The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings

I want werewolves to be the new vampires... I mean the new zombies.

The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-shifting Beings (2nd edition)

Publisher: Visible Ink
Length: 400 pages
Price: $19.95
Author: Brad Steiger
Publication Date: 2011-09

The best thing about reviewing a book about werewolves is getting to write about werewolves.

I would like to see these creatures of the night, furry, ferocious, often feeling cursed and lonely, become the new vampire…I mean the new zombie. But it's not happening. They haven’t had a decent movie since the '80s with An American Werewolf in London and the original The Howling. No, Wolf does not count though it was OK.

Nor does their appearance in Twilight and True Blood, where they play second-fiddle (and hirsute proletariat) to the blood-sucking, undead Abercrombie models, count. Even in Underworld, where they are the heroes, the vamps still take up all the air in the room. Which is weird for creatures that don’t respirate.

Luckily for Lycanthrope fans like me, this hasn’t been a bad year for howling at the moon. Despite the egregiously bad The Howling: Reborn , we also had Glen Duncan’s celebrated lycanthropic literary fiction, The Last Werewolf, and now Brad Steiger’s generally strong The Werewolf Book has gotten a second edition.

Steiger’s work is well known to both fans of horror and cryptzoology. A sometime writer for Fate magazine, he’s also published a boatload of materials on everything from ghosts to bizarre stories of survival. Steiger’s been exploring paranormal themes for over half a century in fact, and so would seem a pretty good guide to explaining what that sound was we just heard coming from that dark corner over there.

Steiger’s The Werewolf Book aims at a comprehensive look at this particular creature of the night, and tries to bring in as many of his shape-shifting cousins as possible. And there’s a lot more here than Lon Chaney, Jr. We learn about the Santu Sakai, the alleged “mouth men” of Malaysia who are half-human, half-beast. He pulls in plenty of medieval legendary material, as well, with entries on the Old Man who wandered out of the Brandsleber Forest killing sheep at a place now called “Werewolf Rock”.

If you love the werewolf primarily as a pop culture icon, have no fear (except of the FULL MOON!!!) because Steiger has you covered, at least on the key icons. Lon Chaney Jr. gets a sizeable entry, as does An American Werewolf in London. But at least some of the lesser known aspects of pop culture shape-shifting also get a mention. Did you know about the werewolf role paying game? Steiger will describe it to you.

This is not a gigantic book, especially for an encyclopedia of this reach. That’s generally OK because Steiger knows enough about the world of shape-shifters to keep the entries short that need to be short. A few sentences are probably all the world needs on the execrable 1973 film, Werewolf of Washington.

However, I do have some concerns about what he decided to include and what never gets considered. The Beast of Le Gévaudan gets some discussion, but note that there is no single article on the larger world of “werewolf trials” that occurred in 16th and 17th century France, a phenomenon associated with the larger story of the European witch hunts. Stories of the paranormal are fascinating for what they tell us about the societies that produce them. So is the fact that such beliefs can, and often have, resulted in the trial and execution of thousands of people.

Pop culture references to the werewolf also needed more attention. Steiger is fairly comprehensive when it comes to film but less so when it comes to novels and to comic books. It's too soon to get The Last Werewolf in here, but what about Toby Barlow’s celebrated 2008 Sharp Teeth, an astonishing and critically-acclaimed epic poem (!) about werewolves in L.A.? Also, only a few sentences on Marvel’s “Werewolf by Night” in very short entry on the very long subject of werewolves in comic books?

These elisions would seem much more minor were it not for some of the odd choices made about what to include, instead. There's a somewhat lengthy entry for “Jack the Ripper”, for example, that essentially tells you what you probably already know about Whitechapel’s famous murdering maniac. But what does this have to do with the world of werewolves and shape-shifting? Nothing at all, and Steiger barely pretends to make a connection (he refers to the “werewolf-type” killings of Jack).

Some of these ancillary entries, especially when related to history and the development of folkloric ideas, hurt the effect of the book. A long essay on demons (which the author justifies by simply saying that they are “the ultimate shape-shifters”) has nothing to say about how magistrates in the early modern era believed that human beings could and did make pacts with demons in order to become werewolves. Or about the innocents who died because of these unverifiable beliefs.

Moreover, his primary source for 20th century theological understandings of the demonic is a single scholar who happened to take belief in such entities seriously (as opposed to that large company of theologians who did not). Finally, Steiger’s source material is frankly shoddy here, and in other entries. His sources for this article include his own work, a book published in the mid-'60s and an article from the National Inquirer that purports to explain how many mental patients are actually demon-possessed (a theory about people who suffer from mental illness that we should probably not go back to, thank you very much).

Books can sometimes be problematic, even deeply flawed, and still a lot of fun to read. This is certainly one such book. Werewolf fans like me will probably want to pick it up. But werewolf fans like me who tend to be completists when it comes to pop culture material and interested to see that history and culture get a fair rendering will find themselves disappointed and maybe a little irritated. Sadly, the werewolf renaissance has not yet found its champion.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.