The Science of Lycanthropy

The website for ‘The Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency’ has a page dedicated to the science of Lycanthropy. Whilst there are plenty of other pages and books dedicated to pseudo-scientific frameworks for the existence of monsters – Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide (2004) is one of my favourites – the ‘science of Lycanthropy’ exemplifies the effect of invoking the language of reason and cold scientific logic to explain (away) the supernatural. I want to briefly consider some of the tropes it contains about the figure of the werewolf.

The article plays on certain stereotypes of the werewolf and the wolf. According to this ‘research’, vampires and zombies originate from Africa suggesting that their existence has grown along side our human ancestors. This draws attention to the fact that they are human monsters – developed from our fears about death. However, the werewolf comes from Eurasia which was densely forested and home, no doubt, to many wolves – or at least the ancestors of wolves. Here the article is playing on anthropological ideas concerning the relationship between man and wolf. Moreover, by making lycanthropy a disease that is akin to rabies passed from wolf to man, this pathology maintains the hybridity of werewolfism. Indeed by directly relating the disease to contact with wolves, the pseudo-science makes the wolf element of the ‘werewolf’ even more dangerous as the origins of this diseases. The wolf’s bite threatens to transform the human subject into a bestial monster. This notion of animals causing epidemics that threaten the human population brings to mind some of the more outlandish claims about how HIV/AIDS came into existence.

The opening paragraph of the article also contains certain elements which draw the reader’s attention to the hatred of animals and poses questions about how humans treat anyone or thing that is deemed to be animal-like or degenerate. According to the FVZA, werewolves are solitary. This is a particularly interesting statement. Firstly, in more recent depictions of werewolves (certainly from the 80s onwards), they tend to be part of packs. The importance of family structure and duty is a large part of werewolf societies. This is in part because of the changing understanding of wolves themselves. With the growing awareness of environmentalism, ecology and the redemption of the wolf as a figure of the wilderness as a force of regeneration, the social aspects of wolves have received more attention. This has been reflected (although sometimes very crudely) in werewolf literature. (Notably, the FVZA was disbanded in 1975 which perhaps explains why they are behind the times on werewolf stereotypes). Secondly, the statement invokes the figure of the ‘lone wolf’. Though the ‘lone wolf’ can be used to suggest a maverick or Clint Eastwood Pale Rider-esque persona, it also suggests a dangerous criminal-type. That lycanthropes are presented as ‘isolated’ further ingrains their monstrosity and threat to human civilisation.

What is perhaps more disturbing is the discussion of capturing and studying werewolves. Like many pseudo-scientific texts, the author(s) attempt to capture the objective tone of scientific papers. This means that they can state that werewolves who have been kept in captivity for research purposes die within one week without any emotionality. Werewolves then cannot be tagged and followed into the wild nor can they be captured. In terms of scientific study, they are the ultimate prize outdoing field researchers and those based in labs. The fear of capture and subsequently becoming a scientific specimen is a recurring theme in recent werewolf texts. Contemporary sympathetic werewolves neither wish for nor require a cure and the scientists who capture them are shown to be inhuman. Moreover, as a hybrid subject, it is never clear if testing on werewolves is vivisection or testing on humans. Both concerns are evoked and, when handled correctly, both situations are shown to be monstrous.

Though this article is relatively short and fits within a wider paradigm, hopefully, I’ve shown some of the werewolf stereotypes which it plays into. It also fits within wider Gothic tropes of science as threatening and deviant (which I have barely touched). But for me and my research what I find most interesting is how it lays bare the potential of hybrid creatures such as werewolves to explore the relationships between humans and the (un)natural world.

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