The Werewolf Book
The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings
by Brad Steiger

BOOK REVIEW BY GARY JOHNSON

Vampires get all the attention. They're prominently featured on television in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff series Angel. Ann Rice has captured a legion of readers with her tales of romantic, seductive vampires. Role-playing games and trading card games have revolved around vampire lore. Meanwhile werewolves slink in the background--in much more insidious guise. As Brad Steiger suggests in The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings, werewolves are real. You read about them in the newspaper. They're the Jeffrey Dahmers and the Richard Ramirezes of the world: they're sex criminals:

"While most of us have become 'domesticated' and hearken to the inner voice of conscience that has been strengthened by moral and spiritual values cultivated over centuries of civilized behavior, those individuals who have succumbed to the more vicious seed of the wolf within them walk among us today as those sadistic sex criminals who slash, tear, rip, rape, mutilate, and cannibalize their victims."

So in this new offering from Visible Ink Press, a companion volume to The Vampire Book, Mr. Steiger sets straight the history of werewolf lore and its relationship to the monstrous primal urges that occasionally rip forth in human form. Therefore, while The Werewolf Book contains the requisite entries on Lon Chaney, Jr., Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Universal Pictures, and wolfsbane, you'll also find listings on Charles Manson, Jack the Ripper, and the Marquis de Sade.

This is an interesting book, but it feels rushed. Mr. Steiger makes numerous factual gaffes. For example, he assigns the famous poem from The Wolf Man to Maleva, the gypsy woman.

Even a man who is pure at heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.

Actually, Maleva is one of the few main characters in the movie who doesn't utter this rhyme. And to make matters worse, Steiger misquotes the poem, as he replaces the final line with "And the moon is clear and bright." He's not far off, no. But he's misquoting a movie that is largely responsible for creating much of today's werewolf lore. (To be fair, his misquoted version is in fact what one of the grave robbers recites in the wonderfully eerie opening sequence from Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.)

In addition, the photo captions have been assigned carelessly. For example, a drawing in comic book style is laughably credited as a print from a 15th Century book. And in another case, Mary Nash is misidentified as the leader of a religious cult in a still from The Cobra Woman. Any lover of kitschy fantasy movies knows it's Maria Montez, who is seated beside Nash in the photo--on a cobra statue throne!

Putting these unfortunate gaffes aside, The Werewolf Book is nonetheless a valuable book for the breadth of werewolf lore that Mr. Steiger covers. In particular, he provides several fascinating entries on several puzzling mysteries from the past, such as the stories of the "Beast of Le Gevaudan," "The Greifswald Werewolves," and "The Northumberland Werewolf."

However, this book feels like it needed a few more hours of careful editing before it was published. For starters, they should correct the spelling of "Dr. Jekyll" on the book's back cover.

 


The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings by Brad Steiger is now available from Visible Ink Press. 398 pages. Paperback. Suggested list price: $19.95.