15 November 2010

"The Wolfman" by Jonathon Maberry

The 2010 edition cover. Source.
So far, I've read original novels about horror monsters and also discussed some great and weird creatures from sci-fi horror. Next stop: movie-tie ins and novelizations, via Jonathan Maberry's The Wolfman.

The film and novel focus on the Talbot family of Blackmoor, England. Lawrence Talbot, who left England for America to become a renowned actor, has returned to Blackmoor upon news of the death of his brother (mayhap the werewolf hath killed him).

His brother's fiancée, Gwen Conliffe, quickly becomes a love interest for Lawrence while Sir John Talbot reunites with his son and old secrets reveal themselves. On top of that, Inspector Aberline (yes, Frederick Abberline of the Scotland Yard--the real inspector of the Jack the Ripper case) is also in town to investigate the strange and grisly murders in Blackmoor. Sounds interesting, yes? I thought so, which is why I saw the movie in the theatre when it premiered.

Before we jump in to the werewolves, however, let's talk about idea of "novelizing" films. A lot of times, audiences will see movies based on their beloved books, because it can truly be a joy to watch your favorite characters come to life before your eyes...Of course, only when it's done well (and that can be a separate post entirely). But what about reading your favorite film?

As a kid in middle school and high school, I had no problem picking up film novelizations. The primary reason for this was that I walked away from the film with a lot of questions. This isn't always a bad thing. Artists want their audiences to think about their work long after they've heard it, viewed it, or read it. But sometimes I would walk away from films and pick up the novelization to clarify what occurred onscreen because the movie was simply a mess.

I actually saw The Wolfman when it first came out on Valentine's Day 2010. How romantic!! I was excited to see it because I think Benicio del Toro is an interesting actor and casting choice...and my favorite thing to watch in werewolf movies is the transformation scene, hands down. I knew going into it that some of transformation would be CGI but I also knew that Rick Baker designed the special werewolf makeup, and I find his work impressive. There was a lot for me to look forward to.

Once all was said and done, I walked out of the movie theatre still turning over in my mind everything I saw. There was so much going on this movie! I wasn't always sure of the film's tone or genre which meant I didn't understand what the movie was trying to be. The acting was great, the soundtrack was great, and the film looked beautiful.  But there were moments where the story needed clarification, and the storytelling method was questionable at times. This may be why the film garnered mixed reviews. (Movie fans, what did you think of the film?)

I didn't have any idea that a novelization of this film existed until it was listed as required reading for my Horror Genre class at Seton Hill University. Of course, we have been reading about horror monsters for this class, but I also know that we are thinking of the business of writing as well. Writing novelizations and movie tie-ins is a great way to boost income as a writer, so this was something to consider as I read through The Wolfman for class (as you know, writers in general don't make money).  I was looking forward to diving into the novelization in hopes of some clarification, further character development, and backstory. Film can only do so much with this...writers do much more with it, in my opinion.

There was no way for me to read this novel without thinking of the movie and automatically comparing the two. Maberry did an admirable job summoning a clearer, detailed story out of the screenplay.  If I wanted to know more about the characters, if I wanted to get inside the minds of the characters, Maberry's work provided. Lawrence Talbot, the man behind the monster, is the most intriguing character of the story because he has to be. Because writing is a medium that allows for closer glimpses at a man's character,  Lawrence Talbot of the novel seemed far more conflicted, guilty, remorseful, impassioned, and angry than the Lawrence Talbot of the film. Which is too bad for del Toro, because I know he's an actor capable of conveying all of it.

When I compare writing and filmmaking, it seems that the film is more plot (read: event)-driven while writing is more character-driven.  Maberry's novel does allow for closer examinations of the characters, and it also plays with symbolism. I'll go into details later below about the imagery of the moon, but let's play with the wolf image. 

