Notes from MisCon 27, Part 3
(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)
In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.
Panel title: The Werewolf Panel
Panel members: Larry Bonham, M.H. Bonham, Patricia Briggs, Rhiannon Held
Panel description: Werewolves supposedly have wolf traits, but how do popular ones actually compare to real wolf behavior? Are we still stuck on “big bad wolf” myths rather than science and biology?
PB: Are we paying too much attention to mythology than biology? I first paid attention to what they do in the book The Howling. As a mythical critter, what do you know about it?
RH: People have sent me history of werewolf links. In Europe, being called a werewolf was like begin called a witch. They did it to get rid of them. It served a purpose socially.
LB: Werewolves are archetypal across many cultures, from Native Americans, to Europe, and Japan. They’re like dragons, part of the collective cultural consciousness. Myths morph as culture morphs.
MB: It’s slippery depending on where you go. It’s the archetype of someone losing control. Deep down inside, we’re all beasts. It ranges from skin walkers who wear special pelts to getting bitten and turning into one.
PB: What comes to mind when wolves get mentioned? I think of “pack.” That came from biology and not myth.
RH: In stories, wolves are portrayed as bad. It’s different in science where it is wolf behavior.
LB: There’s the traditional lone wolf. But in wolf packs, it’s matriarchal, not patriarchal.
MB: There was a study in domestic dogs. The more wild breeds have wolf behavior. When an alpha wolf makes a submissive wolf turn over, it’s based on killing behavior. Sometimes the submissive wolf turn themselves over. This was misconstrued from what animal behaviorists saw.
RH: Wolves generally live in family groups where they are genetically related. Saying that the pack undergoes a bloody revolution all the time is wrong. It doesn’t make sense for the species. They keep ranking and a firm structure, it’s not endless fights like you see in captivity.
MB: It only happens when a new wolf comes in. Then there’s reshuffling and re-challenging, but it’s unusual. It happens more in domestic than wild.
PB: As a literary archetype, the werewolf is ultimately a tragic figure because he gets destroyed. But wolves themselves are not tragic, although they are scary instead. What kinds of things seen in movies and books annoy you?
RH: The alpha as a bully. It can be a great metaphor for a story. But as a romance trope, the alpha abuses the heroine. He never takes advice or confides in anyone. He “can’t help it” and uses it as an excuse.
LB: He can only change to a werewolf in the full moon. There’s zero control.
MB: The concept that the alpha female is subordinate to the alpha male. The female actually chooses the male. She’s the one who is leading and he will back down. In romances, the alpha doesn’t defer to her.
PB: It’s like a study on wild horses I read about. It’s instinctive behavior. The mares decide everything. Stallions only chase off other stallions and predators. Wolves do the same thing. The myth about the full moon is one of the first things that people throw out. You pick and choose what myths you use in your story as long as you acknowledge the traditions and stereotypes. I hate it when people turn werewolves and vampires into superpowers. It guts the power of it as a monster and the story. What kind of cool things can you do with werewolves using science?
RH: Look at werewolves on an evolutionary level. As a species, it’s subject to the same rules. For example, an involuntary werewolf (one that is forced to change every full moon), would more likely get killed. The voluntary werewolf (one who can change at will) is more likely to survive.
LB: Wolf behavior includes violent conflict. There is a gender conflict. If male dogs come into conflict, there’s posturing and fighting. One dog gives up to concede dominance. If a male and female come into conflict, they just stop. If two females come into conflict, it gets extremely violent, fast. For wolves, they don’t go too far because they depend on each other.
MB: Considering advances in DNA, you could have someone create a werewolf. There’s conflict between a created werewolf and a natural werewolf. There are differences in culture and behavior. A created werewolf doesn’t have history, and it would cause a schism between the two. The new group of creatures could be playing by human rules rather than wolf rules.
PB: In urban fantasy, you can do the same thing. You can take things from the real world and put it in the story. The difference between urban fantasy and fantasy is that in urban fantasy, you can make it so real that it could be.
Q: How did the myth of werewolves changing only during the full moon come about?
RH: The origins go way back to the “lunatics” and craziness. It’s a false statistical correlation. But there are not always reasons for things. People just link things up to symbols.
PB: The full moon goes back to the goddess Diana, pagan ceremonies, and magic. The Christian church said it was an evil thing so it got tied in.
MB: It was back when people were hunter gatherers and used to hunt in the full moon. Wolves were out at that time.
Q: Historically, did the werewolf change into an actual wolf or were they just people with fur?
LB: There are cultural differences. Skin walkers went upright and were humans with skins. It’s also easier to film.
PB: Traditional werewolves were bipedal and upright. You couldn’t tell if they were a werewolf until they attacked. People also mistook diseases for being werewolf. In the first werewolf story, The Beast of Gévaudan, it was actually a wolf.
RH: It’s seen both ways. Some werewolves just had the fur on the inside. There are variations on the story archetype.
Q: What’s the basis of the omega werewolf?
PB: My omega wolf is based on people rather than wolves. I get my werewolf dynamics from my husband’s family. They can’t work together. In scientific studies, they’ve labeled the omega wolf.
RH: I don’t have omega wolves in my story because I don’t use wolves as a basis. I use people.
MB: The omega wolf is thought of as the least dominant wolf. He’s non-threatening, he doesn’t go far, he’s picked on. Other wolves play with him because he’s not threatening and dominance isn’t an issue.
Q: I heard about Celtic werewolves that protected a king and got time off.
PB: It may be from King Arthur’s legends. There’s a knight called Melion. His wife stole his clothes and he stayed a wolf. When he got his clothes back, he turned back into a human.
Q: In stories, why do people turn into wolves rather than other animals?
MB: It’s because of a shift in people’s opinions on wolves. People romanticize things they don’t have to deal with. For example, the Scots are romanticized when historically they were downtrodden. People have dogs and think they see wolf-like behavior in their pets. There’s also fear of the wild.
RH: It was what people were seeing in the shadows. It depends on culture. In India, it was the tiger. In Europe it was the wolf. It puts a face on that fear.
PB: The top predator in Europe was the wolf. During the plague, they preyed on people. There’s something primal when they look at you.