RIP to Charlie Wilson, hard-partying Texas congressman & title character, played by Tom Hanks, of Charlie Wilson’s War, who has passed on at 76. Wilson was an ambiguous figure—his work to fund the Afghan resistance probably helped drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan & may have hastened the collapse of the Soviet bloc, but it probably also helped put the Taliban in power & make Afghanistan a home for al-Qaida.
Monster-of-the-Week: That’s right, it’s back! Everybody’s favorite feature from my old LiveJournal blog (OK, my favorite feature from my old LiveJournal blog), my weekly presentation of a memorable monster from the big or small screen, song or story, folklore, myth or comic book, will return until…well, until I get tired of doing it again.
This is because, with the new version of The Wolfman about to open—more about it tomorrow—I find werewolves much on my mind. From the Lon Chaney, Jr. original (which was The Wolf Man, not The Wolfman) to The Howling to An American Werewolf in London to Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” to that great Barney Miller episode featuring Kenneth Tigar as Stephan Kopechne, matters lycanthropic have been my recent geeky preoccupation.
Accordingly I decided to read The Werewolf of Paris, by the American author & screenwriter Guy Endore. Though it wasn’t officially made into a movie until 1961’s Curse of the Werewolf—& that was a loose adaptation—Endore’s 1932 novel was highly influential on the genre.
The title character, & this week’s honoree, is the unfortunate Bertrand Caillet, a young man born under various maledictions. Conceived when a priest rapes a teenage girl, born on Christmas Day (once thought, according to this book, to be an evil portent) & saddled with a family curse besides, poor Bertrand grows up with hair on his palms, a unibrow & fanglike teeth. It comes as little surprise when, while serving as a soldier during the Paris Commune in 1871, he goes on a killing spree through the City of Light.
I started it expecting a fun piece of ‘30s-era pulp. I certainly didn’t expect what I got: A genuine work of literature that might even qualify as a neglected classic.
The book’s a bit of a marvel, really. Endore’s conceit is that we’re reading the popularization of a 19th-Century case study—& he generally keeps a poker face as to whether Bertrand’s condition is psychological or supernatural. This allows him to employ conventional narrative while retaining the authoritative tone of an epistolary work, like Stoker’s Dracula.
It also allows him to recount such lurid elements as murder, rape, incest, grave-robbing & cannibalism, as well as digressive satirical episodes & lengthy & by no means uninsightful discussions of science & superstition, rationalism & faith, conservatism & anarchism, all in a chatty prose, tinged with jaundiced irony toward all of the above. Yet there are passages of poignancy here as well, & true chills. I’m not sure why this seminal work isn’t acknowledged as belonging in the same league as Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde & The Phantom of the Opera.
The Werewolf of Paris appears to be out of print at the moment, though according to Amazon there’s a fancy new edition due in July, with an introduction by Thomas Tessier, author of the creepy, similarly ambiguous 1979 werewolf novel The Nightwalker. But the price, $59.85, seems slightly steep. I easily found an old paperback copy at a used bookstore for four bucks, but in the end I read the typo-riddled Kindle edition, for less than three bucks.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
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