As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I read Cycle of the Werewolf, by Stephen King, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.
For me, the most fascinating thing about this story is that it’s a fairy tale in wolf’s clothing (pun intended). It made me think of something Neil Gaiman wrote: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” (Gaiman, Neil, and Dave McKean. Coraline. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. Kindle file.)
When a Beast terrorizes the small town of Tarker’s Mills for a year, an underdog saves the day. Marty, a kid in a wheelchair, is Cinderalla locked in her room and forbidden from going to the ball. With the exception of his uncle, no one believes Marty is capable of anything worthwhile. Throughout the book, we are treated with other characters’ comments and musings about the fact that Marty is in a wheelchair. Even Marty’s father, a physical education teacher, thinks his son is helpless. “Marty makes Herman Coslaw a little nervous. Herman lives in a world of violently active children, kids who run races, bash baseballs, swim rally sprints. And in the midst of directing all this, he would sometimes look up and see Marty, somewhere close by, sitting in his wheelchair, watching. It made Herman nervous …” (King, Stephen. Cycle of the Werewolf. New York: New American Library, 1985. 61. Print.)
When Marty claims the Beast is a werewolf, Constable Neary waves off this warning, saying, “Kid heard a lot of these werewolf stories in school before it closed for the summer—he admitted as much—and then he didn’t have nothing to do but sit there in that chair of his and think about it” (King 78). Despite the fact that no other person survives seeing the Beast, Neary disregards Marty’s story because Marty is in a wheelchair.
I think it’s especially interesting that Marty has heard about werewolves previously. As put by another author: “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” (Chesterton, G. K. “The Red Angel.” Tremendous Trifles. Packard Technologies. Kindle file.)
Perhaps it was knowing about werewolves that prepared Marty to deal with the horror of coming face to face with one. Marty isn’t afraid of the Beast. After being attacked on the Fourth of July, “Marty Coslaw came to believe in his heart that it had been the best Fourth of all” (King 71). Just like a fairy tale hero, Marty has “a clear idea of the possible defeat of the bogey” (Chesterton). He tempts the Beast by sending letters to its human counterpart. Having read about werewolves, Marty acquires silver bullets and prepares to be hunted. In the end, he kills the Beast.
Constable Neary is the opposite of Marty. He believes the Beast is a human who he’ll capture with “good police-work” (King 80). Neary doesn’t believe in werewolves—or dragons. He also doesn’t believe in Marty’s capability. As a result, like the stepsisters in Cinderalla and Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, Neary learns his lesson the hard way. But instead of having his eyes pecked out by birds, or being made to serve his stepsister—as in some versions of Cinderella—Neary meets his end at the hands of the werewolf.
Because I’ve rambled on about werewolves and dragons, I wondered what a hybrid werewolf dragon would look like. Perhaps something like this?
On a side note, King all but ignores the actual lunar cycle, and he admits as much in the book’s Afterword. The wolf comes out every full moon, including Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July, and New Year’s Eve of the same year. This isn’t actually possible, but I admire King’s willingness to take artistic license. Plus, I’m a little entertained that he took this liberty. After all, this is speculative fiction, so let’s speculate.
I really enjoyed this story, especially because it made me think of fairy tales. But I doubt Disney will make an animated movie of it anytime soon. My copy of the book includes illustrations by Berni Wrightson, and they were a nice touch.