It’s no secret we at GGA are into the supernatural, and werewolves are no exception. So, for this edition of The Origin of Tropes, we’re diving into the ancient origins and evolution of werewolf lore over the years. Get ready to learn everything under the moon there is to know about these wolfish creatures.

Historical Roots of Werewolves

Werewolves have featured in human mythology (and nightmares) for millennia. From Greek mythology’s cursed king Lycaeon, whom Zeus turned into a wolf for tricking him into cannabilism, to the Norse warriors who used wolf skins to become wolves in battle, lycanthropes are nothing new.

 And like so many of our modern tropes, one of the earliest mentions of werewolf-like creatures is in “The Epic of Gilgamesh.” In this tale, Gilgamesh ditches a potential lover because she turned her previous mate into a wolf. There’s also the tale of Niciros from the work Satyricon by ancient Roman Petronius. While Niciros’s story dates back to the first century CE, people didn’t publish it until the 17th century. 

Fast forward to the Middle Ages, where poems like Marie de France’s “Bisclavret” present lycanthropy as more of a tragic curse than a thirst for terrorizing villagers.

RELATED: The Origin of Tropes: Vampire Lore

These stories are just a few that laid the groundwork for our modern sense of the werewolf. Add to that their place in folklore, such as a belief that the seventh son of a family of all boys would turn into a werewolf, and you’ve got a recipe for an enduring legend.

(On that note, ever wonder why so many cultures have werewolf legends? Some historians think conditions like hypertrichosis — excessive hair growth — or even rabies could explain why.)

The Social Implications

Werewolf myths have long served as a mirror reflecting societal fears and attitudes toward the wild, untamed aspects of human nature. This transformation, particularly under the full moon’s influence, has been interpreted as a metaphor for the uncontrollable forces within us, such as rage, desire, and other emotions deemed unacceptable by societal standards.

In modern Western interpretations, the werewolf story has evolved to more explicitly explore complex issues of identity, belonging and transformation. Now, the media often presents lycanthropes as sympathetic characters struggling with their dual nature. Teen Wolf, Twilight and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are great examples of this tide turning. A werewolf can now be a hero, a viable romantic option.

RELATED: GGA’s Top 10 Couples in Film and TV

Werewolves and Gender Tropes

Werewolf lore presents a fascinating lens through which to explore gender tropes, intertwining masculinity with themes of rage and uncontrollable transformation. Traditionally, these narratives have emphasized the werewolf as a symbol of hyper-masculine virility and aggression, a creature at the mercy of its primal instincts (blech). This can lead to some really awkward, at its best, and problematic, at its most standard depictions of paranormal romance. (He’s so nice when he’s not being abusive!)

However, today’s stories have started to challenge and expand upon these notions into the other side of the binary, drawing parallels between the werewolf’s transformative cycle and the menstrual cycle. The 2000 film Ginger Snaps cleverly (and unsubtly plays) with this theme to great effect. 

 

Werewolves have come a long way from the cursed sons and kings of ancient legend. Today, many werewolves face the eternal struggle for understanding and acceptance in a society that often fears what it does not know. However, these complex characters still remind us of the wildness beneath everyone’s surface.

 

10 Favorite Fictional Love Relationships: Healthy or Toxic?

Follow them