Thursday, September 10, 2015

Werewolves: A Hunter's Guide

Werewolves: A Hunter's Guide
by Graeme Davis
Recommended Ages: 13+

I don't usually take notes when I read a book for entertainment, but in this case I did. You never know when a hot tip on identifying and eliminating a werewolf might come in handy.

In this well-researched, lavishly illustrated and clearly organized book, Graeme Davis lays out a fairly convincing outline of the different types of werewolf, how to spot them, how dangerous they are and what to do about them. Then he goes on to discuss werewolf society and the societies that hunt werewolves.

Of course not all of his sources are non-fiction, and even many of the historic case studies and early testimonies he draws on could be put down to superstition, hearsay and legend. What makes this book a bit eerie is how the author frankly admits this and points out the holes in his own case - and yet somehow it seems to stand up. No doubt the error creeps in at the level of how or why he chooses to believe certain witnesses or interpretations of them. And then there's a good chance some of his data is straight-up fabricated. But the effect of the magic trick is that at the end of the book, you could easily believe you have just read a scientifically sound, academic treatise on the existence of werewolves.

There's even a bibliography at the end, and it distinguishes carefully between fiction and scholarly work. To be sure, Davis's judgments on the views of his sources are colored by his own views. He notes one author dismisses lycanthropy as a psychological condition, while others (particularly in Roman Catholic circles) consider it a delusion brought on by witchcraft. His basis for disagreeing with them could be wishful thinking. Still, there is something eerily familiar about many of the historic case studies backing up each variant of werewolfery (I just made up that word).

There are, for example, viral werewolves, shamanic werewolves, sorcerous werewolves and obsessive werewolves. Sometimes it's about the bite, sometimes astral projection, sometimes black magic or a divine curse, and sometimes it's just madness. There are lone werewolves, wandering packs, urban and rural packs, criminal werewolf gangs and even, it seems, military uses of lycanthropy. There are variants on every continent (though, to be sure, Australia is barely mentioned), and even were-creatures other than wolves. It depends on where the folklore comes from, evidently. But do the legends have a basis in fact? Aha! That's where the fun comes in. Read the evidence for yourself and then decide whether a few rounds of silver bird shot are worth the investment!

Confusingly, there are two current authors named Graeme Davis. The one who wrote this book is a noted designer of roleplay games, particularly the Warhammer franchise, and author of several dark fantasy novels. The one who didn't write this book is a medievalist whose books include literary analyses of each of the Harry Potter novels. This book is the fifth of nine books in the Dark Osprey series, featuring books by various authors exploring "the shadowy worlds of fantasy, secret histories, and conspiracy theories" in a scholarly, investigative style. Their titles include Vampires: A Hunter's Guide, Zombies: A Hunter's Guide, The Wars of Atlantis and Knights Templar: A Secret History. This review is based on a free download of the book made possible by the reviewers' website NetGalley.

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