The Monster's on the Loose!!! Non-Chaney, Pt. 2: Werewolves Along the Wall

Les Lupins by Maurice Sand
[click to enlarge]
Just a few short years ago, a visit from an old chum from back home found myself and my wife (then merely my longtime girlfriend) visiting the Pasadena Antique Mall at a mostly hoity-toity retail area in Southern California. Pasadena was not a very familiar area to us; in fact, it was my first time there, and so I tackled the fresh spot in my usual way: checking out any antique, record, comic book, or book stores I might happen to cross on my wanderings that afternoon.

Entering what seemed like just any old antique store's book section to me, I discovered an overly well-kept if not crowded place. Its trappings appealed to me greatly, and all that needed to happen was a memorable purchase to seal my love for the location in my heart forever. About two minutes into the visit, it happened. After seeing a nice collection of antique Big Little Books on a shelf that nearly had my wallet saying, "Everything I have, please!", I took a sidelong glance at a table featuring various volumes being featured exclusively by the store. Most seemed to be autographed books or first editions, and while I am interested in such things on occasion (depending on the author, title, or genre), my purposes for visiting such stores are usually tied up in looking for more unusual fare, often on a mental list of particular titles that have longed escaped my grasp or with which I was formally familiar but have not seen in some time.

Sitting prominently (and still quite strangely to me) upon the table was a book by Montague Summers titled The Werewolf. The cover is doused in a blood red coloring, with black only at the fringes and dotting the figures, but it was what appeared in red that caught my eye, apart from the book itself. For anyone else, the sight of the cover would reveal the red silhouette of a series of wolf-like creatures standing on their hind-legs, but without any other reference on the cover, the design could have been a negative image of a sculpture or woodcut or some other art form. There is no real definition to the image to betray what it really is to the eye.

Unless one happened to have been looking for that exact image, and even perhaps some form of that author's writings on the subject (without remembering who the author even was or what the book was called), since one was a mere child.

Short of heading back to the third of three elementary schools of my youth to check with library records to see if they ever carried a copy of that exact book – and since forty years have passed, it is more likely that any such volumes have likely been purged from the shelves by crazy, Satan-fearing moms (hey, it's your religion that believes in such things, not me, so quit squatting over my fun) – I will never know if this is indeed the book that captured my attention way back in fifth grade or if Montague Summers was the author of record. [I am going to skip discussion of Summers himself for now, because it would take some time, and he was such a right weirdo that a brief paragraph or two would not do him justice.] But what I do know is that the real source of the cover image of The Werewolf, a drawing by the artist Maurice Sand titled Les Lupins, lies in full form as a frontispiece in this book in the same manner as it did in the book from my youth. Because, out of everything in that book that may have frightened me in the text or in the other illustrative plates scattered throughout the volume, nothing got to me more than Sand's Les Lupins.

The image is never truly gratuitous but it was stunning to me when I was young in its implication; implication that would run roughshod with my emotional state for quite a few years, especially when placed in conjunction with my home location. Les Lupins is a nighttime study of an unspecified region most likely in France, where a pack of werewolves, numbering ten or so with most standing on their hind legs, prop themselves up along a long wall as if in conspiratorial conversation underneath the moonlight on a mostly overcast evening. 

While the foliage shown in the picture is lush and overflowing in abundance, the layout and relative sparseness of the trees speaks more of the pastoral and nowhere forested. Indeed, the scene seems to either take place on the edge of an estate or some other such structural enclosure, perhaps even on the edge of a gated town. In the text of The Werewolf, however, in the section on France, Summers wrote, "In Normandy tradition tells of certain fantastic beings known as lupins or lubins. They pass the night chattering together and twattling in an unknown tongue. They take their stand by the walls of country cemeteries, and howl dismally at the moon."

I lived nowhere near a cemetery when I lived in Eagle River, Alaska (I don't even know if there was one in town before I moved, since Eagle River was, and still is, a part of the Anchorage municipality), so I had nothing to fear from werewolves at one of those. And we certainly lived nowhere near France as well, let alone Normandy. And we were deeply mired in forest, living at the base of a mountain as we were. So the scene as described visually and then married to Summers' tale brings my upbringing nowhere close to that of the image. Regardless, Les Lupins still sent a chill through me from the moment I first saw it, already at the beginning of a long, unpaid career as a fan of monster movies, but it would take a walk home after school one afternoon to solidify werewolves as my creature/demon of choice for the rest of the time that I lived in Eagle River.


