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Throw Me To The Wolves Main

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Monsters, Monsters, Everywhere

Written by Christopher Brooks

A German (called Peter Stumpe) by charme
Of an enchanted girdle did much harme
Transform’d himselfe into Wolfeish shape
And in a wood did many yeeres escape
—Samuel Rowlands, 1573-1630

What I wouldn’t have given as a kid to just turn on the TV and toggle from vampire shows to werewolf movies to Frankenstein pastiches. I couldn’t have imagined the wealth of horror-themed choices today. Instead, I snuck around my hardcover copy of Werewolves and Other Monsters, by Thomas G. Aylesworth, hiding it between other books like so much porn. To be honest, I hid it not because of the subject matter, but fear that some teacher would see the library name stamped on the edges of the pages, and return it to the old brick building on Town Hill. I waited years before ripping out that little paper sleeve for the Due Back card. In the book, Samuel Rowlands’s poem about Peter Stumpe accompanied illustrations of the wolfman’s execution—the origin of my fascination with woodcuts.

Packing up to move out of Mom’s house, I found the book in the back of a drawer. Mom asked if I remembered when she brought it home from the used-book sale the library held every summer. I could have sworn I’d stolen the book off a library shelf, a false memory that had boosted my love of those gory pictures.

The prompt for this essay asked Lindy and me if we created our lycanthrope protagonist in Throw Me to the Wolves to show that supernatural powers could be used for good. I had to ask myself, Wait, is Britta good?Author Lindy Ryan

As a kid obsessed with horror, I reread ’Salem’s Lot until the all-black cover fell off. I secreted my Werewolves book at the bottom of my knapsack, I frequented the newspaper store for the latest issue of Creepy and Eerie, and I had multiple editions of Edgar Allan Poe stories, all reprinting the same greatest hits. There was only so much material to get. In the time period of Stranger Things, there were few stories like Stranger Things.

But for once I’m not playing the old man shouting at clouds about how special things were when we were kids.

Monsters, the supernatural, devil worship, and other horror themes that kids like me sought out, they all grew in popularity thanks in part to authors like Anne Rice and Stephen King. Not just popular—they became ubiquitous.

I don’t use the phrase horror theme because I want to sound like a knob—but what has become so ubiquitous is not horror, but some of the things you used to only find in horror stories.

I’ve loved horror fiction since a young age, but the monsters were never the main draw. I’ve always loved that this genre’s primary effect is to make the reader feel an emotion—fear. You might argue that romance has a similar focus, on love—except a romance doesn’t seek to make the reader feel love, but to experience the plot points of love by proxy. The best horror fiction actually makes you feel the horror along with the characters. It’s an amazing thing. Lovecraft said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” It’s a great line, but it skims the surface. The interesting horror, to me, is moral horror: what are people capable of—and that is all unknown. The question of what lurks in the hearts of strangers is scary, but we have more reason to fear our enemies, whose hearts can be just as unknowable. Scarier still is the evil, malice, or amorality in the hearts of our loved ones. How many great stories come from that fear? And to me, the scariest of all is the horror within ourselves. Before Universal Pictures, lycanthropy didn’t spread by bite, but most often through some active choice of the werewolf. Peter Stumpe put on his girdle, and other would-be wolves might spread an ointment over their human forms to make the change. You couldn’t ask for a villain more scary than Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth, but it’s what Jeffrey sees in himself—what he wants and does—that worries him. Behind the fishmen and Old Ones, this is what provides a lot of Lovecraft’s O. Henry-type climaxes. The Southern-gothic novelist Carson McCullers did more to help me understand the narrative power of monstrosity than Lovecraft, Shelley, or King. I never cared about Godzilla’s kaiju cousins—I’ve always been drawn to a grounded, relatable monstrosity. No mustache-twirling debbils, but flawed, self-motivated, intelligent agents as likely to bring about their own destruction as anyone else’s. Next time you see Guillermo del Toro, ask him if The Shape of Water is just an effects-heavy pastiche to Carson McCullers.

My favorite werewolf movie in years is The Wolf of Snow Hollow. Not only does Robert Forster get a beautiful swan song, but it tackles moral horror with monstrosity in all its forms. What are people capable of, what are our loved ones capable of, what am I capable of? Filmmaker Jim Cummings has taken heat for portraying toxic masculinity, but if he’s wading into that trope, he’s doing it from the perspective of What is wrong with me? The best comics laugh at themselves, and the best horror artists find things to fear in themselves.

I’m glad I live in a world where Jeff Bezos lets me watch The Wolf of Snow Hollow for free—unimaginable in so many ways when Jeff and I were in our teens—and where A24 and Blumhouse can crank out one horror movie after another—but I can’t help roll my eyes a bit when my daughter watches a musical comedy on the Disney channel about high-school zombies. Whether it’s The X-Files or Z.O.M.B.I.E.S. or Pirates of the Caribbean or Wednesday Addams getting her own streaming series, audiences are so used to seeing these things—how could the denizens of the horror genre not lose their teeth? Some blood-dripping fanged freak singing about how much he loves his cheerleader girlfriend isn’t half as scary as handsome investment banker Patrick Bateman dancing to Huey Lewis.

Our heroine in Throw Me to the Wolves isn’t using her powers for good. Neither is she using them for “evil.” Who does that? She’s doing what real people do, putting her skills to work for what she perceives to be her own interests—and like a lot of us, she doesn’t have perfect eyesight regarding that.

Horror DNA would like to thank Christopher Brooks and Lindy Ryan for this piece! Make sure to pick up a copy of their latest by clicking one of the covers below.

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