as a site of continued fascination.


- Introduction: A History of Female Werewolves - Hannah Priest

- Estonian Werewolf Legends Collected from the Island of Saaremaa - Merili Metsvahi

- 'She transformed into a werewolf, devouring and killing two children': Trials of She-Werewolves in Early Modern French Burgundy - Rolf Schulte

- Participatory Lycanthropy: Female Werewolves in Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Jay Cate

- Fur Girls and Wolf Women: Fur, Hair and Subversive Female Lycanthropy - Jazmina Cininas

- Female Werewolf as Monstrous Other in Honoré Beaugrand's 'The Werewolves' - Shannon Scott

- 'The complex and antagonistic forces that constitute one soul': Conflict Between Societal Expectations and Individual Desires in Clemence Housman's 'The Werewolf' and Rosamund Marriott Watson's 'A Ballad of the Were-wolf' - Carys Crossen

- I was a Teenage She-Wolf: Boobs, Blood and Sacrifice - Hannah Priest

- The Case of the Cut Off Hand: Angela Carter's Werewolves in Historical Perspective - Willem de Blécourt

- The She-Wolves of Horror Cinema - Peter Hutchings

- Ginger Snaps: The Monstrous Feminine as Femme Animale - Barbara Creed

- Dans Ma Peau: Shape-shifting and Subjectivity - Laura Wilson

For more information, or to buy a copy, please visit the publisher's website.

Monday, 17 August 2015

GUEST POST: Elizabeth Bathory - Female Werewolf

by Jazmina Cininas

Jazmina Cininas is a practicing visual artist, curator, arts writer and lecturer in Fine Art Printmaking. Her elaborate linocut portraits reflect a long-standing fascination with representations of female werewolves, and draw on a wide range of sources such as historical records of witch hunts and werewolf trials, psychiatric and medical literature, fiction, folklore, cinema and the internet. Jazmina’s chapter ‘Fur Girls and Wolf Women: Fur, Hair and Subversive Female Lycanthropy’ appears in She-Wolf: A Cultural History of Female Werewolves (Manchester, 2015). For the record, Jazmina is not a werewolf.

Erzsébet was frequently mistaken for a vampire, 2011
reduction linocut
edition: 20
image: 37.0 x 28 cm
paper: 43 x 34.3 cm

In 2011, I created the linocut portrait Erzsébet was frequently mistaken for a vampire commemorating the early seventeenth-century Hungarian countess Erzsébet Báthory, as part of my Girlie Werewolf Hall of Fame PhD project. In his 1980s’ book, Dracula was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania, Raymond McNally argues that Erzsébet is at least partly responsible for inspiring Bram Stoker’s Dracula, while Hungarian director Peter Sadsy christened Erzsébet Countess Dracula in his 1970 horror film of the same title. It is a moniker that has persisted not only in popular culture but also amongst Báthory scholars, including Tony Thorne, who named his 1997 biography Countess Dracula: The Life and Times of Elisabeth Báthory. That Erzsébet has come to be immortalised as the Countess of Blood demonstrates just how entrenched vampire lore has become in the Báthory persona; however her earliest supernatural incarnation in popular culture in the West was as a werewolf. It is this lesser known incarnation of Erzsébet’s persona that I commemorate in my portrait.

In his 1912 anthology of werewolf lore, Werwolves (most of it his own invention) Elliot O’Donnell differentiated vampires from werewolves on the basis that the former was a transmissible disease while the latter was not, declaring: “Vampirism is infectious… Lycanthropy is not infectious.” The statement indicates not only that the infected bite is a relatively recent development of werewolf lore, but also that there was sufficient overlap or confusion between vampirism and lycanthropy to necessitate the articulation of a clear distinction between the two at the time. Werewolves found themselves swept up in the vampire wave which peaked in 1730s Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, sustained within the established concepts of witchcraft, animal familiars and cannibalistic devil worship. Etymology reveals a special intimacy between the occult entities, particularly in Eastern Europe. The Russian volk-odlak, from volk meaning ‘wolf’ and dlak meaning ‘hair’, originally designated the werewolf; however it has come to refer exclusively to vampires, and we see a similar shift in occult allegiances in the Serbian vukolak/vukodlac, the Bulgarian vrkolak, the Czech vilkodlak and the Greek vrykolakos. In Romania, Greece and East Prussia it was furthermore believed that a werewolf could return as a vampire after death or vice versa. Among the other elements of werewolf lore absorbed into the later vampire tradition are the tell tale omens of paranormal inheritance such as having been born with teeth or a tail.

Sabine Baring-Gould first brought Erzsébet’s story to the Western imagination in the English language’s first in-depth examination of werewolfism, The Book of Werewolves. Published in 1865, some thirty-two years before Dracula, Baring-Gould’s text suggests that in the late nineteenth century the Countess was more properly considered a werewolf than a vampire. Baring-Gould conforms to nineteenth-century protocols of self-censorship in not providing a surname, simply referring to the Countess as “Elizabeth __”, which may go some way towards explaining why her association with lycanthropy never took hold in the same way that her directly-identified association with vampirism did, although the former is not completely forgotten. An online search of The Columbia Encyclopedia sees Erzsébet “celebrated in legend as a female werewolf”, and she also rates an entry in Brad Steiger’s 1999 encyclopaedia of all things shape-shifting, The Werewolf Book.

Čachtický hrad, where Báthory was imprisoned from 1610-1614.
Site visit, European Werewolf Odyssey, 20 April 2009

Erzsébet Báthory remains a contested figure, even amongst historians. The general consensus is that Erzsébet was arrested and imprisoned in her own castle tower at Čachtice in the final days of 1610. She was charged with witchcraft and the reputed torture and murder of anywhere between thirty-six and 650 young women from her local village and the lesser gentry, although she was never formally convicted of any crime, unlike four of her servants, believed to be her accomplices. She finally died in her tower prison in 1614.

In his chapter, ‘Posthumous Verdicts’, Thorne points to a number of writers who question the motives of those who brought the accusations against Erzsébet and the legitimacy of the court proceedings against her. In an age and society that saw mistreatment of servants as the nobility’s prerogative, violence as commonplace, and medical practices that were often akin to torture, Thorne argues that the shaming and incarceration of the powerful and wealthy widow was suspiciously convenient for a number of her political rivals, especially those who owed her money. Numerous books, films and visual representations perpetuate the myth that Erzsébet bathed in the girls’ blood in her belief that it would preserve her youth and beauty, and this salacious detail has become the default visualisation of the Countess, as a Google image search will attest. This was certainly the form chosen by the McFarlane toy company for their Elizabeth Bathory action figure, released in 2004 as part of their Monsters Series 3: Six Faces of Madness collection.

McFarlane Toy Company, Elizabeth Bathory painted action figure,
McFarlane’s Monsters Series 3: Six Faces Of Madness,
released June 2004, 15.2 cm

The series is known for its graphic depictions of notoriously bloodthirsty serial killers or tyrants from throughout history, and adds the macabre touch of three heads impaled on a candelabrum in the Báthory figurine while the Countess indulges in a literal bloodbath. Yet this latter motif did not appear in the Báthory legend until 130 years after her death, first appearing in László Túróczi’s 1744 travelogue of the Hungarian nation, A Short Description of Hungary together with its Kings.

Although there are numerous representations of Erzsébet in visual culture, only one portrait of her is known to have been painted from life; however it has either disappeared or is of contested authenticity. Painted in 1585, the portrait inspired a number of copies soon after, leading to speculation and contradictory claims as to which is the original painting. The portraits in question all follow the same template: standing pose in regal dress with laced, deep red bodice, pearl choker/chain and distinct white lace collar.

Anonymous, 17th century copy of the lost 1585 original portrait of Erzsébet Báthory

The question “Who is the Real Erzsébet?” posed on the website is pertinent not only to the five portraits on display, but also to the myriad personifications of the Countess in literature and film, very few of which, however, acknowledge her early ‘career’ as a werewolf.

