Amongst my happiest childhood memories are Friday nights spent watching late night horror movies with my brothers and sister in our family’s basement television room. Four decades later, I can still recall the smell of popcorn on the dank air and the flickering shadows playing across the walls. Films such as the Plan Nine From Outer Space (Wood, 1959) and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (Francis, 1965) gave me an appreciation for all things cheesy and macabre that I still love now.
It’s not surprising then, that one of my most treasured possessions is the sadly out-of-print The Story of Werewolves by the late Thomas G. Aylesworth (1978). I found the book sitting on the top bunk of a KOA Kamping Kabin just outside of Quebec City. Where, incidentally, the fabulous man/wolf is referred to in hushed tones as the loup-garou (pronounced LOO gahr-oo). It’s a slim but delightful little book filled with the sort of useless but fascinating information that wooly-headed, scatter-brained people like me love to stuff our heads with. The illustrations included medieval engravings and wood block prints of innocent travellers being eaten alive on remote country roads. If you have ever wondered how to cure the werewolf, feed it, confuse it, enslave it, transform it, kill it, attract it, or repel it — this is the book for you! Needless to say, it holds pride of place on my favourite bookshelf sandwiched between The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams, 1995) and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Lawrence, 1983). Aside from this little treasure trove of lycanthropic lore, the good professor was apparently responsible for a lengthy list of other books on subjects as diverse as palmistry, baseball, microbes and graphology.
Here is a sampling of the many important things that I’ve learned from The Story of Werewolves:
“¢ Marco Polo was said to have come across wolf-men on the Adaman Islands, located off of the coast of India in the Bay of Bengal.
“¢ In Poland, werewolves were frequently known to go on rampages around Midsummer’s Eve and Christmas time. They especially enjoyed crashing into taverns, emptying all of the beer and wine kegs, and stacking them one on top of the other in the cellar. After this, the drunken beasts would proceed to a ruined castle and compete with each other by jumping over the walls.
“¢ In Brittany, the chief of a werewolf pack was a wizard, known as le Meneur des Loups.
“¢ In Sweden and Normandy, the packs were always led by the oldest of the females.
“¢ In Portugal, werewolves were shy, gentle and afraid of the light. The smallest candles were enough protection on a dark road at night.
“¢ Werewolves are surprisingly good cooks.
“¢ To cure a werewolf, dose it with a potion made from thyme, epithymus, aloes, wormwood, squills, poley, birthwort, phlebotomy, and cataplasms. If this doesn’t work, induce vomiting by forcing the werewolf to drink hellebore and rubbing its nostrils with opium.
“¢ In medieval Italy, it was believed that anyone conceived during a new moon would become a werewolf. Sleeping in an open field beneath a full moon on a Friday night would have the same effect. The same outcome would occur to anyone eating the flesh of a sheep that had been killed by a wolf, drinking water from a wolf’s footprint, or eating a wolf’s brain.
Happy travels. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Adams, D. (1995). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Reissue edition. Del Rey.
Aylesworth, T.G. (1978). The Story of Werewolves. McGraw-Hill.
Francis, F. (Director) (1965). Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors [Motion Picture]. Republic Studios.
Lawrence, D.H. (1983). Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Reissue edition. Bantam Classics.
Wood, E.D. (Director) (1959). Plan Nine From Outer Space [Motion Picture]. Rhino Video.