Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Review: The Wolf-Leader by Alexandre Dumas

The further back you go in the werewolf genre literature, the less and less similar they are to the modern Hollywood-influenced genre stereotype. Alexandre Dumas was a prolific author who wrote The Wolf-Leader some time after he got into financial troubles and ended his cooperation with one of his most important collaborators, Auguste Maquet - with whom he had written the famous d'Artagnan Romances. I'm not enough of a Dumas scholar to say whether my disappointment with The Wolf-Leader might be the result of Dumas having worked alone this time, but I cannot but wonder if there's a connection.

The Wolf-Leader's story begins with a framing story as is often the case with novels and stories from this period. Dumas tells a fantastic tale of his own youth when he went hunting with one of the people working for his father's estate. They encounter a black wolf that flees their trap almost magically. This makes the hunter tell a story to young Dumas about a shoemaker who became a Wolf-Leader. Thibault, a shoemaker, envies richer men for their better lot in life and makes a deal with a black wolf walking on its hind legs who promises that all his wishes will come true. Thibault makes several wishes but always finds that the results are not quite what he hoped for. Thus, begins his descent into evil.

Unfortunately, the story is very straightforward and - despite the relatively low number of pages the novel takes - it feels stretched. And it is not really a werewolf story either, except at the very end when the devil - appearing as a black wolf - offers Thibault another deal: to take the form of a black wolf himself. The story has some redeeming qualities in the form of characterisation - Thibault is a well devised character whose fall towards darkness is described relatively well, although the wishes that he makes sometimes makes the reader question his wisdom. He keeps hoping to one day become a rich and powerful man, but never actually wishes it directly from the wolf spirit, instead using his wishes in a roundabout way to strive towards this goal. Similarly, the reactions of the other characters - to the appearance of red hairs in his otherwise dark hair, for example - seem somewhat over-the-top even when you know that red hair was seen as the mark of evil back in the day.

Overall, this was not as good a story as I expected from Dumas: the joy and camaraderie that is so well depicted in The Three Musketeers is nowhere to be seen here, and there are no plot twists to keep up the reader's interest.