In my own interpretation of the Báthory legend, I wanted to draw particular attention to the lycanthropic motifs that have generally been overlooked in visual representations of the Countess without overly romanticising or demonising my subject or neutralising the wolf. My intention is to imbue my female subjects with additional agency through the wolf, part of which requires acknowledgment of the wild canid as top predator. In Erzsébet’s case I was keen to explore whether it was possible to address the complexities of the historical person and her subsequent mythic persona, without casting her as either victim or monster.

The extravagant Hungarian lace collar and the muted maroon and ochre tones, along with the placement of the crest in the top right hand corner, nod towards the historical portraits of the countess, thereby locating my Erzsébet within her ‘legitimate’ visual tradition.

Báthory crest

In their chapter ‘The Social Biology of Werewolves’,* W.M.S. Russell and Claire Russell claim that the ‘E’ in the Báthory coat of arms is constructed from a vertical jawbone intersected by three wolf’s teeth (they are actually dragon claws), and also mention a legend in which Erzsébet was followed about by a she-wolf, reinforcing lycanthropic allusions. I have included this latter element in my portrait as well, further integrating woman and wolf through merging the facial features of the two species.

Julie Delpy as Erzsébet Báthory (top) in Delpy (dir.), The Countess (2009)

Julie Delpy as the werewolf Serafine Pigot
in Anthony Waller (dir.), An American Werewolf in Paris (1997)

From amongst the multiple versions of the Erzsébet Báthory portrait and multiple interpretations of the countess in film, I have chosen Julie Delpy to be the face of my Erzsébet. The French-born actress directs herself as the youth-obsessed lead in her 2009 film of the Báthory legend, The Countess, and also played the female werewolf Serafine Pigot in the 1997 film, An American Werewolf in Paris, thereby serving to further reinforce the lycanthropic references of my portrait. Delpy’s eye has also been merged with the wolf’s profile, offering a less monstrous imagining of the confluence of the lupine with the feminine than seen in An American Werewolf in Paris.

I have resisted the blood bath and fangs, however the ruby red perfume bottle offered up by the extended, bloodied hand nods to popular myths surrounding the Countess and her belief in the cosmetic virtues of blood. The title, Erzsébet was frequently mistaken for a vampire, acknowledges the intimacy between werewolf and vampire lore, as exemplified in the Báthory legend.

Detail of working drawing for Erzsébet was frequently mistaken for a vampire,
2011, digital collage

I have excluded the fang motif from my portrait of Erzsébet Báthory, even though I have used it in other portraits. In the case of Erzsébet, I was concerned that fangs would visually locate her too strongly within the vampiric tradition, reinforcing this version of her culturally constructed persona, whereas I wished to draw attention back to her largely neglected lycanthropic legacy.

Although dominant visualisations of Erzsébet Báthory see her largely aligned with the vampiric tradition and its inherent stereotypes, I hope that returning the focus to her earlier cultural incarnation as a werewolf takes a step towards redressing this largely under-represented aspect of the countess’ mythos in visual culture, while also locating Erzsébet at a significant crossroad of an evolving tradition of representing lupine femininity.

* in Animals in Folklore, edited by J.R. Porter and W.M.S. Russell (Cambridge, 1978)

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

OUT NOW: She-Wolf: A Cultural History of Female Werewolves (Manchester University Press, 2015)

edited by Hannah Priest

She-Wolf explores the cultural history of the female werewolf, from her first appearance in medieval literature to recent incarnations in film, television and popular literature. The book includes contributors from various disciplines, and offers a cross-period, interdisciplinary exploration of a perennially popular cultural production. The book covers material from the Middle Ages to the present day with chapters on folklore, history, witch trials, Victorian literature, young adult literature, film and gaming. Considering issues such as religious and social contexts, colonialism, constructions of racial and gendered identities, corporeality and subjectivity – as well as female body hair, sexuality and violence – She-Wolf reveals the varied ways in which the female werewolf is a manifestation of complex cultural anxieties, as well as a site of continued fascination.


Introduction: a history of female werewolves
Hannah Priest

Estonian werewolf legends collected from the island of Saaremaa
Merili Metsvahi

‘She transformed into a werewolf, devouring and killing two children’: trials of she-werewolves in early modern French Burgundy
Rolf Schulte

Participatory lycanthropy: female werewolves in Werewolf: The Apocalypse
Jay Cate

Fur girls and wolf women: fur, hair and subversive female lycanthropy
Jazmina Cininas

Female werewolf as monstrous other in Honoré Beaugrand’s ‘The Werewolves’
Shannon Scott

‘The complex and antagonistic forces that constitute one soul’: conflict between societal expectations and individual desires in Clemence Housman’s ‘The Werewolf’ and Rosamund Marriott Watson’s ‘A Ballad of the Were-wolf’
Carys Crossen

I was a teenage she-wolf: boobs, blood and sacrifice
Hannah Priest

The case of the cut off hand: Angela Carter’s werewolves in historical perspective
Willem de Blécourt

The she-wolves of horror cinema
Peter Hutchings

Ginger Snaps: the monstrous feminine as femme animale
Barbara Creed

Dans Ma Peau: shape-shifting and subjectivity
Laura Wilson

For more information, please see the publisher's website.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014


As some of you might have seen, Hic Dragones have been talking a bit about #lycanthrovember, so I thought I'd do a quick blog post about it. #lycanthrovember was my idea, as basically a month-long version of #WerewolfWednesday. (And yes, I did come up with the name. And no, it's not my best work.) It's shaping up to be quite a werewolf-y month for me, so I thought it would be cool to share the lycanthropic love on social media - if you have any werewolf related projects, artwork, books or films, feel free to add the hashtag so we can share them.

To kick off, then, at Hic Dragones are running a November-long offer on K Bannerman's wonderful Canadian werewolf novel The Tattooed Wolf: order the paperback or eBook from the Hic Dragones website and get our short collection Wolf-Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny absolutely free!

Also from Hic Dragones, if you fancy a bit of Victorian Gothic werewolf fiction, Digital Periodicals is currently serializing George Reynolds' Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf. New instalments are published every fortnight in eBook formats, and are available for the princely sum of £1.

On a personal note, I have a werewolf short story entitled 'Nimby' coming out in the Fox Spirit Books' European Monsters anthology. I'll be blogging a bit more about that as the publication date gets closer. And my academic book on female werewolves (with Manchester University Press) finally has a wonderful cover and a publication date: She-Wolf: a Cultural History of Female Werewolves will be out in April 2015.

Now it's over to you... what werewolf-y things would you like to plug this month?

Happy #lycanthrovember!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Some Historical Female Werewolves

I don't think it'll come as much of a surprise if I say that I enjoy writing and reading about female werewolves. However, every so often something gives you a moment of pause. I sometimes get asked by people if I can tell them anything about 'real' or 'historical' female werewolves. I think they probably want me to tell them an exciting story about a renegade wildwoman, running with the wolves and sticking it to the man. In truth, I don't know any stories like that.

What I do know is that, for a brief period of history, an accusation of lycanthropy carried a death sentence for some women. Though not as widespread as witchcraft, lycanthropy was one of the crimes investigated by the Inquisition and records survive of men and women who were tried for this crime.

Here are some of the historical 'female werewolves' who faced trial in Europe:

Marie Barnagoz (burnt at the stake in 1551)
Perrenette Tornier (burnt at the stake in 1551, head displayed on a stake as a deterrent to others)
Jeanne Guyenot (burnt at the stake in 1551)
Appoline Garnier (interrogated as an accomplice to her husband's lycanthropy, released from custody in 1573)
Perrenette Gandillon (lynched in 1598)
Clauda Jeanprost (burnt at the stake in 1598)
Françoise Sécretain (died in prison in 1598)
Clauda Guillaume (burnt at the stake in 1598)
Thivienne Paget (burnt at the stake in 1598)
Clauda Gaillard (burnt at the stake in 1598)
Guillauma Frayre (executed in c.1605)
Guillemette Barnard (found innocent of lycanthropy but guilty of witchcraft, sentenced to banishment in 1605)
Perrenette Glaon (burnt at the stake in 1611)
Jeanne Horriel (refused to confess under torture, found innocent of lycanthropy but guilty of blasphemy, fined in 1611)
Oudette Champon (paid for a lawyer to mount a defence, acquitted in 1629)
Pierrette Vichard (refused to confess under torture, acquitted in 1657)
Renoberte Simon (acquitted in 1660)

Information about these women and the circumstances of their interrogation, trial and punishment can be found in Rolf Schulte's contribution to my book on the cultural history of female werewolves, which will be published by Manchester University Press in 2015.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

GUEST POST: What's so fascinating about female werewolves by Jeanette Greaves

I'm pleased to welcome another guest post as part of the Wolf-Girls blog tour. Today Jeanette Greaves, author of 'The Cameron Girls', posts on her fascination with female werewolves...

