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Friday, 13 September 2013

FFB - THE BEAST WITHIN

Published in 1992, this book by Adam Douglas is sadly out of print. (You don’t want to pay those dealers’ silly high prices found on Amazon for a new copy; I mean, a paperback for £116!) The Beast Within is also a popular fiction title, I counted at least twelve books using it post-2000.

This non-fiction work is subtitled ‘A History of the Werewolf’.
 
Lycanthropy, a condition in which the patient believes he or she to be transformed into a wolf, is one of the oldest – and oddest – afflictions in psychiatric literature.

Douglas’ researches range far and wide, covering such subjects as ancient cave-paintings, Greek mythology, Celtic sagas, Christian culture, modern psychiatry, and the cinema, in Europe, India, the Cameroons and beyond.
 
Prior to being hijacked for horror movies, the werewolf (man-wolf) was a powerful symbol to evoke fear of the beast within each person, a potent creation at the dawn of history, when superstition held sway; wolves were not the only creatures people ostensibly transformed into, but they were the most ‘popular’, mainly because at the height of the werewolves’ significance they were plentiful in Europe, and feared.

There were stories of beneficent werewolves, but they were swept away by the hegemony of the church and witch-hunters in the Middle Ages, to be replaced by the familiar monstrous creatures that signify disorder and deviance.
 
And when these werewolves were linked with the demonic host of witches and warlocks that sprang up in the late mediaeval and early modern era, their fate was sealed – they, like their true animal brethren, were hounded to virtual extinction.

This is a fascinating, serious and diligent study of the stuff of nightmares. Recommended.

Note: The shapeshifter archetype beloved of shamanism not only encompasses wolves, but also bears, snakes, cats, birds, buffalo, deer and dragons, among others. See Deerdancer by Michele Jamal (1995).

3 comments:

Randy Johnson said...

Sounds interesting. Amazon has a used copy for $4.98. May have to get this one.

David Cranmer said...

I've always enjoyed books and films on this subject matter. And Kyle Knapp (In Celebrations in the Ossuary) compared his bout with alcoholism with lycanthropy. I thought that was an appropriate analogy.

Nik said...

Yep, Randy, the used prices are reasonable. Yes, I can see the comparison, David. One of the most affecting books about alcoholism I've read is Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, a modern classic.