Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A book to howl about

If you're looking to add to your collection of books about weird creatures that probably don't exist, now is the time to preorder Linda Godfrey's latest, Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America.  (Here's the link to her book's page on Amazon.)

I have to admit that I've always been fascinated by werewolves.  For the record, my fascination predates, and in fact has nothing to do with, a certain Movie That Shall Not Be Named, in which being a werewolf seemed mostly an excuse to run around with no shirt on.  Note that I have nothing against being shirtless, but I do find it amusing that said Unnamed Movie is set in the Pacific Northwest.  Now, I lived in the Pacific Northwest for ten years, and I can say from personal experience that for about nine months of the year, running around without a shirt in Washington State is a good way to develop hypothermia, if not a bad case of Dreaded Skin Mildew.  Maybe why that's why this particular character always seemed to look so sullen.  I don't know.

But I digress.

The werewolf myth goes back a long way, and a great many cultures have a tradition of people who are able to change into animal form -- some deliberately, some involuntarily (or under certain conditions, or at certain times).  The Skinwalker tradition of the Navajo is one of the scariest; not only can the werewolf rip you to shreds, he can take over your body simply by locking eyes on you.  Some traditions from the Native Americans of the Northeast include the Wendigo, a shapeshifting demon that some anthropologists believe might have been a myth borrowed from contact with 11th century Vikings -- because the werewolf legends of Scandinavia are amongst the most elaborate in the world.  You have your berserkers, who are warriors who in battle-rage transform into bears; but King Harald I Fairhair was supposed to have a special army of Ășlfhednar, men who wore wolf-pelts and who could at will transform into wolves.  Animal transformation was not limited to men, however.  In Finland, the ihmissusi were all female, and in fact were usually thought to be elderly -- nasty-tempered old ladies with poisonous claws who would turn into wolves and kill your cattle if you pissed them off.

The connection with the full moon seems to have been popularized by the 13th century lawyer and writer Gervase of Tilbury in his book Liber de Mirabilibus Mundi (Book of Wonders of the World), but he certainly picked it up from English folk legend.  So the whole idea that when the moon is full, you should Keep To The Road And Stay Off The Moors has been around for a while.

Myself, I've always wondered why you're limited to wolves and bears and so on.  Could you be a were-mouse?  Or a were-possum?  Or a were-slug?  I mean, it might be kind of anticlimactic to go through all that trouble and then turn into something unimpressive, but you have to wonder.  (Actually, I wrote a short story that riffed on this idea -- it's the title story in my collection Once Bitten, which is available for Kindle here.  And if I can indulge in a moment of immodesty, this bunch of short stories rocks and you should all buy it right now.)

So, anyway, Godfrey's new book promises to be interesting, and the press release announcing its publication certainly howls its praises:
What’s hiding in the woods? Here is the definitive account of today’s nationwide sightings of upright, canine creatures – which resemble traditional werewolves – and a thorough exploration of the nature and possible origins of the mysterious beast.

The U.S. has been invaded – if many dozens of eyewitnesses are to be believed – by upright, canine creatures that look like traditional werewolves and act as if they own our woods, fields, and highways. Sightings from coast to coast dating back to the 1930s compel us to ask exactly what these beasts are, and what they want.

Researcher, author and newspaper reporter Linda S. Godfrey has been tracking the manwolf since the early 1990. In Real Wolfmen she presents the only large-scale cataloging and investigation of reports of modern sightings of anomalous, upright canids. First-person accounts from Godfrey’s witnesses – who have encountered these creatures everywhere from outside their car windows to face-to-face on a late night stroll – describe the same human-sized canines: They are able to walk upright and hold food in their paws, interact fearlessly with humans, and suddenly and mysteriously disappear.

Godfrey explores the most compelling cases from the modern history of such sightings, along with the latest reports, and undertakes a thorough exploration of the nature and possible origins of the creature.
My initial reaction is that possibly both Godfrey and her publicist need a refresher on the definition of the word "myth," but maybe I'm being narrow-minded.

Be that as it may, I will certainly be reading Godfrey's book.  And with that, I'll wrap this up, because all of this typing is making my paws tired.  Um, hands.  That's what I meant.  Hands.


  1. Bill Murray would make a good were-slug. I'd go see that movie.

    1. Being a were-shark would be cool. Until the one time you didn't make it to the beach on time and the moon came up.

  2. Bullshit alert.

    "interact fearlessly with humans" ...

    So where's all the "Werewolf caught taking a leak in Central Park" youtube videos, if they're so damned fearless of humans.

    ...and why do animals always have to be mixing with humans?
    Where's the Dragonweasel or Unicornbadger sightings?