Lions and tigers and bears are old hat, what we want these days are vampires, werewolves and zombies. All three were human once, all three infected by some agent that has changed them and taken them out of normal society, but the werewolf stands alone in still having life. Vampires and zombies are cold creatures, forever apart from humanity. The werewolf can pass for human and often does, struggling with its bloody secret, fighting to keep its human life and place in society, knowing that inside lies the monster, an animal that will break free, that will have its due. The secret beast within a werewolf is its power and its downfall.

The werewolf is ruled by the moon, the rise and fall of the beast subject to an inevitable, regular cycle. Once a month, the demon breaks free, and everything changes. Sounds familiar? The idea of linking the threat of a woman at the peak of her cycle with that of a werewolf's monthly rage comes inevitably, and it's no surprise that so many of our modern female werewolves are angry creatures, ready to use their sudden strength and power to strike back at those who have hurt and humiliated them in the past.

It's somewhat surprising that the werewolf has traditionally been a male creature, when the waxing and waning of strength and blood is so female. It is women who give birth to new life, who change the world with every child they bring forth. Perhaps it's a secret envy of that power to change that led to so many stories of the werewolf, the man who changes, the man whose body dances to the rhythm of the moon?

Many traditional western shapeshifter stories painted women who changed into animals as witches, fated to be caught out in their deceit by an injury carried from their animal form to their human form, revealing them as shapeshifters. Even in animal form, these women were rarely wolves, more often they were deer or hares, prey creatures. These women would be shamed and often killed, in their human form, driving home the message that women who stray from their given fate will be found out and punished. Male werewolves die in wolf form, allowed to keep their strength and power, even in death.

It's hardly surprising that today's writers are claiming the female werewolf as the essence of power, strong, uninhibited, and with a rare gift. Our werewolf girls and women are as varied as the writers who they spring from, some are kind and dread the escape of the beast within, some are ruled by the moon, others are in control of their inner wolf. They have one thing in common, strength and power, traditionally male attributes, which are being taken by our wolf girls and used for their own purposes. Will they be used for good or evil? We can only watch and wait, and hope for more stories about the wolf girls and their kin.

Read Jeanette's story in Wolf-Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny, published by Hic Dragones.

Friday, 14 September 2012

GUEST POST: The Poetry of the Wolf-Girl by Kim Bannerman

It gives me great pleasure to welcome another guest post from a writer taking part in the Hic Dragones Wolf-Girls blog tour. Today I welcome Kim Bannerman, author of the story 'A Woman of Wolves Born'.

Question: What’s so fascinating about female werewolves?

Answer: For me, it’s simple. Female werewolves are fascinating because they are completely, utterly free. They embody the capricious, confident spirit that so many women desire: they are free of hesitation, free of obligation, free of restraint. Female werewolves do not cast fearful glances over their shoulders when they walk down dark alleys. They do not stay safe behind locked door. They don’t freak out when they find a bit of hair where society tells them none should be. Female werewolves can be bitches, and it’s totally okay, because it’s not an insult: it’s biology.

Image: Shawn Pigott

Of course, I can only speak to finding them fascinating in a female sort of way. I love to read about female werewolves because I love what they can do, and I wish I could do it, too. I can’t speak to why men find them fascinating, if they even do at all.

But while men might not find the concept of unrestrained liberation as intoxicating as I do, I wager there’s a good portion of the male population that finds female werewolves fascinating in a whole other way. A werewolf is powerful, unpredictable, and brimming with bestial sexuality. Female werewolves are sleek, lithe and strong, and unabashed by their body. (Vampires are sexy, too, but they don’t run around naked and athletic.) Have you ever seen a pack of wolves, running through the snow? Their bodies are fluid and fierce, and they slice through the air like arrows.

Now translate that into a woman’s form. See her move with grace through a crowded street, her head held high, her bright eyes catching every movement. She is an apex predator, a silent shadow that slips between the cacophonic traffic of an urban setting. Her heightened senses sample the delights that surround her: the smell of almond biscotti in a bakery window, the sound of the heartbeats of those around her, the touch of the cool autumn breeze as it ruffles the leaves of the elms in the park.

Image: Shawn Pigott

And tonight, when the moon is full, she will leave behind her human form to creep silently along silver-touched paths, a beast capable of poetry. She will embrace her bitchiness, delight in the taste of blood on her teeth, and drive all the wolf-boys wild.

Kim Bannerman's story is one of seventeen new female werewolf stories in Wolf-Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny, edited by Hannah Kate and published by Hic Dragones. For more information, or to buy a copy, please visit the publishers' website.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

GUEST POST: Female Werewolves, Fur and Body Hair by Carys Crossen

This is the fourth and final post in my short series on female body hair. Links to previous posts in the series can be found at the end of this piece.

Today's guest writer is Carys Crossen, recent PhD graduate and my collaborator on the 2010 She-Wolf: Female Werewolves, Shapeshifters and Other Horrors conference.

Carys Crossen was recently awarded her doctorate, entitled '"There is God and the Devil in Them": Gender and Sexuality in Post-1800 Werewolf Fiction and Film' by the University of Manchester, and is currently working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the university’s Department of English and American Studies. Her main research interests include the Gothic, psychoanalytic criticism, Monster Theory, Victorian literature, Young Adult fantasy and horror fiction, feminist theory and anything with werewolves. Her publications to date include a book contribution on celibate male vampires, a review of a new collection of stories by Robert Louis Stevenson and a forthcoming contribution to Hannah Priest's forthcoming collection on female werewolves, on the little-known authors Clemence Housman and Rosamund Marriott Watson.

Imagine this: you’re a werewolf. More specifically, you are a female werewolf. Life as a werewolf isn’t bad, despite what the films tell you. The full moon lends a whole new meaning to ‘that time of the month’, admittedly, and you like your meat rare, but it’s by no means a curse. If you eat the neighbours, you can always get new ones and property prices will recover soon. And you can cope with the fangs, the claws, the hair...

And it is here that, if you are a werewolf devotee, you may notice something odd. Hair. Not that being hairy is at all peculiar for a werewolf: sprouting hair every full moon is traditional and looks fantastic in cinematic transformation scenes. However, in the vast majority of werewolf fiction and film, particular that featuring a female protagonist, body hair is scarcely ever mentioned, let alone discussed in any detail. As an academic whose PhD thesis was focused on the contemporary lycanthrope, I thought this absence a striking one. Body hair is mentioned briefly in Faith Hunter’s Skinwalker (2009) and Sparkle Hayter’s Naked Brunch (2003) but only mentioned. The one pulp fiction series that deals with it in any depth is Karen MacInerney’s Tales of an Urban Werewolf series, in which the heroine has a ‘bic razor habit.’ (1) Rather frustratingly however, the series does not discuss body hair as signifier or cultural taboo, and focuses primarily on the disappointingly conventional removal of hair from legs, arms and other areas. And the classic Ginger Snaps film trilogy does indeed have hairy anti-heroines, but once again focuses on the removal of body hair rather than the hair itself.

Considering how the popularity of the female werewolf has mushroomed in recent years, it seems astonishing that these were the only instances of lycanthropic, female body hair being mentioned that I discovered during four years of research, but it is so. Body hair simply is not looked at, talked about or made visible in relation to the female werewolf, that hairiest, fuzziest of monsters. Moreover, it is hair that seems to be unmentionable – fur is another matter entirely. Fur has different connotations than hair: it implies luxury, decadence, softness, beauty and is just a little bit illicit in this enlightened era. Loving descriptions of beautiful wolf pelts are not uncommon in lycanthropic fiction. But hair brings with it an entirely different set of associations, particularly in relation to the female body. As Karín Lesnik-Oberstein in the appropriately titled academic text The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair (2007) comments, ‘women’s body hair is configured as a taboo: something not to be seen or mentioned; prohibited and circumscribed by rules of avoidance; surrounded by shame, disgust and censure’. (2) This taboo is so strong, it seems, that it extends to fictional female werewolves, for whom hairiness is an unavoidable fact of lycanthropic life.

