Evolution of the Werewolf Archetype from Ovid to J.K. Rowling

Moleiro_banner

 
 Evolution of the Werewolf Archetype from Ovid to J.K. Rowling

By Brent Stypczynski

PHD Dissertation, Kent State University, 2008

Abstract: Throughout the history of humanity, from at least as far back as the Catal Hüyük cave-paintings of leopard-men in 6000 B.C.E., mankind has shown a fascination with physical transformation – especially that of men into animals. Tales of such transformations appear in every culture across the course of history. They have been featured in the Western world in the work of such authors as Ovid, Petronius, Marie de France, Saint Augustine, Shakespeare, Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, Jack Williamson, Tanith Lee, Terry Pratchett, and J. K. Rowling. My study approaches these figures as representations of a shape-shifter archetype, specifically focusing on the archetype’s manifestation as the werewolf, examining how and why the archetype has been employed in historical eras through the modern day. Chapter one explores the werewolf’s appearances in the Classical and medieval periods from its earliest literary manifestations to early debates over its existence. Chapter two extends the exploration into the early modern period, examining the tension between Continental and Anglo-Scottish perspectives during the period. Chapter three applies historical perspectives to Pratchett’s Sergeant Angua and her family, addressing the werewolf’s evolution through Pratchett’s writing. Chapter four examines J. K. Rowling’s werewolves in a similar manner, tying her characters’ medieval and early modern roots to her neo-medieval re-imagining of the archetype. Although the archetype is in a constant state of flux by its very definition, many common threads link its manifestations throughout the literary landscape even as modern authors add, modify, and reinvent characteristics and meanings associated with its manifestations. The evolution, in turn, informs the reader and scholar with regard to culture, society, and the nature of humanity itself. This is especially true in the work of such authors as Pratchett and Rowling who have struck a chord with a wide range of readers and non-readers around the world, thus implying that they have tapped into something that affects their audiences on a subconscious level – in other words, an archetype.




Introduction: The study of neomedievalism has recently become important in literary and cultural studies. This approach opens common ground for medievalists, fantasists, and critics of children’s literature to study important images and effects. Thus far, the methodology is applied primarily to video games and movies, although some novels and short stories aimed at young audiences have been studied. A key characteristic of this method is the tension between the old and the new: neomedievalism links two time periods separated by centuries, new technology to old themes and ideas, and modern society to its past (or at least an idealized version of its past). Critical attention has been focused on the modern use of medieval tropes for entertainment value, and familiar arguments have been made about the modern fascination with the idealized medieval. This phenomenon is related to eighteenth-century neo-classicism, since both look to an idealized past for themes and images to draw upon in order to evoke a response from the audience, and this response is one of tonal complexity that becomes increasingly important in my analysis of Terry Pratchett and J. K. Rowling later. Jonathan Swift was particularly skilled in the use of these tonal methods of comparison, and some resonance with such neo-classic effects has been noticed in our time with genre writers such as Pratchett and Rowling. I see examples that parallel some of my work here in recent commentary on the work of Frederik Pohl and Samuel R. Delany where their corpus has been searched for such “doubleness” of tonal effect.

Click here to read this thesis from OhioLink

SharanNewman