The Medieval Review 10.03.10

Sconduto, Leslie A. Response to Karin E. Olsen's review of Metamorphoses of the Werewolf: A Literary Study from Antiquity through the Renaissance. McFarland: Jefferson NC, 2009, TMR 10.02.15. Pp. . . .

Reviewed by:

Leslie A. Sconduto
Bradley University

After reading Karin Olsen's review of my book, Metamorphoses of the Werewolf, I must take exception to some assertions that misrepresent my work. First, in her criticism of the scope of my book, Olsen notes that I focus heavily on texts of Medieval and Renaissance France but that I "claim [my] book to be a comprehensive investigation of the image of the werewolf as it evolved in Europe over seventeen centuries." Nowhere in the book, however, do I make any misleading statement regarding its scope. The word "comprehensive" never appears in the book and the words "Europe" and/or "European" appear only eleven times, but never in regard to its range or focus. In my Introduction, I state the following: "This is the first academic study to trace the literary history of werewolves from antiquity through the sixteenth century that includes Guillaume de Palerne, which is perhaps the most important werewolf text of the Middle Ages. Furthermore, this is also the only study that includes a full literary analysis of each of the four major werewolf narratives, Bisclavret, Melion, Arthur and Gorlagon, and Guillaume de Palerne. It is also the only academic study that includes a systematic analysis of all the major texts of the sixteenth century. To my knowledge, it is also the only one that includes an analysis of Claude Prieur's Dialogue de la Lycanthropie 'Dialogue of Lycanthropy'" (5). From this statement, it should be obvious that medieval and sixteenth-century texts are the primary focus of the book and that the majority happen to be French.

Olsen also indicates that my methodology is inconsistent, stating that "[I find] the notion that only the involuntary werewolves retain their humanity particularly problematic but [do] not vigorously apply [my] reservations in [my] detailed analyses of medieval tales." This statement is inaccurate and is evidently based on a misreading of my discussion of werewolf typology. In that discussion I point out that involuntary werewolves are not the only ones that retain their humanity; some voluntary werewolves--Bisclavret being the most notable example--also retain their humanity (13). More important, I show how werewolves "resist our attempts to classify them" (13). It is this very attempt to separate werewolves into binary categories (voluntary/involuntary, constitutional/involuntary, authentic/false, cyclical metamorphosis/unique metamorphosis) that I find problematic, not whether or not a werewolf retains his humanity after his transformation. Indeed, it is this very retention which I find most interesting and most worthy of analysis.

Finally, Olsen also asserts that "while [I] identif[y] the human nature of the medieval werewolves as the product of the Christian view of metamorphosis, [I] d[o] not further investigate the nature or (possible) causes of their external transformation." Here, however, Olsen fails to take into account the methodology that I delineate at the end of Chapter One, where I state the following: "Although the details of each transformation do add interest to their stories, most do not really tell us anything about the werewolf. Moreover, the real usefulness of any typology itself is debatable. Of greater concern are the character and the activity of the man-beast after he has undergone his metamorphosis, whether it is cyclical or unique. Throughout this study, then, we will be focusing instead on the werewolf's humanity, which is expressed through his behavior" (14). It should be clear after reading this that I did not "investigate the nature or (possible) causes of [the werewolves'] external transformation" because I considered this approach irrelevant to my study.