The hairiness of the werewolf is an essential aspect of its monstrosity. As Marina Warner comments, ‘hairiness indicates animal nature: it is the distinctive sign of the wilderness and its inhabitants’. (3) The significance of the werewolf’s hairiness is obvious in this context – it is, if not quite an animal, the ‘beast within’, a representative of wildness, beastliness and ferocity. So, why exactly have female werewolf texts failed to examine the issue of body hair? Texts featuring female werewolves are seldom averse to embracing the lycanthrope’s potential beastliness – just look at Ginger Snaps or Clemence Housman’s story 'The Werewolf' (1896). So why have they resisted using the signifier of beastliness and animalism? Well, one thing I’ve noticed about a great many female werewolf heroines – often gutsy, independent and clever – is their overwhelming desire to be ‘normal’ or at least mimic normality. This usually means holding down a job, having a relationship, and most importantly conforming to society and its expectations. And society simply does not accommodate hairy women. As Lesnik-Oberstein comments, ‘"hairy" women, on the other hand, are monstrous in being like men, or masculine’. (4) In other words, you want to be normal, girl, that beard’s got to go. Never mind if your pack thinks it’s cute. Of course, not all female werewolves cling to their desire for normality, especially when they discover the perks of being a werewolf, but nor do they renounce it to the extent that they embrace their hairiness and all its negative cultural connotations. Ignoring hairiness, or removing hair, is a quick and easy way to integrate into human society, a discarding of an important indicator of wildness.

Moreover, the very fact that the werewolf is nearly always a hairy monster may be the reason why its hairiness is so seldom mentioned; it is hidden in plain sight, so to speak. The female werewolf’s hairiness is revealed for all to see when she is transformed; ergo there is no need to mention the issue. Hair, often an emblem of deviant sexuality, beastliness, and masculinity, is displayed on the transformed body and hence there is no need to address the issue of hairiness, not when it is flaunted by the lycanthrope in her transformed state. Or else, as I suggested earlier, feminine hair is more taboo than being a werewolf, which, looking at Western notions of feminine beauty may not be as far-fetched as you might imagine.

So, onto my final question – will feminine lycanthropic hairiness ever be embraced, or at least discussed in werewolf texts? I haven’t got a clue, I can’t predict the future. But I certainly hope so. There are stories about female werewolves and body hair out there, academic discussions are slowly starting up, attention is being paid. I’ll leave you with a quote from a story by Helen Cross, entitled ‘Fur’ – guess what it’s about? ‘In fact wolf lies deep in female nature. They are all capable of this, all of them have it in them – once they choose to let themselves go.’ (5)


(1) Karen MacInerney, On the Prowl (New York: Ballantine Books, 2008), p. 9.

(2) Karín Lesnik-Oberstein, 'The Last Taboo: Women, Body Hair and Feminism, in Karín Lesnik-Oberstein (ed.), The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), pp. 1-17, p. 2.

(3) Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers (London: Vintage, 1995), p. 359.

(4) Lesnik-Oberstein, p. 3.

(5) Helen Cross, ‘Fur’ in Hannah Kate (ed.), Wolf Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny (Manchester: Hic Dragones, 2012), pp. 219-226, p. 226.

Read the other posts in the Body Hair blog series:

On Making and Publishing The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair, by Karín Lesnik-Oberstein

Damned if you do and damned if you don't, by Rosie Garland

On Body Hair, by LJ Maher

GUEST POST: Damned if you do and damned if you don't by Rosie Garland

This is the second in my short series of guest posts exploring the somewhat controversial subject of women and body hair. Links to the other posts in the series can be found at the end of this post.

I am very pleased to welcome today's guest writer, Rosie Garland.

Born in London to a runaway teenager, Rosie Garland has always been a cuckoo in the nest. She has an eclectic writing and performance history, from singing in Goth band The March Violets, to twisted cabaret and electrifying poetry as Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen, to conference presentations in the UK and overseas. As well as four solo collections of poems, her short stories and articles have been widely anthologised. She has won the DaDa Award for Performance Artist of the Year, the Diva Award for Solo Performer, and a Poetry Award from the People’s Café, New York. She is also the winner of the 2011 inaugural Mslexia Novel Competition with The Palace of Curiosities, a picaresque literary novel inspired by the life of Victorian Hairy Woman Julia Pastrana.

I’ve had an interest in the fraught female relationship with body hair since I started growing it anywhere but on my head. Years before I discovered feminism or any broader questioning of why women should present hairlessness to be acceptable.

I was the class geek. There was always one, sitting at the edge of school photos sporting a done-at-home haircut and a bewildered expression at just how unpopular a girl could be. Surrounded by pretty classmates wearing the right length skirt, the right size knot in the school tie (small one term, huge the next). Along with my mother, they gave out messages about hair. Basically, if it wasn’t on my head, it was gross and should be removed. Especially leg and underarm sproutings.

I resisted the pronouncements. I didn’t want to do it. It was just one item on the long list of things that made me an outsider, part of the same mindset that made my classmates obsessed with perfume, body spray and ‘feminine’ deodorant (you know, the stuff that brings on toxic shock). From where I stood, it seemed to be about spending a fortune on products that promised to hide the fact you were female.

No, I didn’t see myself as a rebel, but it struck me as overwhelmingly illogical (yes, I identified with Mr. Spock in Star Trek). For a start, it was such a mess: applying smelly cream, waiting for it to melt the hair away (never as successful as the adverts with their hysterically cheerful actors). If you didn’t use cream, there were cuts from shaving. Ouch. It was also a waste of time – the damn stuff grew back immediately, stubbly and far more noticeable than the soft fronds that covered my legs if I left them alone.

Being of an enquiring mind, I asked my mum why I needed to get rid of something that was occurring quite naturally, like my second set of teeth or the beginnings of breasts (I wasn’t being asked to get rid of them). She replied that body hair wasn’t ‘ladylike’. This confused me further. I was a ‘lady’, or at least one in miniature. Therefore if I was growing hair, then it was of or pertaining to the state of being a lady. I asked if I needed to shave the new growth on my vulva and was told to stop being rude. I didn’t get why it was supposed to be such a no-no.

Sure, hair or no hair can be personal taste. If you live in a culture where there is a modicum of choice then yes, you can choose to wax yourself to a standstill and ‘still be a feminist’ (whatever ‘still’ means). I don’t have a direct association of feminist = unshaved woman, which is the stereotype. If I choose to be unshaved, which I do, it goes back far earlier. I’m not of the Reductio ad absurdum opinion that intelligence evaporates with the removal of hair, in a female version of Samson being stripped of his strength when Delilah shaved him.

However. What does that ‘choice’ really mean when faced with a familial / societal / media barrage of ‘eeew’? Day in, day out, from the onset of the first spindly hair till we die – the message that it (and by extension we) = unhygienic / unladylike / unfeminine / dirty / messy / taboo and god damn it, ugly.

And don’t get me started on patriarchal / male reaction to women’s body hair. I’d need a dozen blogs for that. Feminism or not, I can still not get past this simple bottom line: the only females who are naturally free of hair under their arms, on their legs and on their pubis are children. The only acceptable females in porn are hairless. I do not need to say a word about how fundamentally this creeps me out. Let alone how mentally and socially infantilising it is. Sexual fixation on hairlessness in adult females is creepy. Go bloody figure.

Deep breath. I watched with interest as I grew into a world where nice girls depilate. Except the stuff on our heads which is our ‘crowning glory’. Just how integral these tresses are to being seen / read as female came home to me with a body blow when I got throat cancer, underwent intensive chemotherapy and my hair fell out.

