There’s something about a human monster that makes it just that little bit creepier. Perhaps it’s the suggestion of intelligence, or a motive other than just being a predatory beast, or perhaps its the lack of humanity within something that appears (sometimes only vaguely) human.
Whatever the case, human monsters have been around since the dawn of humankind. Certain cultures in particular are or were absolutely petrified of ghosts. And most cultures have their own spin on the vampire. Shapeshifters of all kinds are commonplace.
So today we are going to have a look into a small handful of the humanoid monsters from the past and present, and I bring you a review of Wyldblood Press’ Werewolf
anthology Call of the Wyld – something that has a bit of everything for all monster fans, in particular of course, werewolf fans. Twilight is banned. This is the only time it will be mentioned.
A vampire is a creature from folklore that feeds on the blood of a living host. In European folklore, vampires are undead and are usually depicted as being thin and pale when in human form. Their intelligence yet lack of humanity and compassion are part of the horrifying appeal of the vampire.
The charismatic and sophisticated portrayal in modern fiction began in 1819 with the publication of “The Vampyre” by the English writer John Polidori; the story was highly successful and arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century.
Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel and provided the basis of the modern vampire legend, even though it was published after fellow Irish author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novel Carmilla. The success of this book spawned a distinctive vampire genre, still popular in the 21st century, with books, films, television shows, and video games. The vampire has since become a dominant figure in the horror genre.
Humans have been fascinated and horrified by ghosts since the dawn of humankind, whether they be ancestors, apparitions from the past or mischievous, even murderous spirits. The poltergeist is an example of a type of spirit that tends to give people goosebumps because unlike many types of ghost, it interacts with living humans. And in a malevolent way.
A poltergeist can be responsible for physical disturbances, such as loud noises and objects being moved or destroyed. Most claims about supposedly real or fictional descriptions of poltergeists show them as capable of pinching, biting, hitting, and tripping people. They are also depicted as capable of the movement or levitation of objects such as furniture and cutlery, or noises such as knocking on doors.
This ability to torment people, whilst being unseen, unknown and unable to be defended against makes a poltergeist particularly spine chilling.
Goblins first appeared in stories around Europe in the middle ages, though they have various temperaments and appearances depending on the story and country of origin. They are almost always small and ugly, and at the very least mischievous but often purely malevolent. They are almost always depicted as greedy, especially for gold and jewellery, their sneaky natures and antagonistic ways means they are not to be trusted.
Harpies are generally depicted as birds with the heads of women, faces pale with hunger and long claws on their hands. They can be beautiful maidens or ugly crones depending on the source – most of which are Roman and Byzantine.
Despite sometimes having comely faces, harpies are generally considered disgusting, almost verminous creatures that bring disease and decay. Half human vultures with a vicious nature ready to rip you apart with sharp talons.
Trolls originate from Scandinavian folklore and Norse Mythology. The trolls of Norse mythology live within isolated rocks, mountains, or caves, in small family units, and are rarely helpful to human beings.
In later Scandinavian folklore, trolls became beings in their own right, where they live far from human habitation, and are considered dangerous to human beings. Depending on the source, their appearance varies greatly; trolls may be ugly and slow witted, or look and behave exactly like human beings, with no particularly grotesque characteristic about them, though this is rarer.
Many of the trolls in popular media are depicted as big, cumbersome, stupid creatures with great strength but low intelligence, and a great hunger they are always looking to put at bay.
Orcs, or orks are usually depicted as a war-mongering race of brutish humanoids, aggressive and uncivilised and an enemy of humans.
They were popularised by J. R. R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings as corrupted elves, dark and evil creatures hell-bent on destruction. In other fiction, such as Dungeons and Dragons, Warcraft and Warhammer, Orcs follow a similar trend but their morality can be more ambiguous, and their size and strength usually outmatches human beings. They often have a more tribal nature in which respect comes from proving oneself a good fighter over anything else. Sometimes they have tusks or horns but often look similar to humans. Often depicted with green skin.
