When I heard that there was going to be a conference on female werewolves at the University of Manchester in the UK in 2010, I was terribly disappointed that I was going to miss it. Fortunately, one of the conference organizers, Hannah Kate, continued the discussion about female werewolves at her blog. And in June, 2012, she released an anthology: Wolf Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny from Hic Dragones Press; I asked her to stop by and talk about her inspiration and her answers to the question: "Why female werewolves?"
Why I Love Lycogyny
A few years ago, I was working on my PhD thesis on late medieval romance narratives. I was writing about gender and monsters in fourteenth-century romance, and was particularly looking at some stories involving werewolves. I wrote about masculinity, noting that werewolves in medieval romance are exclusively male. I added a neat little footnote to the effect of: ‘On the whole, throughout Western culture, werewolves are usually male.’ Then, as an afterthought, I added: ‘Notable exceptions include the female protagonists of the Ginger Snaps trilogy and the character of Verruca in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. A couple of days later, I added a few more (I think Clemence Housman’s werewolf and Perrenette Gandillon were next), and then a few more (An American Werewolf in Paris, Trick R Treat, the witchcraft trials presided over by Henry Boguet). Gradually, I added more and more ‘notable exceptions’ until the footnote took over the entire page.
With this, my supervisor said: ‘You are going to have to do something with that female werewolf footnote.’
So, I opened up the subject to discussion with other academics, and ran a conference in Manchester. We had speakers from throughout Europe, the States and Australia, and talked about female werewolves from history, folklore, literature and film. I then put together an academic book on the subject, to be published by Manchester University Press in 2013.
But that wasn’t the end of it. As well as being an academic writer, I am also a creative writer. While it was interesting to examine the female werewolf under the scholarly microscope, I also wanted to look more creatively at this compelling figure.
The earliest she-werewolves are found in witchcraft trials and tracts. But since the nineteenth century (or late eighteenth, if you think Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Cristobel’ is a werewolf tale – as some people do), female werewolves have belonged to creative writers, and, to be bold, I wanted to be part of this tradition.
Female werewolf fiction is going through something of a Golden Age at the moment, with some really excellent novels and short stories being produced. Mainstream TV shows like Being Human have also offered us some new – and complex – female werewolves. There is such a strong blending of traditions going on in these recent creations – Northern European folkloric elements rub shoulders with the sexual allure of the nineteenth-century she-wolves and the dark occultism of the sixteenth. North American literature and film often mixes non-European traditions of shapeshifting and shamanism into the European werewolf.
I have a few theories as to why the early twenty-first century might be such a fertile ground for female werewolf fiction. The current popularity of paranormal romance and crossover horror/fantasy fiction means many creatures once the preserve of fiction written primarily for and about men now appear in books for women. In these books, the female werewolf is more likely to appear as protagonist than sexy villain.
But, perhaps, there’s something more. It can hardly be denied that, in Western culture particularly, there is a worrying obsession with female body hair at the moment. I haven’t actually plotted a graph, but I’ve long been of the opinion that, as women are expected to remove hair from more and more parts of their body, there is an increased interest in writing about women who revel in their fur. Perhaps every time a woman gets a Brazilian, a female werewolf is born?
I decided to put together the Wolf-Girls collection to give an overview of the rich traditions that are at play in today’s lycanthropic fiction. A short story collection made more sense than a single-authored book, as I wanted to give a broader view of lycogyny, in all its complicated manifestations. When I opened submissions, I didn’t set any rules about what ‘female’ or ‘werewolf’ might mean – I simply asked for dark tales (and, as my own tastes run that way, I hinted the darker the better!)
The stories I received in response to my call for submissions did not disappoint. Rosie Garland, Andrew Quinton, Mihaela Nicolescu and Mary Borsellino offered gritty urban fantasy; Nu Yang and J.K. Coi’s contributions might be better described as horror. Serial killers, predators, brutality and gore run through all these stories.
Marie Cruz’s story drew on traditions of the ‘female Gothic’ and the association of werewolfism and mental illness; Beth Daley’s heart-breakingly tender (yet grotesque and shocking) tale draws on a now usually forgotten tradition of female werewolves and infanticide. Both Helen Cross and R.A. Martens dealt head-on with the question of body hair, but in quite different stories of hairy women. Jeanette Greaves and Sarah Peacock offered dark little visions of teenage life in the UK, inflected through science fantasy and Celtic folklore respectively; L. Lark’s story was influenced by Northern European folktales of shapeshifters.
Several stories belonged to genres not always associated with werewolf fiction: my own was cyberpunk-inspired; Lyn Lockwood’s was set in the Wild West; Kim Bannerman drew on medieval hagiography and Crusading narratives. And one story – Lynsey May’s – was told from a man’s POV, and focused on sexual desire and disgust.
These stories are worthy additions to a long history of female werewolf fiction. That’s not to say readers are likely to fall in love with the writers’ creations – these women are hardly eye candy – but I hope they will be gripped, frightened, repelled and delighted by them.
Wolf-Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny is available now in paperback from the Hic Dragones website [www.hic-dragones.co.uk/wolf-girls], and in all eBook formats from September 2012.
Causes Catherine Lundoff Supports
The Women's Prison Book Project - provides books to incarcerated women Theater Unbound - promotes theater by women: playwrights, directors, performers...