I assumed that it would loosen its moorings overnight, in one go. But it left my body in a slow, piecemeal moulting which I found sufficiently distressing that I got a set of clippers and shaved my head. I chose to ‘go bald’ rather than wear the prescription wig. The wig felt all wrong, like I was trying to pass for human and ‘well’ when that was the last thing I felt like. I was not ashamed of having cancer. My hairlessness was part of the reality. Sod this, I thought. I shall not pretend, nor hide my cancer from the world, just to spare the healthy world’s collective delusion that no-one gets ill and no-one dies. As a signifier of our shared mortality, baldness is terrifying. People crossed the road so that I wouldn’t talk to them about ‘it’.

At this point I want to stress that this was my individual response to cancer. I am not suggesting it as a template. Others choose to engage with the illness differently, and each person’s response is as valid as the next.

To bolster a sense of self, I searched for positive images of bald women with shaved or bald heads. I repeat, positive. I was not interested in images of punishment, dehumanisation, imprisonment or torture. It was bloody hard work finding anything. I scraped together a meagre handful, and the first hits were from science fiction. Alice Krige as the Borg Queen in Star Trek First Contact, Persis Khambatta as Lieutenant Ilia in Star Trek The Motion Picture, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien 3. All of them created as attractive, intelligent, ass-kicking or all three.

All of the above informed the creation of Eve, the central character in my upcoming debut novel The Palace of Curiosities (HarperCollins, forthcoming March 2013). I took the concept of female hairiness to its logical (that word again) extreme. Eve has hypertrichosis, a condition where the entire body is covered in a thick mat of hair. The novel is set in 1850s London, and in it I explore how Eve makes her way in a world where she is the only one of her kind. Her ‘difference’ is overwhelmingly visible, yet she is determined to get by on her own terms. She does not shave herself to pass for human. She fends off exploitation, discovers fulfilment, self-expression and self-reliance.

I’ve been told that Eve’s hairiness can be seen as an interesting analogy for being queer in a heteronormative world. I’m happy if she makes one person think about what it means to be female and have body hair.

If you would like to whet your appetite for The Palace of Curiosities in anticipation of its release next year, you can find Rosie's story, 'Cut and Paste', in the Hic Dragones Wolf-Girls anthology.

Read the other posts in the Body Hair blog series:

On Making and Publishing The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair, by Karín Lesnik-Oberstein

On Body Hair, by LJ Maher

Female Werewolves, Fur and Body Hair, by Carys Crossen

Monday, 10 September 2012

GUEST POST: On Making and Publishing The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair by Karín Lesnik-Oberstein

This is the first post in a series, so here's a little intro from me...

Working on, and reading about, female werewolves as much as I do, you become used to dealing on a daily basis with subject matter that most people find a little odd. Hyper-sexual creatures, brutal violence, animal transformation and the supernatural/occult all seem quite normal to me. Even conversations about anthropophagy and cannibalism are fairly routine for me, though these subjects tend to raise more eyebrows when I start talking about them at parties, and the subject of maternal cannibalism (the central theme of perhaps the most controversial of the stories in Wolf-Girls, an anthology I recently edited) is still something of a taboo.

However, there is one aspect of the female werewolf that is far less openly discussed. Female werewolves are hairy. They have body hair and they don't, on the whole, seek to remove it (apart from in Mattel's Monster High series, but that's another story...) And yet, we don't talk about this. This facet of the female werewolf is discreetly side-stepped or euphemized in (most, though not all) fiction. The silence, distaste and disgust surrounding female werewolves' body hair is not surprising, given that there is a silence, distaste and disgust surrounding all female body hair. It is something to be removed, reviled and certainly not spoken of in polite company. The hairy girl is, at best, an oddity, at worst, an aberration.

So, given my predilection for talking about subjects that are normally surrounded by silence, distaste and disgust, it gives me great pleasure to host guest posts from four female writers on the subject of female body hair. For the first post in the series, I welcome Karín Lesnik-Oberstein, editor of the only academic collection on female body hair, The Last Taboo.

Karín Lesnik-Oberstein is Professor of Critical Theory and Director of the ‘Graduate Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media (CIRCL)’ in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading, in Reading, UK. Karín’s research interest is in transdisciplinary critical theory, and she has published monographs on Children’s Literature: Criticism and the Fictional Child (1994) and On Having an Own Child: Reproductive Technologies and the Cultural Construction of Childhood (2008), as well as several edited volumes on critical theory and identity, focussing on gender primarily in The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair (2007, republished in paperback 2011).

I thought of my (edited) book The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair in the early 1990s, very early on in my academic career, both because of my personal experiences with body hair and through discussing this as an issue with one of the very first students I taught (an American exchange student), in my first academic post as a Junior Research Fellow. I was discussing a personal decision I made in my early twenties no longer to remove my body hair with this student, and she told me in turn that she, like me, also had very dark and long body hair growth, according to her because of her Albanian ancestry. This student also told me she was training to be a contemporary ballet dancer (and, in fact, she became a very successful dancer), and that although contemporary ballet prided itself on breaking all kinds of taboos, for instance having dances danced in the nude, she was required to remove all the hair from her body. That was not up for question!

It was during this discussion that I decided to write a book on this whole topic, especially when I then discovered during subsequent research that nobody had done so already. There were a very few articles on the topic, psychological in orientation, examining ideas of femininity, gender and the body, but I discovered even feminist writers and academics had very little to say about why women remove their body hair; primarily, they discuss women’s body shape and weight. They either did (and do) not mention body hair at all, or, if they did, they only briefly advocated not practicing hair removal in order to return to a ‘natural’ body, or they celebrated hair removal as part of an idea of an enjoyment of beautification. In my book I did not want either to advocate hair-removal or to defend it, but try to understand more why it was done: what it meant.

This is also why I ended up not writing the whole book myself, but having different chapters written by different experts, although they all follow the theoretical framework I worked out in relation to body hair in my own introductory chapter, which is to see body hair and the body more widely (any kind of body, not just ‘female’ or ‘human’) as culturally constructed, not as ‘biologically’ determined. In terms of this approach, I was following (as I continue to do in all my work) my interest in critical and cultural theory, inspired by specific interpretations of the implications of psychoanalysis based on the work of, for instance, Jacqueline Rose, Shoshana Felman and Judith Butler. Having a range of different expertise also allows the book to illuminate the meanings of hair-removal across a range of fields and practices: literature, film, art, psychology, advertising, anthropology, and so on.

In the end it took me twenty years to get the book published. I wrote to over forty publishers during those years, but most of them either said the subject was too trivial to write about at such length and in an academic book, or they said that society was no longer interested in what they called ‘extreme feminism’. Interestingly, these responses in and of themselves completely supported the argument of the book and were predictable from what my contributors and I examine in the book, which is that body hair is an instance of how issues can be defined as socially, culturally or historically too silly and trivial to be discussed, on the one hand, whilst on the other they are simultaneously seen as too dangerous, mad and monstrous to be considered, and we argue throughout the book that this is in fact how social and cultural power acts itself out. This can be compared, for instance, to what literary critics Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar classically called the ‘madwoman in the attic’ in terms of the marginalisation and vilification of women as writers in nineteenth-century English literature and culture.

It was remarkable to see the kinds of comments publishers (from the UK and USA, as this is where I contacted academic publishers) made, even in the case of initially enthusiastic and supportive commissioning editors: one editor from a self-defined ‘radical’ academic press told me her sales team would not accept the book as they saw it as ‘too feminist’ to be able to sell. On the other hand, self-defined feminist presses such as Virago and The Women’s Press had no interest in the book at all and rejected it out of hand. Another publisher who initially did want to publish the book finally rejected it when a review-reader said they thought it should primarily be about men and body hair, not women (although, in fact, the book argues these are not separate issues). In another case, a publisher wanted me to change the title because they said that The Last Taboo ‘made it sound like it was about sex’; apparently they thought body hair had nothing to do with sexuality! Yet another publisher told me the book should not be theoretical, as there was nothing important theoretically about women and body hair, but that it should be written as a ‘sociological’ study.

My contributors and I were thrilled when the book was finally published by Manchester University Press in 2007. I worked on this book longer than on any other in my academic career, and making it not only was part of my own stubborn belief that this issue mattered, whatever many of the other publishers thought, but also confirmed to me that much of academia (and academic publishing), no matter how much it claims to be about original thinking, is often just as much in thrall to ideas of the acceptable and the valuing of ‘fashion’.

