A review of Margaret Atwood’s Update on Werewolves in Thriller Suite: New Poems (available online at Wattpad at http://www.wattpad.com/5346412-thriller-suite-new-poems-update-on-werewolves )
By Derek Newman-Stille
Margaret Atwood’s poem Update on Werewolves explores the shifting culture of werewolves over time. In a lot of the werewolf cinema and literature of the later 20th century, werewolves were predominantly male and embodied the expression of over-masculinity and dangerous male behaviour. Werewolves mirrored the actions of rapists, murderers and others with an uncontrollable “animal” impulse and often the figure of the werewolf was situated as the opposite of a woman who was rendered cinematically powerless. This reflected notions of masculinity of the time as an uncontrollable, woodsy feature and notions of femininity as powerless and relegated to the victim role.
Atwood’s Update on Werewolves takes her earlier notions of werewolves from poems like Wereman and Werewolf Movies that are fundamentally about a masculine werewolf and re-situates them in popular notions of the werewolf in the 21st century. Her most recent werewolf poem focuses on the figure of the female werewolf (which is becoming more popular) and on the ability of the female werewolf to be a symbol of feminine empowerment. She follows the work of other Canadian werewolf works like the Ginger Snaps movie trilogy and Kelley Armstrong’s novel Bitten (particularly in her discussion of running through ravines) in making the werewolf figure feminine and exploring how the shift in gender can change notions surrounding and shaping the werewolf.
Atwood suggests an influence by Angela Carter (presumably The Company of Wolves), but I would also suggest that there are shades in this poem of Suzie McKee Charnas’ short story Boobs, particularly in Atwood’s description of boys picking on girls and the role of the female werewolf for reversing this dynamic. Atwood is able to capture the new feminine spirit of the werewolf, and the ability of the werewolf to adapt and shift with the changes of time and place – shifting (much as it does with the cycle of the moon) to become a symbol for new ideologies and a new time period.
Atwood’s poem Update on Werewolves engages the reader, pulling them into a position of questioning the notion of the werewolf. She talks about the role of werewolves of the past as figures of masculine threat abusing women and running nude (“those things frat boys do”): as fundamentally pubescent immature boys (or as men who stay in the mental space of pubescent boys as so many do). Her poem then shifts, talking about the different place werewolves are at now in popular culture: kinky women with sophisticated appearances – career women with an urban feel to them. Her poem illustrates that, for her, werewolves have shifted from figures built on a masculine threat to femininity to figures that represent empowerment for women: the feminine werewolf wielding all of the powers of freedom that the wolf expresses and uniting urban and forest environments in her ability to move between worlds. They are figures of wild abandonment and middle-management classiness. And they are figures that challenge the limits that continue to be socially imposed on women. Atwood’s female werewolves are no longer social victims to a misogynistic masculinity, but are rather reclaiming their power by tooth and claw.
To read Atwood’s poem Update on Werewolves online, visit Thriller Suite: New Poems on Wattpad at http://www.wattpad.com/5346412-thriller-suite-new-poems-update-on-werewolves .
Thank you to Cara for suggesting this poem.