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Posted March 11, 2010
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In 1978 Whitley Strieber's novel THE WOLFEN was published. Three years later, 1981, appeared a feature film starring an ageing Albert Finney as a New York City police inspector and a much younger Diane Venora as his partner. Werewolves have recently killed policement (the novel) or a rich celebrity couple (the film). Usually werewolves, usually called Wolfen in both novel and film, kill only marginal humans, the weak, the dying, the poor, the friendless. Such people are not missed and police do virtually no investigating. But an inexperienced pair of werewolves made the mistake that set the tale moving: killing someone young and important. ******
Brooklyn Homicide Division's Detective Becky Neff (played by Venora) alerts her senior partner George Wilson (played by Finney) to the mutilation and killing of two policeman. In fairly short order Wilson in a flash of intuition guesses "werewolves."
"Why did men once run with the werewolves?" (Ch. 7)
Dr Carl Ferguson, a scientist consulted by Wilson and Neff, is fascinated by paw prints left behind by the Wolfen at the killing site. The paws have retractable hooks! Ferguson (Chapter 7) consults two works in the New York Public Library. From these sources he pieces together a defensible hypothesis about what the Wolfen are and how their onetime mutually beneficial interactions with humans (including communicating via signs) ceased to be necessary and have been in abeyance for a century or more. *****
In the library, Dr Ferguson first consulted the classic 1933 THE WEREWOLF by Montague Summers (1880 -1948). Werewolves, Ferguson concluded, were not wolves or human turned into wolves, but a distinct species, canis lupus sapiens, the only other thinking species on earth besides man. The Wolfen ate humans and had found a way to work with other hungry humans. These other humans, Ferguson intuited, were vampires! Therir job was to lure edible humans out into the night and lead them as prey to the werewolves. And there was recorded evidence that werewolves and vampires had learned to communicate by sign language. The time finally came when werewolves could find their prey without help from their fellow scavengers, the vampires. So communications ended and memories faded. *****
Dr Ferguson then found confirmation of Summers's historical writing in the rare books section of the library: in a 1597 study by the French nobleman Beauvoys de Chauvincourt. Ferguson was excited to find detailed descriptions of the sign language still in use then among vampires and werewolves. He was shocked by an engraving of a werewolf. It was much as he was reconstructing one from recent crime scene analysis. More frighteningly, the engraving depicted a wolf-like nighttime visitor Ferguson had had as a seven-year old boy while sleeping in a summer cottage in upstate New York. Not a nightmare! *****
On the basis of that grounding in history, author Whitley Strieber and film director MIchael Wadleigh used their creative imaginations to spin their interwoven yarns. The novel is astonishingly good, despite the author's pedestrian writing style. The movie, starting with Albert Finney's wooden acting, is notably bad, with one exception: the ending. In the movie Finney submits to the werewolves. His life is spared and there is a hint that the ancient human-werewolf partnership will be revived. Enjoy! -OOO-
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Posted April 24, 2012
Back in 1978, when this book was written, is was probably a pretty scary story...but in 2012, not so much.
Okay, as I stated, The Wolfen didn't scare me, but it was a decent read. In fact, I really liked it. Now days, it's all about the supernatural. A lot of the books that are being read have some supernatural touch to it. This book is a werewolf tale minus the supernatural touch. These werewolves do not transform from human to creature during the full moon. These werewolves are a very intelligent, beastial species. They have thought patterns similar to humans, and this has kept them hidden among man for eons.
The pack of werewolves in this story have moved into New York, and made a huge mistake---they attacked and killed two cops. Now they are at risk of being exposed to the human population when detectives, Neff and Wilson are assigned to the case.
I found The Wolfen to be a quick and entertaining read.