Anne Rice has just released her first werewolf novel, THE WOLF GIFT. The protagonist, Reuben, at first looks like a typical movie werewolf. In fact, the text makes explicit comparisons to the Lon Chaney film. Reuben gets transformed by a bite, and he looks like a bipedal beast man, not a wolf. He thinks of himself as the Man Wolf, which is what the media call him. The first transformations come over him involuntarily; he gradually develops some control. Since the author is Anne Rice, naturally the apparent movie-pastiche simplicity of the premise soon grows more complicated.
Reuben is a difficult character for me to identify with. Although working as a reporter in San Francisco, he’s so independently rich (family money) that he can consider buying a five-million-dollar mansion on a whim. He’s repeatedly described as “beautiful,” of which he’s fully aware (though, to be fair, not conceited about his attractiveness). He cheats on his fiancee, twice, with women he has just met—though the narrative does make the second lapse understandable, since he’s in beast form at the time. Nevertheless, the plot premise and the metaphysical and spiritual threads woven into the story kept me interested in Reuben’s plight.
Whether the word “gift” is meant ironically remains in question for most of the book. Would you think of the power to become a beast—if you could control it somewhat—as a gift or a curse? In the terms of Rice’s story, the transformation has many pluses: Reuben heals supernaturally fast. He has preternatural sensory perception. He’s super-strong. Even in human form, he keeps his enhanced senses. His kind, the “Morphenkind,” can be killed only by decapitation or equally drastic means. Eventually he discovers he has acquired a lifespan of centuries (an odd detail that makes a werewolf almost equivalent to a vampire with flesh-craving instead of blood-craving, but lots of contemporary fictional lycanthropes seem to share that trait of near-immortality).
On the minus side, resisting the change remains hard. Still harder is fighting the Morphengift’s compulsion to destroy evil. Reuben’s change includes the ability to sense, almost to smell, people’s evil intentions. When a person about to commit a vile deed comes within Reuben’s range, the beast is irresistibly compelled to slay and devour the evildoer. By saving victims of muggers and rapists, he becomes famed as a mysterious superhero. On the other hand, of course, he is wanted by the law and in danger of being either jailed, killed, or locked in a research lab.
So—gift or curse? Would you want this power? If not, under what conditions, if any, would you want the “gift” of animal transformation?
Personally, I wouldn’t mind being able to turn into a cat. An occasional interlude of having to do nothing but eat, sleep, and get petted sounds good to me.
Margaret L. Carter