Werewolf Ecology

A Review of Douglas Smith’s Spirit Dance (from Impossibilia, PS Publishing, 2008)
By Derek Newman-Stille

As the final installment in Werewolf Wednesdays for October (and on Halloween of

Author and Cover Photo of Impossibilia Courtesy of Douglas Smith.

course), I thought I would do a review of Douglas Smith’s short story Spirit Dance. Not only does this story feature werewolves, but also several other types of shapeshifters. Spirit Dance represents a blending of mythologies, combining European myths of the werewolf with myths from Canada’s indigenous peoples. When a non-indigenous person uses aboriginal myths, there is always a danger of misuse or cultural appropriation, and although Douglas Smith refers to elements of indigenous culture, he does this in a respectful way. For him, aboriginal myths appear to be part of the overall cultural mythos of Canada and his work shows a respect for Canada’s First Peoples as formative for the Canadian experience – he does not relegate aboriginal people to the background.  Unlike many authors, Smith does not put aboriginal people in the position of the cultural Other, nor does he try to put aboriginal people into the position of the “noble savage” archetype, trying to make them the holders of ancient wisdom.

As this was a short story, there was not room for him to explore the condition aboriginal people have been put in as a result of Canadian treaty violations, but hopefully he can expand on this in a later story. He does illustrate the uncomfortable relationship between the government and aboriginal people by showing indigenous people being mistreated by legal officers – in this case CSIS, who begins hunting shape-shifters to use their powers for undisclosed scientific ends. The parallels to the government use of aboriginal lands and properties for their own ends can be seen here with the exploitation of this group.

Smith’s story focusses on a small group of people living alongside human kind who predated the human population – a group of shape-shifters who the Cree people named Herok’a. This population is able to shift into specific animals – either deer, wolves, bears, or predatory cats. They are only able to take the form of one animal. Each of these beings only becomes a shape-shifter after being exposed to the body fluids of another shape-shifter (even if he or she shifts into a different type of animal). Only those with The Mark from birth are able to become shape-shifters, and although their powers are brought out by contact with another shape-shifter, they don’t necessarily shift into the same type of animal.

Similar to most modern werewolf stories, the shape-shifting contact behaves like an STD or blood-based pathogen, transferring through bodily fluids like blood, saliva, seminal or vaginal fluids. However, it is not treated as an infectious and dangerous disease as many werewolf narratives treat the werewolf bite. Instead, it is only shared through ritual and only if the person already has The Mark and requests to be changed into a shape-shifter. However, like many modern werewolf narratives, the shape-shifter is then free from contamination from any other disease (AIDS is specifically mentioned, likely due to the continuing fear over HIV infection in our society).

The shape-shifters have a close kinship with the animal kingdom, being able to take the form of animals and having an ability to communicate with them. This leads to a desire among several of the shape-shifting community to become environmental advocates. Smith uses this connection with the animal kingdom as a method of discourse about environmental mistreatment and the legal inclination to ignore issues of ecology and brand environmentalists as dangerous threats. In Spirit Dance several environmental protestors are killed when a logging company tycoon orders one of his drivers to drive over them while they are in a protest chain protecting an old-growth forest. The law does not charge them with murder and only fines them for poor machinery maintenance that causes this “accident”. The werewolf and other shape-shifters serve as perfect figures for examining the conflict between the human and the ecological, standing on the barrier between human existence and the animal, and part of the inescapable awareness that we are connected to all other parts of the environmental web. Smith, as many writers are beginning to do, wields the werewolf as a symbol for ecological issues, representing the fusion of the natural and the human in one form and representing an animal that is traditionally stigmatised as dangerous while also representing the deep woods and the image of untouched nature.

Smith presents a strong ecological mystery story where characters attempt to understand the root of this incident and his characters are forced into a space of moral question where values conflict with one another.

You can explore more about Spirit Dance and the rest of Impossibilia at http://smithwriter.com/impossibilia . You can get a copy on Kobo at http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Impossibilia/book-920BLiV38U2erq3geBWO7A/page1.html

Macabre Marginalia

A Review of Postscripts to Darkness edited by Sean Moreland and Dominik Parisien (Ex Hubris Imprints, 2011)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of Postscripts to Darkness Courtesy of the Editors.