Montague Summers, a right weirdo.
It was perhaps a problem of seasonal timing that led me to such a decision. It was winter when I began reading the book on werewolves featuring Les Lupins as a frontispiece in the library of my elementary school. I was in sixth grade, and was old enough to be allowed to go straight home with my own key after school. Of course, there is the requisite screwing around at the bus stop with your friends and other neighbor kids. It wasn't a long walk home from the stop, but it was one filled with distractions, in either summer or winter. Our neighborhood was more woods than house-filled, and there was always playing to do, sticks with which to sword fight, forts to build, snowballs to throw, and pranks to pull. But Alaskan winters get dark early; the deeper into winter, the darker. Currently now, on Halloween, the sun is to set in the Anchorage area around 5:55 p.m.; on December 21st, the date of the winter solstice, the time will be around 3:42 p.m. At that time of year and at that latitude, the sun is only seen for about five and a half hours, and for kids of school age, recess is the only real chance to get some sun during the school year. Otherwise, you were walking home after school in the pre-sunset. And if you dallied at all on your walk home and played around with your friends, by the time you got close to your house, you were even closer to the dark of night... or worse, deep into it.

I didn't need total darkness to practically crap my pants each time that I reached my driveway. I just needed something approaching the nearness of darkness. As I finished my walk home from the bus, after goofing around with my friends, the glow cast by the sun's going down towards the horizon as it passed through the widely spaced birch and spruce trees that lined the forest on either side of our long, sloping front driveway, reminded me immediately of the picture of Les Lupins. (As I stated in Part 1 of this article, we had a second, lower driveway at the back of our property that accessed our house more immediately, but you had to climb a set of stairs, where I was tormented by the Big Bad Wolf.) It wasn't that the scene of my driveway matched that of the picture. I never thought there were werewolves hiding behind each of the spruce trees. No, that was where Bigfoot hid. Your imagination does not need exactitude, just the merest implication that something could possibly come true in terrible, horrid ways. Most of all, once your mind connects the image that gave your imagination spark to something else in your life, it is over for you. Once I saw the trees, it would make me think of the picture with the werewolves reclining against the ivy-covered wall like drooling junkies anxious for a quick fix. Once I made the connection that my blood might be the very fix they required, I was lost.

My every trip home down that driveway after that point became a battle between my instincts to run down an often slippery path to make it all the way to our front door in time to lock it fast behind me, and my more logical brain that struggled to convince itself that werewolves were mere fantasy figures and that I should just strut safely down the snowy path and forget all this nonsense. In the end – at least to the point where we moved from that house to another following my parents' divorce not long after – the werewolves won the battle. Any time that I was alone from that point forward while I lived there, I was in fear constantly, and it carried over into my trips down that driveway in the summer, even when I was on a bicycle. But it was always when I was on my own. If I had a friend with me, or one of my brothers, and especially adults, I was just fine. Most of my fears only overtook me when I was left on my own.

There was still another factor playing into my werewolf obsession at this point, that took my fear nearly over the top, and I will get to that in Part III of this piece. But I wanted to sum up regarding the antique shop and the Montague Summers book. The moment of seeing the book before me in the Pasadena Antique Mall was yet another in a long series of encounters where my response is the same as if I were the one who had originally ridden my horse across the path of the Bigfoot in the famous Patterson film. That is, a series of seconds constructed around a stony wall of pure silence, while my jaw and limbs go numb even as my heart starts racing uncontrollably.

Instinctually, I knew this had to be the book. Picking it up, I flipped immediately to the title page, where I was greeted by the image of Les Lupins. It was exactly where it needed to be. This had to be the book, though the volume I remembered was not quite as thick as this one, and I did not remember a blood red cover at all. One would have thought I would remember such a detail. But reading the text in some sections brought a great sense of familiarity, as Summers' overly academic and archaic writing style is somewhat hard to not just get past sometimes but also to forget. The book seemed to be, especially from the text on the cover, a compilation of shorter volumes on werewolves he had written, and was broken into six distinct sections, each pertaining to different locales and their lycanthropic legends, or the supposed "science" behind the myths, and finally an exceedingly brief addendum on Witch Ointments that isn't even written by Montague Summers, but by a Dr. H.J. Norman. Since Summers died in 1949, and this first edition of the collection was dated as March 1966, I suppose it is possible that I had encountered a smaller collection at that library in my youth.

The first edition was going to run me, after tax, close to forty bucks, but for me, it was a foregone conclusion. Why, after looking so long for such a book featuring that image, would I not buy it? Sure, I had to put back a couple of other books I had found first when I entered, including one of those Big Little Books that featured Tarzan, but it had to be done. If ever forty bucks was going to be spent on a book just so I could own a single image, this was it. I kid about that, because I know that it was more important to capture the essence of the volume within my own library, to make it part of the whole, and to strengthen the ties to my own memory, along with my imagination once more. 