For more information about The Last Taboo, visit the Manchester University Press website, or Amazon.

The Body Hair blog series continues:

Damned if you do and damned if you don't, by Rosie Garland

On Body Hair, by LJ Maher

Female Werewolves, Fur and Body Hair, by Carys Crossen

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Review: L.L. Raand, The Midnight Hunt (Bold Strokes Books, 2010)

This is the fourth of four reviews of recent female werewolf fiction. You can read the others here:

Part 1: Catherine Lundoff, Silver Moon

Part 2: S.J. Bell, Bonds of Fenris

Part 3: Allison Moon, Lunatic Fringe

Nearly a year ago, I ran a poll on this site for readers to vote for their favourite female werewolves. One werewolf – L.L. Raand’s Sylvan Mir – got far and away more votes than any other contender. I’ll repeat what I said at the time, this was not the result of spamming or any other dodgy practice, but rather an outpouring of support from Raand (aka Radclyffe)’s very loyal fans. With an endorsement like that, I had to read the books.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Midnight Hunt (the first book in Raand’s Midnight Hunters series). I was a little trepidatious. The book has been described as both erotica and erotic romance – two genres that I’m not hugely enamoured with. In the comments left by Raand’s fans, her alpha werewolf Sylvan was most often described as “hot”, and I was worried that this meant sexy, but one-dimensional. Still, I began the book with an open mind, keen to see why it was so popular…

… and I’m really glad I did. I was very pleasantly surprised, and now understand why I recently heard Radclyffe described as “the rock star of lesbian romance”.

The Midnight Hunt is set in a world in which “Weres”, vampires and other “Praetern” races live uneasily alongside human beings. Though the human and supernatural creatures have long co-existed, the latter have recently come out into the open, leading to a troubled cohabitation that is, at the start of The Midnight Hunt, very much a work-in-progress.

Sylvan Mir is the alpha “Were”, attempting to protect her species in the face of human antagonism and uneasy alliance with the other Praeterns. In addition to this, young female werewolves are being attacked, and a disease called “Were fever” is infected both humans and werewolves. When one of Sylvan’s wolves is infected, she is thrown into the path of human doctor Drake McKennan, who risks her own life to treat a werewolf.

To complicate matters further, a (human) investigative reporter named Becca Land is determined to get to the bottom of recent events, which means her working with, or at least trying to work with, Jody Gates, a vampire detective. I’m guessing I don’t need to note, here, that all four of these women are very sexy and each pair feel a powerful (and dangerous) attraction to each other… it is an erotic romance after all.

So, what was it that made The Midnight Hunt stand out from the crowd? What was it that surprised me? The first thing was the quality of writing. The book is very readable, and very well-paced. The sex scenes – notoriously difficult to get right – are sexy. A good balance is drawn between detail and euphemism, which I thought was a real strong point of Raand’s writing style.

But the main reason why I enjoyed this book was the characterization, especially that of Sylvan Mir. As I said above, I was half-expecting Sylvan to be nothing more than a ‘hot’ female werewolf, and I’ve read enough of those. But Sylvan, though definitely sexy, has a depth and plausibility to her character that was very engaging. Attempting to balance being a leader with her own emotional needs, trying to work with the other Praeterns and exist with the humans, Sylvan was conflicted, isolated and, sometimes, brutal. And I make no secret of the fact that this is how I like my she-wolves. This also meant that her developing relationship with Drake was more believable – as well as allowing for the requisite obstacles for the romance storyline.

There is also more to the plot of The Midnight Hunt than just romance and sex – though, don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of sex. I liked the world that Raand had sketched out, and think that her decision to set the book shortly after the “Exodus” of the Praetern races, rather than during it, was a good one. It was an interesting angle to take on the humans/supernaturals living alongside one another, and, if anything, I would have liked to have seen more of this world. I hope it will be developed further in the subsequent books.

If I have a criticism of the world-building, it would be that Raand’s “Weres” are much more compelling than her vampires. Not that vampires need to be the central creatures in a fantasy world (and I hope the focus of my blog shows that I don’t think that!), but rather that the vampires in The Midnight Hunt are a little underdeveloped beyond their hypnotic, polymorphous sexuality. This was a little frustrating, as Raand’s vampires do have some unusual aspects that differentiate them from the current mass of vampires – I wanted more of these.

I suppose this is a good point to talk about the sex. As I’ve said, the sex scenes are well-written and strike a good balance of the erotic and the romantic. I am not a huge erotica fan, so occasionally found myself waiting a little impatiently for the sex to finish so Sylvan could go out and hunt again, or get back to investigating what has been happening to her pack. Raand’s werewolves and vampires are hypersexual by their very natures, but, to her credit, she does give some good discussions of the consequences and implications of this – as well as some pretty steamy set-pieces. I felt the ending of the book also focused more on the resolution of the sex/romance plot than the investigation of “Were fever”, though this is to be expected given the genre. It’s also worth noting that this is the first book in a series, so some loose ends are necessary to carry through to the next instalment.

In conclusion, The Midnight Hunt is a great start to a series. Its ‘alpha’ female is a really creation, and I was fully invested in Sylvan and her development through the book. It is an erotic romance, which might not appeal to everyone. The sex outweighs the violence and horror by a wide margin, and I know this may not be to everyone’s tastes. However, there is much more to this book than sex, and I think it has a wider appeal than simply its genre.

If you are a fan of paranormal erotic romance, then The Midnight Hunt is a must-read. But, like I’ve said, I’m not normally a fan of the genre, but still enjoyed the book immensely and am looking forward to reading the rest of the Midnight Hunters series. If you like your female werewolves hot and sexy – but also fierce and protective, conflicted and spiky – then you will like Sylvan Mir. Now you can take my word for it, as well as the legion of Raand fans who voted in my poll.

For more information about the Midnight Hunters series, see the publisher’s website.

Part 1: Catherine Lundoff, Silver Moon

Part 2: S.J. Bell, Bonds of Fenris

Part 3: Allison Moon, Lunatic Fringe

Review: Allison Moon, Lunatic Fringe (Allison Moon, 2011)

This is the third of four reviews of recent female werewolf fiction. You can read the others here:

Part 1: Catherine Lundoff, Silver Moon

Part 2: S.J. Bell, Bonds of Fenris

Part 4: L.L. Raand, The Midnight Hunt

Cover image Lunatic Fringe is a debut, self-published novel by Allison Moon. It tells the story of a young, naïve girl named Lexie Clarion, who leaves home to study at Milton College (in “rural Oregon”). As soon as she starts at university, she is confronted by an apparent werewolf threat, invited to join “The Pack” (a self-styled radical feminist group), and finds herself attracted to a mysterious woman named Archer. Lexie’s loyalties are divided when she realizes Archer and the Pack have a troubled history.

Archer’s supernatural status is signalled early on – the genre trope of oddly coloured eyes is deployed to this end – and there is no ambiguity about the type of supernatural creatures peopling Lunatic Fringe. So, it’s not difficult to work out that Archer is a werewolf. This is not a criticism, however, as I think we’ve all reached saturation point with the ‘guess what type of supernatural being the sexy stranger is’ plot. I liked knowing where I stood with Archer.

The werewolves in Lunatic Fringe are of a somewhat confused type. As is common in contemporary fiction, they are a mixture of European tradition and pseudo-shamanism. In a rather exposition-heavy passage, Archer explains the origin story of the werewolf. This origin had real potential, as it sought to weave together ideas of lycanthropy with gender construction. Unfortunately, this potential was not exploited fully, and the resultant explanation was rather implausible and very US-centric (i.e. there appears to have been no history and no werewolves until the colonization of the Americas, which jars a little if you are familiar with the history of werewolf literature and lore).

