“Oh, the terrible disgrace, the ignominy of it, possessing a mythical monster in one’s own family in this age of science and enlightenment.” – Guy Endore, “The Werewolf of Paris”
by Peter Fernandez
With Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the vampire and man-made “monster” have their iconic novels, but how about hirsute and hydrophobic shape-shifter, the Werewolf? From gothic to modern horror literature, this underappreciated antagonist isn’t nearly as well represented.
There is, however, Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris, and although it never harvested the immortal status of the aforementioned classics, it’s the most enduring and sophisticated werewolf fiction to date. Regrettably, the narrative ignores the title character in favor of Paris’ socio-political scene during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. This egg-headed, historical dirge can leave the reader howling and hungry for more of “la loupe garou’s” monstrous activities.
Set against antique Gaul’s “decadent capitalist” society, Endor judges it to be beneath his alt-left contempt. Bertrand Calliet, “The Beast,” is more interesting than the author’s communist history lesson, since this character must live in a vaporous twilight world unsure of whom or what he is: “He rented a cheap basement room, far in the rear of the house. A window, which he could leave open, allowing him to escape and return unnoticed at night…He knew when an attack was coming on,,, Frequently he would wake in the morning, in bed, with no recollection of what happened at night…Under his bed he caught a flash of white. It was a human forearm! A man’s. The fingers were clutched tightly into a fist. Hair, as if torn from a fur coat, protruded from the interstices between the fingers.”
This cynical read is introduced in the first person by an American expatriate living in Paris, circa 1930’s, upon discovering a French language manuscript written by the Beast’s uncle. The reader is transported back to the origins of the child’s unholy birth on Christmas Eve to a servant girl taken by a priest.
The author writes, “Of werewolves… there are two kinds, There are first those that have two bodies and only one soul. These two bodies exist independently, the one in the forest, the other in the home. And they share one soul. The man then only dreams of his wolf-life. Lying abed he thinks himself abroad, roaming great pine-woods in a distant country, slinking by on soft-padded paws, or yelling in a pack at the flying hoofs of three horses dragging a sleigh in a gallop across a snowy plain.-And in the same manner, the wolf satiated with his kill and drowsing in his den, dreams….He is a man clad in garments …busy in the affairs of the city.’”
The uncle raises the sensitive boy with hairy palms and joined eye-brows, but something is eating the neighbor’s geese, digging up and gnawing on cemetery deadbeats, including Marcel, the diabetic plumber’s good leg. So, uncle imprisons him: ‘”I’ll tame the wolf in him,” Aymar thought madly, and lashed away at the lad…The whip rose and fell. “I’ll tame you!’”
The werewolf is more exciting than arcane political intrigue: “He dragged his kill to the edge bordering the road. It did not occur to him to use his hands for this task. He used his teeth and tugged. His arms and legs stemmed his body, pushed at the ground, and thus pulling backwards he reached the side of the road. There, he began to devour bits of flesh from the throat…His heads dropped on the body of his kill. He dozed.” Not until he awakens does Bertrand recall murdering and eating his best friend.
The 1933 cult novel never became a world-wide literary sensation, but briefly became a number one best selling novel because of the monster hiding in a monstrous world: “What was a were-wolf who had killed a couple of prostitutes, who had dug up a few corpses, compared with these tigers slashing at each other with daily increasing ferocity. Instead of thousands, future ages will kill millions. Hurrah for the race of werewolves!”
Guy Endore was actually the nom-de-plume of Samuel Goldstein, in-spired by the Book of Samuel’s Witch of Endor. Endore/Goldstein (1901-1970) was nominated for an Oscar for the screen-play to The Story of GI Joe, and responsible for writing numerous other A-List screen-plays, including Mad Love, and The Devil Doll, also set in Parisian occultist circles.
The Werewolf of Paris is political manifesto by day and monster at night, an oddity, a were-book, if you will, by a master artist, who would be briefly blacklisted in fifties Hollywood. It’s a marvelous read, but to some readers, including this one, Marxism and lycanthropy make for bizarre bed-fellows, or is it comrades?
Categories: Book Review