The New Werewolf

Syfy has made a fantasy series based on the “Otherworld” books of Kelly Armstrong. The first book is named Bitten and that’s also the name of the show. Since vampires should have peaked by now (we hope), programmers have moved on to the next “classic” monster, werewolves.

I have only read a couple of chapters of Armstrong’s book, but I did end up seeing the entire first episode of the show. I didn’t have to stay up late to watch it. Syfy has so little programming, and they are so eager to promote this show that they aired it three times the weekend after its debut. At the rate they are moving, they should be able to get two of the “new” seasons (fewer than 20 episodes) out of the first book.

Elena Michaels is a twenty-something female werewolf (in the books, the only female werewolf in existence). In human form she’s a size two, a 1960s vintage, Bond-Girl-Beautiful blond. Don’t take my word for it that she’s blond and gorgeous; here’s her IMDB page and an article about the show.

On the show, Elena’s human boyfriend, Philip, is a publicist (in the books, he’s an architect). Elena has fled her “pack” and is living as a human in Toronto, but the pack reaches out to her because a rogue werewolf — the pack calls him a “mutt” in the show — is killing women in the small town where they all hang out. His behavior threatens to expose the pack, so they want him tracked down.

I didn’t like much of what I saw in the first episode. I really didn’t like seeing the werewolves rendered badly in CGI. The show, like the book, favors naturalistic wolves, so I don’t understand why they didn’t just use dogs. They would look more natural and integrate seamlessly into the show. The CGI critters move badly and destroy the illusion.

I’m glad to see werewolves being explored, but I’m already worried about how they will be interpreted. If you follow the pop-culture evolution of vampires, you quickly realize that before Bram Stoker, European vampires, especially eastern European ones, were not sexy. They were creepy, nightmarish and strange, more like Walking Dead zombies. They didn’t think, talk or seduce very much. They didn’t make plans, drink fine wine, collect art, invest for future existences, or gather in organized-crime-like “families” or “houses.” If you read Romanian folk tales, you find creatures that are confused, showing up in the living room, sitting in their favorite chair weeks after the funeral, as if they don’t completely understand that they are dead.

Bram Stoker was a clever, observant Victorian who knew how well sex could sell, and he made his vampire sexy. Chelsea Quinn Yarbo and ultimately Anne Rice pushed the idea further, cementing the whole Demon Lover thing.

If modern vampires are about sex, what are werewolves about? If you watched the first five minutes of Bitten, you’d have to think, “sex.” Maybe not, though. Modern vampires also seem to be about power. Are werewolves about nature? Instinct? Loss of control?

Werewolves are like modern zombies in this sense; if you get bitten by one, you become one.

Most of the modern Urban Fantasy wolf packs, (Lauren K Hamilton’s, for example) have little or nothing to do with real wolves. In fact, a lot of so-called science about wolves, from reputed experts, has been incomplete for decades because the experts gathered it by studying wolves in captivity. In the last ten to fifteen years, people have begun studying wolves in the wild, and it turns out the dynamics of a pack are not what we grew up believing. Packs are not centered around an alpha male. They coalesce around an alpha pair. Urban fantasists, and TV, would much rather address Daddy issue through the use of the Alpha Male, either an older, silver-haired autocrat or a ripped-abs younger Bad Boy, than confront the issues of an extended family with really powerful Mom and Dad figures at its core.

Bitten’s  Alpha is named Jeremy, and he’s closer to the autocrat. I don’t doubt that as the series progresses, Jeremy will have to wolf-fight at least once to maintain his position.

I probably won’t watch Bitten, unless it is really convenient, like they re-show it at 1:00 pm on Sundays after football season ends. It’s probable that I’ll never read the whole book from cover to cover either. I just have too much else to read. I am curious though, to see, in a world filled with walking dead and bloodsucking fiends, how the howling shapeshifters fare.

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4 Responses to The New Werewolf

  1. Chad Hull says:

    Only one female in existence? That bit is interesting.

    Have you ever read the short story “The Dead” by Michael Swanwick? He had an extremely modern on zombies and their role in the world market economy. It’s the only story I’ve read–that comes to mind–where the preconceived idea of werewolves, zombies, or vampires were wholly rejected but the story still managed to feel organic.

    I think the world is happy that publishing is over vampires.

  2. Marion says:

    I’ll have to look up Swanwick’s story because he is so good.

    Paige Braddock writes a lesbian comic called “Jane’s World,” and she did my favorite zombie themed thing, where the large corporations all hired zombies so they wouldn’t have to provide health benefits.

  3. Chad Hull says:

    I’m not sure of the stories publication history but I have it in a copy of “The Best of Michael Swanwick.” Wouldn’t be surprised if you found it elsewhere too.

    Braddock’s story sounds up my alley, similar to the same bizarre treatment and reasoning as Swanwick that really gives a fresh take of such an old troupe.

  4. Marion says:

    I think my first stop will be Terry, to see if she has the anthology and will let me borrow it.

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