Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

November 25, 2009

Werewolves & other bullies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Sam @ 3:20 am

Something else that always annoys me in fantasy: werewolves. It’s like every other time I turn around these days, there’s a pack of furry arseholes obsessed with establishing their one-dimensional dominance hierarchies by glaring, snarling, and beating each other up.

Why do people find this interesting? It’s not fun (even if you happen to be the bully on the top of the pile) and it doesn’t make for much more than formulaic stories. Trying to get something done despite being surrounded by idiots who think it matters that they can beat you up? Sounds far too much like a crude caricature of school, to me, without even the blessing that it stops after five years. Apparently, if you’re a werewolf you’re stuck playing dominance games for the rest of your furry life, and the way to get things done is to learn how to beat people up yourself.

It could be that it’s a variant of the waaaaaaah-modern-life-SUCKS feudal wankery which used to afflict fantasy so badly – you know the one, the stories which hark back to a simpler, nobler age, where the loyal, sturdy peasantry took an uncomplicated delight in their simple lives while dedicated, honourable nobles protected them from dire threats. While living in their huge castles and eating vast amounts of meat every night. In the werewolf variant, nobody has to bother with democracy, or consensus-building, or social niceties, or a chores rota; it’s straight back to the firm mutual bonds of kinship and community, where everyone knows their place and the solution to a crazed or incompetent leader is to rip his throat out.

Of course, it could be a cunning way to problematize this sort of community – I’ve seen the occasional werewolf story where someone (usually a female someone) tries just to opt out of the power structure, and gets slapped down and dragged back in[1], on the “join in our way or stay at the bottom” principle. The problem is, I’ve never yet seen a story where the fucked-up society gets changed, and the impulse to rip out your political opponent’s throat gets treated as an embarrassing display of bad manners.

Most authors seem to deal with that by giving werewolves some sort of implanted mystical dominance hierarchy crap, “like real wolves”, so that otherwise sensible people become compelled to play silly buggers with Greek letters, and get driven into a rage by challenges to their status. So the message there is that certain types of people[2] are just naturally what they are, and the social structure of your community is decreed by mystic woo-woo biology? Dodgy literature[3] at best.

I would say, this is the kind of subgenre that’s crying out for an Octavia Butler; but she took on much broader targets, and ones that posed a lot of difficulty to a large proportion of her SF-reading constituency.

I can’t think of a social message from werewolf stories except “bullies are bad” and “dominance hierarchies are an annoying waste of time” – and frankly, SF/fantasy readers generally know that already. It doesn’t necessarily stop them engaging in that behaviour amongst themselves, but then that’s domination systems for you.

[1] If my memory doesn’t fail me, then one of Kelley Armstrong’s novels (Bitten?) has a scene where two male pack members drag a woman back so the pack can force her to get pregnant by a man of their choice. This one actually comes the closest I’ve seen to fixing them, when the woman points out that it wouldn’t happen if they didn’t all cooperate with the psycho on the top of the pile.

[2] There are no non-people. If it’s in a book, and it talks, it’s a person – what we see from it is an illustration of something about people. Nobody ever gets a free pass because “werewolves are like that”. It’s as bad as “all orcs are minions of evil”. Nobody is ever condemned by genetics to be a minion, let alone evil. The idea that some people are natural Alphas and the rest of us are peons makes me see red.

[3] Similarly, there is no non-literature. Nothing gets a pass because it has bad art on the cover or gold lettering for the title. It all deals with the human condition, with life and hope and relationships between people.


  1. Thank you! Yes. Especially footnote 2.

    Comment by Sharon — November 25, 2009 @ 8:33 am

  2. Hear hear.

    Comment by Matthew — November 25, 2009 @ 8:58 am

  3. [...] and incompetence… and it has both Lucifer and Kit Marlowe in it. It also has both Sidhe and werewolves in it, but I wanted to give it a fair chance to impress me despite [...]

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