There’s always a danger of confusion when writers bring together too many different traditions in werewolf fiction – the same is true for vampire fiction. The disparate ‘types’ of shapeshifting don’t always gel particularly well together. Unfortunately, this is true of Lunatic Fringe. While some werewolves are ‘infected’ (and I will give a big thumbs up for the method of ‘infection’ – no spoilers, but it’s a piece of Northern European lore that is rarely used in twenty-first-century fiction), others are born werewolves, and yet others are the ‘original’ werewolves. These creatures are all so different that Moon has to insert numerous ‘lessons’ imparted to the heroine, and this becomes rather confused and almost incoherent in places. That one group of werewolves are called the “Morloc”, with the apparently unintentional resonances, added to the problem.

Sadly, ‘confused’ is probably the best adjective I can think of to describe Lunatic Fringe. Plot-wise, there is far too much going on. The story jumps between a coming-of-age tale, an erotic romance, a thriller, a horror story. Each of the threads would have made a good plot for a werewolf story, but they have become rather tangled together. The ending is very rushed, bringing the disparate storylines together in a hurried denouement that does not completely make sense and seems to contradict some things that have come before.

One of the problems with the ending, without giving too much away, is that, while I was invested in Moon’s Archer, I really did not like her heroine Lexie. I said above that Lexie is naïve, but I’m not sure she’s not just ignorant. I found her views on gender and sexuality to be a bit unappealing, if I’m honest, especially her insistence on calling every ‘butch’ woman she meets ‘he’. The first time this happens is in a flashback to Lexie’s childhood, in which she remembers “Wes” her father’s colleague in the forestry service. Wes wears flannel shirts and “rough work pants”, so Lexie calls her by male pronouns – even when corrected by Wes’s friends and colleagues. As a young student, Lexie encounters “the second of such women”, Mitch, and insists on calling this woman by male pronouns as well.

When Lexie enters in a sexual relationship with Archer, she assumes the role of the old-fashioned romance heroine, lying back and being ‘awakened’ by her lover. In the consummation of their relationship, the reader is given page after page of Archer doing things to Lexie (some of which is very graphic, which jars a little with the tone of the rest of the book), but we never get to see Archer’s perspective. We never see Archer having an orgasm (though Lexie reflects on Archer’s enjoyment and her own ability to give her partner orgasms later) and the lack of mutuality in their relationship makes Lexie’s final decision seem cruel to say the least.

Of the supporting cast, the male characters are underdeveloped and veer towards stereotypes; however, it is the “Pack” that are more frustrating. Referring to themselves as “feminists” and all, without exception, lesbian and promiscuous, this group of women are, in fact, caricatures of female sexuality. Their version of feminism is misandrist essentialism, and their version of lesbianism is more reminiscent of heterosexual porn than lesbian erotica. At the first “Pack” party that Lexie attends, for example, the young women discuss whether or not to play “Truth or Dare”. Renee doesn’t want to: “The whole point of Truth or Dare is to mack on the people at the party. I’ve already slept with all of you. Where’s the excitement in that?” (p. 62)

Nevertheless, I will say that the presentation of the “Pack” did redeem itself in Chapter 11. In this chapter, the women’s pretence at being a feminist group slips, and they carry out a brutal murder. I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter, and would have happily read a whole book with this version of the characters. I could not get behind the “Pack” as a group of spoilt and entitled rich kids claiming moral high ground, but I was very taken with them as a bunch of sadistic and sociopathic killers (yes, yes, I’m aware that reveals a lot about me and my tastes…)

Perhaps I would have enjoyed Lunatic Fringe more if I had liked the central character more. If I had found Lexie more sympathetic, the plot tangles would have been easier to engage with. I did, nevertheless, like the character of Archer. The presentation of this character hinted at much more complexity and, as a result, she elicited more sympathy from me. In a novel of this type, which is character-driven, it is very difficult to enjoy the plot when you dislike the heroine. The same story, told from Archer’s point of view, might have felt very different.

Much as I wish I could say differently, Lunatic Fringe is not the greatest werewolf novel I have read. It lacks the punch and coherence of many of its peers, and its central character left me cold. However, it is not the worst either. Fans of werewolf fiction might enjoy the version of lycanthropy presented, and there is plenty of sex and violence for those who require that in their fiction. It’s a fast read, with a twist ending, and – whether or not you like her – a genuine dilemma for the heroine.

For more information about Lunatic Fringe, please visit the author’s website.

Part 1: Catherine Lundoff, Silver Moon

Part 2: S.J. Bell, Bonds of Fenris

Part 4: L.L. Raand, The Midnight Hunt

Review: S.J. Bell, Bonds of Fenris (S.J. Bell, 2012)

This is the second of four reviews of recent female werewolf fiction. You can read the others here:

Part 1: Catherine Lundoff, Silver Moon

Part 3: Allison Moon, Lunatic Fringe

Part 4: L.L. Raand, The Midnight Hunt

Bonds of Fenris is a self-published novel by S.J. Bell. It tells the story of Talia Thornwood, a young woman who has recently been ‘infected’ with lycanthropy and is seeking a way of coming to terms with her new life. She lives with her ‘pack’ – Bo, Leroy, Pierce and Marlene, also young ‘infected’ werewolves – and meets Corwin, a werewolf who can apparently control his lycanthropic side. Talia, keen to be free of her ‘wolf’ and her uncontrollable, bestial transformation at each full moon, allows Corwin to mentor her and teach her more about what it means to be a werewolf.

The novel’s plot falls into two distinct halves – the first being Talia’s life with the ‘pack’ in their “rental on the edge of the woods” (p. 6). The young werewolves squabble amongst themselves, hunt on a monthly basis and try to hold down jobs and go to college. This section of the book was by far the stronger part and had real potential for development. However, tragedy strikes and (to coin a hackneyed phrase), life will never be the same for Talia and her friends.

It’s at this point that the narrator seeks assistance from the mysterious werewolf Corwin, who has apparently found a way to overcome the involuntary transformation occasioned by a full moon. He and Talia retreat to a cabin in the woods, so that he can teach her the important lessons of control that a werewolf must learn.

Sadly, the book loses its momentum at this point. As Corwin begins to mentor Talia, the narrative becomes very exposition-heavy, and the final revelation of what Talia must learn is pretty obvious from the start (if you have read much recent werewolf fiction), meaning that the ‘lessons’ feel overly-dramatic and onerous. I was left unsure as to why Corwin felt the need to put Talia through such an ordeal, and why she submitted so readily.

For fans of werewolf fiction, though, this book has a lot to recommend it. The werewolves are of a recognizable late twentieth-/early twenty-first-century type – infected by a bite from another werewolf, controlled by the full moon, subject to bone-popping, painful metamorphosis, and filled with angst and remorse at what their ‘wolf’ does. Like much recent werewolf fiction, there is a lot of discussion of control, balance and harmony, and lots of reference to two beings inhabiting one skin; however, though the title misleadingly suggests some connection with Northern European legend, the successful werewolf must actually embrace teachings more reminiscent of Eastern philosophy.

There are some interesting passages early in the novel, and some particularly poignant examples of the young ‘pack’ trying to integrate themselves into ‘human’ society – using peppermint soaked rags to disguise the smell of human flesh, for instance. Unfortunately, though, the book suffers from the (sadly) typical under-editing of a self-published novel, and never quite lives up to the potential of its idea.

Characterization, in particular, is a weakness. The protagonist, Talia, is not convincing. Her submission to the males around her was a source of frustration to me throughout the book. One early example sees her in an argument with Marlene, the other female member of the pack. This is interrupted by Leroy who says: “Girls, girls […] Chill out, okay?” Rather than react or respond to this patronizing tone, Talia (the first-person narrator) describes him as speaking “diplomatically” (p. 9). Elsewhere, Talia is the victim of physical assault by Pierce (who wants to have sex with her) and intense emotional blackmail by Bo (who also wants to have sex with her). Her reaction to both is to lock herself in her bedroom and decide that the men might have a point and muse on whether or not she should sleep with one of them. Not only is this an unusual reaction for a woman, it is almost completely unheard of for a female werewolf – the tradition of ‘she-wolves’ avenging sexual assault is a long one, but, seemingly, not one to which Talia belongs.

As a side note, I would also say that small, frustrating details seem to undermine Talia’s presentation. For instance, though she is apparently twenty-one, she uses a mobile phone that is a “beaten-up relic of the late 1990s” (p. 28) (i.e. she is still using the same phone that she had when she was seven). I don’t wish to come across as being pedantic or overly critical, but rather to offer an example of under-editing that had an impact on character. A robust critique prior to publication would have tidied up these minor inconsistencies.