Sean Moreland and Dominik Parisien’s Postscripts to Darkness (Volume 1) is a roadmap into the Weird. Postscripts takes the ordinary and infuses it with the odd, reinventing landscapes, small towns, family, friendship, secrets of the heart. It represents the familiar made unfamiliar, distorted. Ordinary places like the hospital, schools, and gardens are converted into unnatural terrains.

Moreland and Parisien illustrate their interest in the body as a locale of horror, defamiliarising the body and making it an uncomfortable place: distorting and playing with ideas of identity and revealing the horror within. Parisien and Moreland look at the interplay between sex and horror – alternating attraction and revulsion and expressing the notion of forbidden desire.

One of the strengths of Postscripts to Darkness is its willingness to engage with a mixture of media: literary, graphic, and even interviews with authors. It allows for an inclusive engagement with Weird Fiction and heightens the experience of voyaging into the odd.

The volume is made up of small 2-4 page stories: short snippets of terror like a quick punch to the heart before a new story begins. These flash fiction stories illustrate the strengths of the authors – their ability to world-build in only a few pages and construct identifiable characters without resorting to quick fixes like stereotypes or shallow personalities. Their stories are engaging in their depth and their exploration of the breadth of the human experience. The stories in this volume were chosen for their brevity, but are not lacking in complexity or quality. They are like marginalia written around a darkened core.

I hope you enjoy these snapshots of the surreal as much as I did.

You can read more about the Postscripts to Darkness volumes at http://pstdarkness.wordpress.com/

Textual Bodies

A Review of Helen Marshall’s Hair Side, Flesh Side (ChiZine, Forthcoming November 2012).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo courtesy of the publisher.

Helen Marshall’s Hair Side, Flesh Side is a textual body in itself. Each of the short stories contained in the volume is named after a body part, and her work focusses on the body as a textual entity, as something that is written upon, written about, and that writes itself. She shows a fascination with defamiliarising the body, making the body (once something familiar and known) into a foreign territory full of questions, ambiguity, and terror. The reader is hyper aware of their body at the same time as they are driven to question its very nature.

Helen Marshall’s passions as a scholar of antiquated texts comes through in her stories, illustrating a passion for ideas of past and memory. Her characters are haunted by the past, objects and bodies from the past infiltrate the modern, texts from beyond the grave write themselves on the living, researchers are haunted by past atrocities. Marshall illustrates that the past is only buried by a thin layer, a skin of present-hood that contains a deep, living body of history. Memory is something that haunts the living, returning and reminding us of things that have been lost, buried, or broken. Objects, physical things, come to embody memory and hold feeling in Marshall’s work, and the body is an object that is inscribed with layers of experience. People are manuscripts of memory.

Hair Side, Flesh Side encompasses a wide variety of stories and is not bound by one genre, but rather the general “Weird” category that orbits around Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and all of the genres in between. Marshall illustrates her strengths in each of these genres.

The stories in this volume vary around the theme of the unfamiliar. A man is compelled into a perpetual flight due to his fear of home and settling, the ghosts of dead authors haunt living experiences, speaking to and acting through modern bodies, a woman exists only at the moments that others approach death, angelic narrators of death are forced to question the permanence of things and the lack of narrative in God’s plan, the social desire for perfection results in mass transformations into statues, the desire to consume runs rampant and becomes a vehicle for change, hearts torn out in mourning return to haunt the melancholy, ghosts seek oblivion in the urban rush, things forgotten fade, and skin is written upon, haunted textually by the past. Death, memory, forgotten things, and the past are always writing themselves on our experiences. Marshall illustrates for her readers that death is an ever-present part of life, haunting us in memory of place, relationships, bodies, and objects that surround us.

To read more about Helen Marshall’s work, visit her website at http://www.manuscriptgal.com/ . To explore Hair Side, Flesh Side, visit ChiZine at http://chizinepub.com/ . You can also check out the website for Hair Side, Flesh Side at http://hairsidefleshside.com/ to check out the book in detail.

Home is Where The Ghosts Are

A Review of Ian Rogers’ Every House is Haunted (ChiZine, October 2012)

Cover Photo Courtesy of ChiZine

By Derek Newman-Stille

Ian Rogers makes the familiar strange in Every House is Haunted, taking comfortable locales, experiences, and people and turning them into unfamiliar territory, the realm of the unexpected and weird. Rogers conducts a hauntology of place, showing the role of memory that swirls around the places we visit, the continuing, lurking presence of the bizarre in the dark corners of our existence.

