|The 1985 Signet edition. Source|
I've read some Stephen King: It, The Shining, Desperation, Rose Madder, The Eyes of the Dragon, to name a few. Most of these stories I read while I was in middle school and high school; I departed from King after that and went into a different direction with my reading altogether, sampling numerous authors and genres at random.
This is the first work I've read of King's since high school (I did purchase Under the Dome based on reviews, but haven't touched it yet. Have you read it? What did you think of it?), though I think this might have been a work more suitable for my tastes in middle school. But it's a fun read and worthy of exploration!
The concept for Cycle of the Werewolf is neat--a short, slim, illustrated novel detailing a single year in the life of Tarker Mills, the year this New England village was visited by the werewolf. For each month there is a vignette structured around a member of the town and their encounters with the monster. Many of these episodes are also tied to the holidays and seasons of that month as well (what horror author can resist messing with Valentine's Day?).
The first few stories, like the werewolf attacks themselves, are at random. A cohesive tale really doesn't start to come together until the month of May, and the story's key characters don't appear until July. Readers may dislike the delay in revealing the core of the story, but I thought this was a good choice for King to make. The violence is quick and intense, the victims and their deaths varied, so equally the stories are just as scattered about. I think this mimics the wolf's killing patterns--a werewolf is a hungry hunter; there is no premeditation. You kill the prey you find, period. So it would make sense that the stories would also not have an identifiable "motive" or modus operandi. We are in the same shoes as the townspeople, and we are experiencing the murders the way they would. We are supposed to feel the chaos and confusion for a little bit.
We meet the main protagonist, Marty, in July, because they cancelled the fireworks due to the murders. Marty is David to the Werewolf's Goliath. He is a young boy, wheelchair bound, misunderstood, and teased, especially by his sister, who is back and forth with him: "See? You don't always get what you want" (65) or "You always get everything you want, " (97) ..."just because you're a cripple" (65). But Marty is a kid with great aim (firecrackers and guns, oh my!) and is the only one who can piece together what's happening, and who the werewolf is.
This was a quick, breezy read. As far as werewolves go, this was pretty standard fare, with one exception: the werewolf in this story is able to recognize what it is. You don't have this a lot in werewolf stories or movies, at least none that I've encountered.
|German Woodcut of a man changing into a werewolf, dated 1722. Source|
Usually the victim (cursed or bitten) is aware that he is losing control of himself, but takes a bit longer to put two and two together that he is in fact the wolf. Even when he comes to the realization that he is a monster, he also realizes that he kills at random and cannot control himself. Usually the wolf man will tell the woman he loves, or his family, this information: "Stay away from me, I don't know what I will do, I only know that I am a monster" etc, etc. The major point is that these observations are made only when the monster is human.
This story stays away from that. The werewolf does not pause to reflect that it is about to kill a child in a wheelchair. Even more surprising--the werewolf has deliberately sought Marty out to kill him. We are back to premeditation again, a most human concept indeed! Marty has solved the mystery of who the werewolf is, and begins to send him taunting letters, such as "I Know Who You Are" and "Why Don't You Kill Yourself?" (110-111) but Marty does this anonymously, waiting for any (or no reaction) to confirm that he has properly identified the man behind the monster.
A final letter is sent out, and Marty signs his full name to it, revealing his identity. As Marty expected, the wolf man comes to call, and since Marty waited for him with a .45 Magnum and silver bullets, you know how this story will end.
What's interesting is that with this werewolf, the human and animal sides never completely subverted each other. For almost the entire story, the wolf man was a man, or a wolf, but never both at the same time....until the final scene. It was a fusion of identities, a new type of consciousness that would allow an animal to have a preconceived motive to kill. This is what made the book particularly interesting for me.
King, Stephen. Cycle of the Werewolf. New York: Signet, 1985. Print.