Perhaps (and I always like to be self-aware in my reviews), this is also down to my own tastes. Talia was a little too submissive and hopeful for my liking. I like my female werewolves in the mould of Emson’s Laura Greenacre or Miller’s Kalix MacRinnalch. Hell – I think Leah Clearwater was Meyer’s finest creation, and was genuinely pleased when she ended the Twilight series still brooding, angry and isolated. As a result, I was much more drawn to Bell’s grumpy, intellectual Marlene than Talia, and would love to see this character developed further in future books. I think my favourite part of Bonds of Fenris was when Marlene explained just how stupid Corwin’s lessons were!

For a self-published, debut novel, Bonds of Fenris is a decent read. It is certainly head and shoulders above some self-published works.* There are few grammatical or spelling errors, and the paragraphing and chapter divisions are well done. This indicates to me that Bell is a proficient writer who is in the process of developing his craft – and I will look forward to seeing this development as he progresses. I wouldn’t normally bring what I know of authors personally to a review, but I have to admit that I know Bell is a huge werewolf fan, and I think this enthusiasm shows in his writing. Bonds of Fenris is a book about getting to know werewolves from the inside out, and Bell’s strong knowledge and passion for all things lycanthropic give him a good starting point for this.

In conclusion, then, Bonds of Fenris is a recommendation for werewolf fans. It is the work of a novelist at the start of his career, and there are some teething problems, but it will definitely appeal to fans of the lycanthropic, and I will certainly look forward to seeing where he goes in his next book.

For more information about Bonds of Fenris, please see S.J. Bell’s website.

Part 1: Catherine Lundoff, Silver Moon

Part 3: Allison Moon, Lunatic Fringe

Part 4: L.L. Raand, The Midnight Hunt

*Please don’t take this the wrong way – I really, really want to like self-published novels, and always approach them with optimism and an open mind. However, I am inundated with books for review that were published way before they were ready, and it’s weakening my resolve a little.

Review: Catherine Lundoff, Silver Moon (Lethe Press, 2012)

Since I haven’t reviewed any female werewolf fiction for a while, I thought I would do a bumper quadruple review today. This is Part 1, but you can also read:

Part 2: S.J. Bell, Bonds of Fenris

Part 3: Allison Moon, Lunatic Fringe

Part 4: L.L. Raand, The Midnight Hunt

I’ll start, though, with Catherine Lundoff’s recent title, Silver Moon.

Published by Lethe Press, Silver Moon promises to be the first in a new series, and tells the story of the werewolves of Wolf Point – a small US town. The main character, Becca Thornton, discovers that she is becoming a werewolf, that many of her neighbours are also werewolves, and that their town is under threat from hunters.

While this may sound fairly standard lycanthropic fare, Lundoff’s book offers an interesting twist on the formula. In fact, it was the unusual concept that drew me to the book in the first place.

Becca Thornton is not a teenaged girl going through puberty, nor has she recently been bitten. She is a middle-aged women going through the menopause. The book starts with her experiencing a hot flash, and other changes follow… but not all of her symptoms can be so easily explained. She discovers that she is also becoming a werewolf. For Becca, then, the change really is the change. As she says herself “some days it was hard to say which change was worse”. (p. 83)

I really enjoyed this idea. When you read as much female werewolf fiction as I do, the lycanthropy = puberty metaphor gets old really quickly. Lundoff’s menopausal werewolves were a really refreshing change. More than this, the book is a paranormal romance/adventure – a genre that rarely places middle-aged women on centre stage. If anything, Lundoff’s creations seemed to make more sense than teenaged werewolves. Her descriptions of lycanthropy (which are not so dissimilar to those found in other werewolf texts) seemed to resonate more clearly with menopause than with menarche:
“Despite her fears, she could feel that same wildness building in her. Something was clawing its way to the surface inside her, racing beneath her skin and preparing to break through. She wanted to run and hunt and feel the wind outside. It made her impatient and her feet and hands tapped the floor and the chair in time to her pulse.” (p. 24)
So an A+ to Lundoff for concept – but how is the execution?

The book’s plot revolves around Becca’s transformation into a werewolf, and the revelation that Wolf Point has long been protected by a band of female werewolves – all ‘women of a certain age’. There is some indication that the town’s foundation was the result of a mingling of Native traditions and the magic of white colonizers. It’s a somewhat utopian fantasy of the best of both worlds, but it allows for a mixing of European werewolf traditions and shamanistic magic without too much jarring.

After discovering her lupine/earth magic heritage, Becca also finds that Wolf Point is under threat from a group of hunters, who are both aware of, and hostile to, the werewolf presence in the town. She must work with her fellow she-wolves to keep the town safe from these interlopers.

Without revealing too much about the plot, the arrival of these hunters stirs up old tensions and rivalries. The promise of a ‘cure’ to werewolfism is given, and Becca finds herself playing a dangerous game, never totally sure who she can trust.

The plot, in this respect, was reasonably engrossing. My investment in the central characters (and more on that in a moment) was strong enough for me to care about what happened to them. However, I didn’t feel the same engagement with the ‘villains’, and, in one case in particular, this was a shame. I felt that I could’ve done with more of them, to heighten the complexity of the choices Becca had to make. As it was, there never seemed to be any real suggestion that Becca would turn her back on the ‘pack’, and I would’ve liked a little more uncertainty here.

The final climactic showdown, too, was something of a disappointment. This is not because of what happened, but rather because it didn’t feel pacy enough. The strength of this novel lies in its characters, but the denouement is led more by the ritual they enact, and I felt it dragged a little. I would’ve liked it to be tighter – and possibly shorter. [Self-aware disclaimer] The shamanistic ‘earth magic’ element added to a lot of (mostly North American) werewolf fiction is not generally to my taste, so this criticism says as much about me as a reader as Lundoff as a writer.

Nevertheless, the book as a whole had me gripped, and this was down to Lundoff’s creation of character. Becca Thornton is engaging and likable. Though her relationship with her ex-husband – who has left her for a younger women, and now wants to sell their house to provide for his new family – threatened to become a bit ‘First Wives Club’, Lundoff’s writing avoids descending into cliché.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of the book was Becca’s blossoming relationship with her neighbour Erin, which was sweet and tender, but also believable. Becca finds herself attracted to her neighbour – an out lesbian – but doubts the basis for her feelings. With a light touch, Lundoff has her character muse on whether her attraction has been occasioned by her being menopausal, being a werewolf or being a lesbian. Her confusion and awkwardness is nicely summed up by Becca: “She tried to remember everything she’d ever seen about coming out on Oprah while a tiny voice inside screamed Not that too!” (p. 74)

Like the wolf ‘alpha’, Shelly, Erin is a well-drawn character. As I noted above, it is rare to get one middle-aged woman in a novel of this genre, let alone a sympathetic love interest and a strong supporting cast as well. I enjoyed the slow development of Erin and Becca’s relationship, and look forward to seeing more of this in the subsequent books in the series. I would have liked more of Shelly – I am always drawn to well-written and conflicted female ‘alphas’ – and I hope she will continue to play a role in future books.

All in all, then, this is a strong recommendation. The concept is great – and a real antidote to all those adolescent she-wolves – and the writing, on the whole, is very strong. I will certainly be looking forward to future Women of Wolf Point books. And if the series lives up to its strong start, Becca Thornton will be high on my list of favourite female werewolves.

[Without wanting to be too self-promoting here, if you’re interested in the rise of the menopausal she-wolf, Helen Cross’s story ‘Fur’, in the Wolf-Girls anthology also uses this premise… though it is a quite different tale to Lundoff’s. Cross has written a blog post on female monsters and the menopause on the Playing God with Monsters blog.]

For more information about Silver Moon, please visit Catherine Lundoff’s website.

My female werewolf fiction reviews continue...

Part 2: S.J. Bell, Bonds of Fenris

Part 3: Allison Moon, Lunatic Fringe

Part 4: L.L. Raand, The Midnight Hunt