True to its name, Every House is Haunted contains several short stories about haunted houses, but Rogers takes the notion of home and expands it to homely, familiar experiences, and illustrates that haunting can be an experience of the unusual within the ordinary, a subversion of everyday experience. Rogers de-familiarises everything from the experience of constructing buildings, island life, small towns, urban spaces, starting a new job, books, family, and even makes the body itself a foreign and forbidding place. Everything has a dark undercurrent, illustrating the role of secrets and the hidden the underlies our experience.

In Rogers’ stories, small towns are places of hidden secrets, urban spaces are places where anything negative is blocked from view, jobs can be places of dark importance where one’s experience is benefitting an unknown party, family histories lurk under their current experiences rising like ghosts from the grave to haunt the descendants, and new knowledge from books can contain a hidden price. There is a predatory quality to objects in Rogers’ books, a haunting un-life and intention that makes everything foreboding. After reading Every House is Haunted, nothing is familiar any more, and everything takes on a sinister quality.

Rogers illustrates his fascination with the power of literature and stories by bringing into his own short stories books that can transpose their writing onto human bodies to evoke ancient evils, mediums using stories to help the dead find their way into the otherworld, writing as a means to keep sane during an apocalypse, and the role of stories for giving voice to the under-represented people and even ecologies denied voice. Rogers brings us into moral grey areas, encouraging us to question stories, delve deep into them and interact with them, and also reminds us that every story contains the potential for both danger as well as ecstasy.

To find out more about Ian Rogers’ current projects, you can visit his website at http://www.ian-rogers.com/ . You can find out more about Every House is Haunted and other ChiZine books at http://chizinepub.com/ .

Medical Myths and Werewolf What-ifs

A Review of Sparkle Hayter’s Naked Brunch (No Exit Press, 2002)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of Naked Brunch Courtesy of the Author

The real monster in Sparkle Hayter’s Naked Brunch is the medical world that portrays certain bodies as unacceptable and in need of being fixed. Hayter’s werewolf begins as a regular woman, Annie Engel, who is tightly controlled and subjugated – bullied by a boss who uses her, used by a partner who took advantage of her to fund his way through law school before leaving her for another woman. Annie is the figure of oppressed femininity. She soon discovers that she is part of a further oppressed group, a person with a chronic medical illness called LMD (Lycanthropic Metamorphic Disorder). She finds out that even her body is vulnerable and feels that she cannot even control her own body or its actions.

She is a werewolf, struggling with the idea that she can’t control her body and that the disease has power over her. She loses conscious awareness and control when she takes her werewolf form. She seeks medical intervention and comes across Dr. Marco Potenza, who is a werewolf himself and whose family has taken the role of controlling werewolves so that they can adapt to the rest of the world. His treatment for Annie and other werewolves consists of highly damaging chemicals and addictive substances that are used to control her body. His werewolves generally end up either dead or with severe addiction and psychological damage as a result of his ‘help’.  He sees werewolves as medical oddities rather than supernatural fiction turning the mythical into the medical – something he can control.

He tries to encourage werewolves to hide their differences rather than believe that they have a role to play in society, but, when Annie meets a rogue werewolf who opposes Potenza’s “treatment plan”, she begins to explore the possible social purposes that could exist.

Hayter explores the role of social ostracism and the myth that the medical world can solve

Alternative Cover Photo of Naked Brunch Courtesy of the author

all problems. She uses the symbol of the werewolf to suggest the idea that other body types have a social purpose and contribute to our world in a meaningful way. Hayter calls on her readers to question their notions of normalcy and the standards of the ‘ordinary’ that are applied to bodies. She looks at the role of difference as a form of empowerment and the power of outsider communities to nourish their members.

You can find out more about Sparkle Hayter at http://www.sparklehayter.com/

Horrify Your Halloween

From now until Halloween pay special attention to the book reviews I post. I have some suggestions for you on how to Horrify Your Halloween and increase your level of terror for the holiday (my favorite holiday, by the way). I will be reviewing several books that have monstrous content in them, and, fortunately, the Werewolf Wednesdays theme fits in well with this list of terrifying tales to stimulate your imagination for Halloween.

To check out other reviews of the macabre and monstrous, visit the Tags section on this website and click on Horror, Monstrosity, Werewolves, or Vampires to get some ideas of other books you might be interested in reading.

Feel free to post some additional suggestions of Canadian tales of terror that you think others might enjoy at the end of this post.