Shape Shifting and Spatial Shifting – Part 3

[adjective][species] is pleased to present part 3 of 3 in a series of guest posts by Televassi comprising a dissertation titled Shape Shifting and Spatial Shifting: How the Hybrid Body Allows the Werewolf to Transgress and Resist Disciplinary Spatial Orderings of the World in Three Nineteenth Century Werewolf Tales. Citations are be available here.

The first part is available here

The second part is available here

And for ease of reference, the entire dissertation is available here

Chapter 3 – The Wolves That Lurk Under Human Skin – The Were-wolf of the Grendelwold and the Guise of Humanity.

Frederick Scarlett Potter’s The Were-wolf of the Grendelwold, published in the London Reader of Literature, Science, Art, and General Information in 1882, stands as the least known text in this dissertation. Though Potter was a prolific writer who “published over fifty children’s books, including Erling: or The Days of St. Olaf (1876), Cousin Flo (1877) and Princess Myra and Her Adventures among the Fairy-Folk (1880)” (Easley & Scott 121), this short story on werewolves does not feature in critical discourse. This is not surprising, as in The Essential Guide to Werewolf Literature, a text that is the “first full-scale survey of werewolf literature” (Frost x), Frost admits of werewolf stories that there are “no doubt… many others waiting to be rediscovered” (105). Given the volume of werewolf literature Frost identifies, and the lack of a canonical text like the vampire finds in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the lack of attention to Potter’s story should not necessarily cause concern. This chapter analyses The Were-wolf of the Grendelwold and finds that Potter’s werewolf is at its most transgressive, as the creature masks its wolfish traits underneath a human form that allows it to infiltrate the rural community, and then express its wolfish strengths that allow it to trespass even deeper. The werewolf can then assimilate itself into cultural and reproductive spheres, as evidenced by his success in seducing Theresa by winning the games. Thus, rather than the wolf form only holding the ability to be transgressive as previously seen in Hugues and Wagner, the werewolf’s ability to express its wolfish traits under the legitimacy of a human human form breaks down any clear dichotomy between the two, and truly creates a hybrid creature that is wolfishly transgressive even when human. Ultimately, this exposes the futility of any spatial order that aims “to fix animals in a series of abstract spaces” (Philo & Wilbert 6) as well as regulate the place of human beings within society.

The Were-wolf of the Grendelwold constructs itself as a text about the deception of those policing spatial boundaries. In the Gothic “the monster always represents the disruption of categories, the destruction of boundaries, and the presence of impurities” (Halberstam 27). Potter presents the destruction and disruption of boundaries in subtle terms, for the werewolf infiltrates society in his human guise, concealing his wolfish other self under skin that “is figured in Gothic as the ultimate boundary, the material that divides the inside from the outside” (Halberstam 6). The notion that skin is a fundamentally secure boundary to order society is exploited by the werewolf. His ability to conceal, yet express his wolfish nature underneath human skin, embodies the fear that the werewolf can disrupt the orders of society by behaving as an animal, yet not signify as a threat to remove. Though the “secluded district” (Grendelwold 122) that the narrative takes place in may be able to rebuke the trespass of a wolf or other wild, threatening animals, the werewolf infiltrates the physical rural location because he does not appear as an animal or threat. Entering as a stranger from “beyond the Grendel forest… the dark line of forest which fringed the slope above the village” (Grendelwold 122), the supernatural werewolf demonstrates the danger that wild things can penetrate borders underneath a human form. This is because “the sign of the animal typically operates in the unwritten system of common-sense consciousness, of common knowledge, of stereotypes, where meanings are assumed to be self-evident” (170 Baker). However the werewolf, hidden within the flesh of the human, cannot easily signify as an animal threat. The werewolf’s entry is therefore granted because he deceives the visual policing of the boundary, allowing him to appear as a noteworthy “young man not to be easily overlooked” (Grendelwold 122) when he makes his appearance “on the fête of our patron saint” (123). This allows the werewolf to not just penetrate the physical border that divides the human rural society from the animal wilderness, but to cross the immaterial boundary of culture because he is human. However, his bestial nature is still present underneath his acceptable human skin, and Fritz uses it to participate in the celebrations of a day when “the whole population gave themselves up to games and merry-making” (123).

It is important to remember that the werewolf does not merely gain entry as a human, as he is not truly legitimate or non-deviant while human. His very being is intertwined with the wolf. Judith Halberstam notes that Gothic monsters represent “many answers to the question of who must be removed from the community at large” (3), however the werewolf Fritz, being a shape shifter, complicates such questions. In the “nineteenth century Gothic monstrosity was a combination of the features of deviant race, class, and gender” (3-4). Its monsters are “everything the human is not and, in producing the negative of human, these novels make way for the invention of human as white, male, middle class, and heterosexual” (22). Fritz’s infiltration is successful because he does not appear as a deviant, but neither is he purely human. Emblematic of this specifically human legitimacy is the acceptability his clothes grant him, for “none others were…so gaily dressed as he [Fritz]. His clothes were, indeed, of the same fashion as those of our own peasants, but they were of richer material, and bespoke the greater wealth of the wearer” (Grendelwold 123). The superior raiment of Fritz allows him to blend in and become a noteworthy person in the ensemble, “not easily to be overlooked” (123) because clothes are fundamentally human objects. However, these clothes are tainted by his werewolfery, as when Fritz is killed his wolfish body turns back into a human, and “still wore his gay clothes, but they were stained with blood now… where my knife had pierced to the heart of the savage beast” (134). In folklore, the werewolf transformation was achieved by an enchanted girdle of wolf fur; and this practice of donning “the wolf-girdle… was in the opinion of the vulgar perhaps the most usual way… of shape- shifting” (Summers 112). The suggestion is that Fritz’s clothes possibly function in the same way as the wolf-girdle, for if his clothes had no effect on his metamorphosis; they would not be present on his human corpse that has shifted from wolf to human upon death. This informs