When I think of wolves, I primarily think of violent predators with insatiable appetites. Hover over that word, appetite. When dealing with wolves, especially literary wolves, there's always more than one kind of appetite. Think back to Little Red Riding Hood...the earlier version was much dirtier.

I was hoping there'd be a bit more sex and physical/animal attraction in The Wolfman, given the many images we can derive from the mythic wolf and its symbols. Surprisingly, the movie didn't dwell on the sexual imagery (which tends to be abnormal for horror). The most overt sexual image in the movie is a glimpse of a partially nude Emily Blunt in one of Lawrence's extended dream sequences.  I wonder if the filmmakers were playing with the idea of Tantalus--the prize being always just out of our reach. If Lawrence was never meant to express sexual and romantic feelings toward Gwen, then it makes more sense that we do not get to see it, either.

Maberry, on the other hand, does explore sexuality in the novelization of The Wolfman. In the very same dream sequence that Lawrence Talbot has in Lambeth Asylum, his vision of Gwen is far more interactive and physical. In the movie, it's the promise of nudity in candlelight. In the book, Gwen and Lawrence actually have sex, in that uncontrollable, animalistic, passionate sort of way.  I like this better because we can understand there's far more of a struggle between the human and animal that dwells within Lawrence Talbot, and that the struggle is certainly multi-faceted.

Let's take a look at the character that is Gwen Conliffe, since we are talking about desire and sexuality in The Wolfman. It's clear in every aspect that she is the damsel in distress, the love interest, and the heroine. In the film, we don't see as much of her as I would have liked to, and I don't just mean in the sense of objet du désir. In the novel, she's made more important and a far more active presence, but Maberry still keeps her role in check. She has more substance in the novel, but she never wanders too far off the beaten path as the damsel and love interest.

In Maberry's Wolfman, Lawrence desires her (and reminds him of his mother a little bit), and then Sir John, his father, yearns for her also: "Sir John's covetous lust for Gwen had led to Ben's death and to the damnation that now faced Lawrence this night" (321). Whoa! This was not in the film, and it's an interesting twist. This also gives the reader more motivation to dislike Sir John's character as well as add to the father-son conflict. By making Gwen similar to Sir John's wife and Lawrence's mother, you've added an extra layer to her character as well.

The dynamic between Lawrence, Gwen, and Sir John is at the core of the film. This is the main conflict that runs concurrently with the overarching conflict of man (reason) versus beast (passion). It's only fitting that in the film ends with Gwen voicing this problem: "It is said there is no sin in killing a beast, only in killing a man. But where does one begin and the other end?"

This leads into the recurrent motif found in werewolf fiction, movies, and popular culture...the moment of truth.  The heroine is determined to have the beast realize that part of him is still human. In that five-second-moment where the monster realizes this, he's killed. I suppose the true vulnerability lies in the moment you start to question yourself, which would explain why the wolf can never move fast enough to save the man.

The novelization builds on the moment of truth with its ending:
The Wolfman looked at her and for a moment all traces of hate and hunger were gone from its face. Gwen's heart lifted. She knew that he was still in there. Beneath the surface of this impossible thing, Lawrence Talbot still existed. She raised her hand to touch his face. [...] The Wolfman turned his head slowly back toward her, and when Gwen looked into his eyes there was not the slightest trace of Lawrence Talbot. What remained, what she saw, was only the beast (338-339).

Work Cited

 Maberry, Jonathan. The Wolfman. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 2010. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Having not seen the remake yet! (I know I am behind, and on my favorite classic film re-make, Wolfman was my first horror film and I LOVED it!)and I will agree there needs to be that carnal act of sex. it does drive the point home, but the thing to remember here is it has to be done well, unlike the scene in Bram Stokers Dracula were the Wolfman takes his sexual frustrations out on the young girl (my mind slips on her name) anyway it was cheesy lacking any sexual attraction or rough nature to it. it was sex for the sake of having a large man in a fur suit get his jollies off. but if done right it would be an important moment.


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