Orcs were mentioned in the poem Beowulf so have been a monstrous humanoid in the popular consciousness for centuries.
The name zombie comes from Haitian folklore in which a zombie is a reanimated dead body brought to life by (usually) dark magic. Often in today’s modern world the cause of the zombies is often disease or biological experimentation of some sort.
Zombies haven’t been particularly prominent through history but there have been an explosion of zombie media in recent years, perhaps starting with the classic Night of the Living Dead.
Zombies are characterised as mindless hordes on the search for flesh. Their bodies are in a state of decay and as such they have limited strength, and none of the personality or humanity they had when alive – their previous selves dead and gone. Sometimes one becomes a zombie from a scratch or bite which gradually kills them as they become a zombie themselves.
Witches are almost always associated with dark magic, being female and living in remote locations. They usually have an affinity to nature in some way, whether that is a love of nature or an ability to manipulate it.
Despite many people in modern times identifying as witches for various reasons, the traditional depiction is that of a monster, to an extent. Witches would corrupt the mind, steal children and animals, kill or manipulate people and generally had malicious intentions.
And unlike many on the list, people have often been accused of being witches through history, with disastrous consequences. As we now know, many of these (typically) women would be completely normal, save for something like an extra finger, a knowledge of medicine or closeness to nature. They only had to be different in some way or accused by an enemy and the superstitious people of the time would start a literal witch hunt. The Salem Witch trials are perhaps the most notorious example of this.
As a fictional monster though, the witch can be a truly terrifying concept, one to strike fear into anyone caught in the woods as night approaches.
There are a number of films depicting witches as monstrous humans, such as The Blair Witch Project and The VVITCH.
A werewolf is a human-wolf hybrid known to be ferocious, aggressive and usually lacking any humanity. The difference between werewolves and many other shapeshifters and humanoid monsters is that most of the time, they are completely human. The most common story is that on a full moon, anyone afflicted with this curse of Lycanthropy will turn into a werewolf, more beast than human, and hunt, on a frenzied search for blood and flesh.
Werewolves are very much a feature of medieval European superstition and subsequently a prominent monster in gothic horror writing onwards.
Humans who are werewolves often hate having the curse and wake up the morning after a full moon full of shame and regret but ultimately are detached from their human self whilst embodied as a werewolf.
Wyldblood Press – Call of The Wyld Anthology
I was fortunate enough to be contacted by Wyldblood Press to review this issue their latest anthology – Call of the Wyld.
For someone who is a big werewolf fan, this was a great opportunity, which didn’t disappoint!
Call of the Wyld features 12 Werewolf stories, all with their own style – some thought provoking and emotive, others more action packed or terrifying. I feel like there is a real balance to the types of stories featured that works tremendously well as an anthology. Sort of like with a music album; singles are great but listening to an album in which all songs complement one another is a different experience entirely, and this anthology excels in the same way. Some of the stories are short and sharp, like the impactful Walking Dog which left me with goosebumps despite only being 2 or 3 pages long. It was also refreshing to get the point of view of the Werewolf in some of the stories, especially in the short but impactful and tragic A Werewolf’s Lament by Holly Rae Garcia.
It’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised – if you’d told me my favourite story in a werewolf anthology would be one set in space, I’d have seriously doubted you. I love that gothic horror vibe werewolf stories usually give off, but Christopher Muscato’s Howling at the Moon really manages to capture a lot of what I love about werewolf stories in more of a sci-fi setting with a nice little twist at the end. I’d have really enjoyed a full length, longer work to expand on this but the short story certainly packs a punch!
Ultimately, if you like werewolves, or horror, or you’re simply curious, I definitely suggest picking up this anthology and giving it a go. There are some truly unique pieces of work here that will make you think, as well as being entertaining. At around 160 pages on my e-reader, I really enjoyed dipping in and out of the anthology, reading a couple of stories before bed.
And then glancing outside reassuringly at the half moon, before turning out the lights.
Thankyou to Mark at Wyldblood Press for this review copy.
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