Fritz’s appearance at the games, suggesting that the clothes that once “bespoke the greater wealth of the wearer” (Grendelwold 123) and “gave him importance in the eyes of our men” (125) also transform him into a wolf. Though Fritz does not wear the conventional wolf- girdle, his clothes therefore express the supernatural taint of werewolfery. This undermines the notion that his human appearance is pure of any wolfish hybridity, as the clothes that were once only human, are not only tainted by the inhuman, but able to transform their wearer into an animal. Therefore though “some question the porosity of the line between human and nonhuman animals, or otherwise argue that the boundary has always been avidly policed” (Wolch & Emel 19), the werewolf Fritz suggests that such boundaries are indeed porous. This is because even clothes that can withstand the scrutiny of a policing gaze can transform one into the animal that they were thought to be free of.

Despite initially seeming to abandon the transgressive potential of the animal body for the legitimacy of the human form, the werewolf is not a clear division between man and beast. Most werewolves show “the lupine instincts of the wolf or ‘beast within’ (an analogy of the unconscious) to have a damaging and negative impact upon the afflicted individual (an analogy of the conscious self)” (Du Coudray 6). Though this is true, Fritz’s conscious self, his human body, does not suffer from the literal ‘beast within’. Instead, his human guise allows the safe expression of his wolfish interior, in order to fulfil the fear that Carl “might be elbowed from his place [in Theresa’s affections] by some bolder rival” (Grendelwold 122). The werewolf achieves this usurpation by expressing his wolfish physicality in the wrestling and footrace in order to win Theresa’s hand at the dance. This is indicative of how “lycanthropy as expressive of surface-depth… for example, although the wolf is ‘hidden’ in the person, you can tell a werewolf by the eyebrows or the fingernails” (Du Coudray 61). Despite Carl’s initial wrestling success, a challenge by Fritz causes him to be “quickly overthrown” (Grendelwold 123) and after other victories Fritz, “remained the hero of the sport.” (123). Fritz, in human form, throws Carl from his place in Theresa’s affections, not by human faculties such as “greater skill” (123), but by his wolfish strength, as “he dragged me down with the force of a wild beast” (123). In the footrace, Fritz’s human form tells of his wolfish nature beneath, as he subverts the expectation that “Fritz would find many superiors” (124). Yet he “kept doggedly on… he moved at a kind of trot” (124). Though in human form, Fritz expresses the natural wolf’s ability to “endure a long-distance chase” (Marvin 27), to the extent that the narrative remarks that he “runs like a wolf!” (Grendelwold 124). Moreover, Fritz wins the footrace, when he “showed his white teeth as a dog might do when he snarls at his fellow” (125), an animalistic gesture that forces Carl to lose heart and allow Fritz victory. By expressing wolfish traits underneath the human body, the werewolf’s hybridity signals that it can successfully infiltrate not just the physical borders of the rural location, but the cultural boundaries within society. Fritz’s victory in the games by wolfish means wins him entry into the pool of eligible bachelors, a position that allows him to seduce Theresa.

Carl’s claim to Theresa’s affections is constructed by claims of spatial proximity; “he was her near neighbour; they had played together as children” (122). However he is in danger of losing that position if threatened by “bolder, stronger, and more handsome lads in the valley” (122). Thus the werewolf, by winning the games, as well as using his wealth to cultivate social acceptability, has become one of those competitors, and is certainly bolder and stronger because of his wolfish abilities. Since the prize bestowed upon “the champion of the sports” (125) is the mandate to “choose from among all the maidens present a partner with whom to open the dance” (125), human society effectively places Fritz into Theresa’s affections, as “she at once acceded to his [Fritz’s] request” (125). In this manner, the werewolf’s assimilation into society, and worryingly, the romantic landscape, is complete, and is truly at his most transgressive because he has been accepted as a partner and potential husband for Theresa. Society appears powerless to detect Fritz’s intentions, for “bewitched… like a bird before a snake” (126) the werewolf takes Theresa deep into his realm, the forest of the Grendelwold, and eats her – fulfilling the fear that the werewolf’s actions were of stalking humans as his prey.

