Sunday, 20 September 2015

Review: Wolfshead by Robert E. Howard

Robert E. Howard was a prolific writer perhaps best known for his Conan the Cimmerian and Solomon Kane stories, but he wrote a lot of other stories as well, including westerns and horror stories. In the Forest of Villefère and Wolfshead are his two short stories dealing with werewolves, first published in Weird Tales in 1925 and 1926. They were therefore written in a time when werewolf stories were still in their infancy and manage to take a refreshing look at the genre and steer away from the kinds of tropes that more modern stories tend to be riddled with. Although Howard never specifically sets the stories at any particular time period, it can be assumed from the references to rapiers, arquebusiers and slave trade that they are set in the 16th century.

The first story is told from the perspective of a man called de Montour, who is walking through the forest of Villefère, gets lost and happens upon a mysterious man who calls himself Carolus the Loup. De Montour shudders at the name but lets the other man guide himself back to the correct path. Not very surprisingly, it turns out that the strange man is a werewolf and a fight ensues.

The second story is told from the point of view of Pierre, an old man sharing his tale with unnamed listeners in an ale house like setting. To his listeners, he relates a story of how he, as a young man, had been invited to stay with his recluse friend, Dom Vincente, at his home on the western shores of Africa. Several other people have gathered there as well and Pierre gets introduced to many of them after his arrival. He is particularly intrigued by de Montour, a man he notices looks strangely haggard and weary. And then de Montour surprises him by begging him to bar the door to his room for the night...

Howard's concept of werewolves is very different from the present-day Hollywood stained creature. His werewolf is akin to a spirit - a demon - that usually inhabits wolves, but that can give some of them an ability to change into a more man-like shape. A human can be haunted by the same demon if he or she makes the mistake of killing this kind of a werewolf when it is still in its man-like shape.

These are very early stories by Robert E. Howard and nowhere near to his best work. I enjoyed In the Forest of Villefère more than I did its sequel. Even though it is the simpler and more straight-forward of the two, it seems to hearken back to the simple horror/fairy tales that I grew up reading. Both of these stories provide an interesting point of view to the werewolf myth and are very much worth a read.

4/5

The title image for this review is from the graphic novel adaptation of the two stories.