With the werewolf’s aims accomplished, his retreat into the Grendelwold, the forest that “few of them had cared to penetrate far” (123) secures the werewolf’s mastery of the landscape. As a human, the werewolf infiltrates human spaces, but as a wolf can enter the wild spaces humans cannot, for the Grendelwold is regarded by them with “superstitious dread… even in broad day” (127). Carl, fearing Fritz’s intentions by the discovery of “a woman’s dress” (127) in the wood, indicates that the werewolf’s ultimate transgression was to invert how “animals serve as an important food source” (Mullin 208) by making the human the food. Due to the fact that Fritz’s wolfish actions were hidden under human skin, Carl is cautioned of going on “a wild-goose chase” (Grendelwold 127) because no one believes a werewolf has predated upon their society. There was no visual evidence of any transgression, so it is believed there is nothing to punish, even though Fritz’s wolfish actions were seen. Though Carl knows what manner of creature Fritz is, the werewolf is safe from harm now because he has transformed into a wolf, and as a wolf in the forest, his supernatural status is mistaken for “only that of a wild beast” (129). This is because the werewolf is now behaving like the wolf should; as a creature “supposed to inhabit wild areas” (Figari & Skogen 323). Thus, it is the exchange of bodies, as well as the ability to conform to spatial expectations of the animal that is key to the werewolf’s mastery of spatial boundaries, because he uses the right body in the right ‘place’ that human spatial orders have constructed.

With his transgression complete, Fritz, as a wolf in its wild place, is now able to do what humanity could not – defend the borders of his territory from incursion. The werewolf does not just contest, but undermines, as its ability to hide its true nature allows it to triumph.

Though it may be acceptable for the narrator to be found lying with a stabbed wolf in the Grendelwold, when it is revealed that he is lying with “ no wolf, but Fritz” (Grendelwold 134) the narrator “was thrown in prison on the charge of murder” (134). Thus, by his secrecy, the werewolf, despite dying, triumphs in his transgression, and appears to mock the human attempt to punish him. In death he appears to smile in triumph, as “from the open mouth the long white teeth glittered as of old” (134), showing the success of the werewolf’s ability to shapeshift between two shapes. In doing so, he is able to manipulate spatial orders, and therefore deceive the truth of what happened and where.


Scientific advances since the nineteenth century have dispelled any belief that human beings can metamorphose into any animal, yet the werewolf remains a popular motif in culture. Whilst it serves as “a primitive psychological mechanism to escape the real violence in contemporary society” (1 Otten), and even alerts one to the need “to examine the moral underpinnings of society” (15), these conclusions are only two examples of the multitude of meanings the beast can hold.

This dissertation has argued that the werewolf possesses the ability to transgress spatial boundaries created by human society in Sutherland Menzies’ Hugues, the Wer-Wolf, G.M.W Reynold’s Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf, and F. Scarlet Potter’s The Were-wolf of the Grendelwold. In each narrative the werewolf is able to resists spatial orders, even entering socio-spatial spheres by using its physical, wolfish traits. Either through costumed performance, by physically joining wolf and man through supernatural means, or disguising beneficial wolfish traits underneath human skin; the werewolf exercises animal strengths that the ordinary human does not. Though our admiration of animals “is grounded in the qualities you lack and that you admire… because you know you could never have them” (Rowlands 78), the werewolf is able to own traits that one might admire in the wolf itself; traits that others may find threatening. This allows the werewolf to become desirable and transgressive.

Hugues shows how performing the wolf can help the individual renegotiate his position exiled from an oppressive society by imitating the howl, claws and teeth of the wolf that threaten mankind. Wagner’s hybridity with the wolf revitalises his human body, and provides him with the ability to metamorphose into a wolf that can transgress by the speed it runs at, using it to even escape from prison. The Were-wolf of the Grendelwold shows how the werewolf can transgress by using his human shape to hide the wolfish traits of strength and endurance that allow him to out-wrestle and out-run the human competition, and so seduce Theresa. Therefore, it is clear that the werewolf can be a source of freedom. Though such an analysis may be far from the intentions of their nineteenth century writers, “books… behave monstrously towards their creators, running loose from authority… and turning to mock their begetters by displaying a vitality of their own” (Baldick 30). It is nonetheless important to pursue the evolution of the werewolf myth.

The werewolf therefore demonstrates the weakness of the spatial orders humanity constructs, not just to divide the human from the animal, but also to separate people from each other. The werewolf reveals the permeable nature of these borders and also suggests that the wolf, the wild animal once harmful to human interests, has imaginatively become an animal useful to us. This is not a negative thing, for just as “humans live in symbiosis with thousands of species of anaerobic bacteria… without which we could not digest and absorb the food we ingest” (Lingis 166), the werewolf’s close relationship with the wolf reveals how hybridity with the animal can better the human being. Recent “work in areas such as cognitive ethology and field ecology has called into question our ability to use the old saws of anthropocentrism… to separate ourselves once and for all from animals” (Wolfe xi), however in analysing the werewolf, this is not something to fear. With modern Japanese culture portraying the werewolf as “a metaphor for the ways in which humans are part of nature and yet separate from it, although…the focus is more on the spiritual aspects of that unity and separation, with the werewolf playing the role of boundary spanner” (Levi 154), it is clear the werewolf is indeed a “meaning machine” (Halberstam 21).

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