Getting the book home, however, after I started to flip through the book, revealed some intriguing sidebars to my initial interest. The book contains a great many notes, most of them in a constant hand, including a signature at the front of the book in the same hand, ascribing ownership to someone named Angela Allaire. The name meant nothing to me, and most of the notes are of a generic nature, reminders to pay this bill or that bill, a torn in half receipt for the San Francisco Examiner used as a bookmark, calling this person and her mom on the phone, extensive notes on menorahs and looking up more information on Hanukkah, but nothing regarding the actual text of The Werewolf. (That's kind of how people operated in the pre-iPhone days when you needed to make a note of something... use it as a temporary bookmark, to be just as forgotten as other notes.)


The Wolf article, The Golden Gater, 11-11-1980.
But there was something that triggered a deeper look into Ms. Allaire for me. There was a newspaper clipping from San Francisco State's campus newspaper, The Golden Gater (now called the Golden Gate Xpress) dated November 11, 1980. The article is headlined "Tales of terror to be catalogued" and concerns SF State's then professor of English and creative writing, Leonard Wolf, who was planning to release a book called Whole Catalogue of Unearthly Terrors. I knew full well who Leonard Wolf was, of course. I have owned a copy of his huge volume, A Complete Book of Terror, for about thirty years, which has proven instrumental in my getting to know a great many classic horror authors. I have another book of his in my library as well, and he is rather well-known as being the father of feminist and political writer and journalist, Naomi Wolf. 

The article about Wolf was folded around a piece of paper from a small notepad, on which a poem in two verses is scrawled in red pen ink:

"On the twenty fourth of May
I saundered [sic] in and planned to stay.

Fate put me in the fabled chair
of sweet and georgious [sic] Ms. Allaire

I did my job and worked so hard
and thought of you in my back yard.
Squirting cold water all over you
and putting marangue [sic] in your kazoo."

x The Author

Um... what did I just find in this book? Who is "The Author"? Was this love correspondence between Allaire and Wolf? Who puts meringue in a kazoo (unless it is of a euphemistic nature, of course)?

This meant that I naturally took to the internet to find out if Ms. Allaire was anyone of note who may have been more publicly involved with Wolf at some time. I found nothing to that effect, but did locate mentions of an Angela Allaire who lived in Chico, CA, but had died in 2005 from complications from ALS. Finding an obituary for her on a Chico website, I found this information: "Angela moved to Chico in 1975 and worked in the Administration office at California State University Chico, graduating from the college in 1978. She went on to receive her Master's degree in film at San Francisco State, then taught one year of film history at SFSU. Angela wrote three feature-length films and sold a script, which became a respected, remarkable story. She also wrote many liner notes on the back of VHS tapes and DVDs. She was successful working with the American Film Institute as a script supervisor."

So, Ms. Allaire was at SF State at the same time Wolf was a professor of English there. It doesn't take too much in the way of imagination to summon up a scenario where the teacher, himself an expert on the field of horror literature, had perhaps recommended the Summers' book to one of his female students. In going through further notes contained in the book, Allaire mentions on one note "look at TV guide" after the word "tape," and on another line, the title Death Watch (there was a Bernard Tavernier sci-fi thriller that came out in 1980, if we are dating all of this to the year of the Wolf article, titled Death Watch). Another note ties directly into the film studies category, where she writes, "6) Write about similarities in 3 films" and goes on to notate possible areas of discussion. She also has a note about "invented genres: newspaper, gangster". A third note says "Sign up for projector 5-7," "Ask about Polansky [sic] (schedule)," and "see film class".

It becomes clear that this very likely may be the Angela Allaire in the obituary, with the revelation from the notes that she was involved in film studies at the time she was keeping notes in the book. A look on IMDb, however, reveals no credits for an Angela Allaire as a screenwriter, though I know full well there is a difference between the writing and selling of screenplays and actually having one made into a movie. The obit, though, is quite remarkably ambiguous as to titles, so it is doubtful anything was made, unless she went under a different name. However, if she had written anything of note, it would have likely appeared in the obituary.

The lack of actual notation in The Werewolf itself points to the book being not one for academic purposes but one of personal interest instead, or even a gift, possibly from Wolf himself if indeed he is "The Author". My guess is that the poem may have served the purposes of an inscription, and that the signing of "The Author" was to obscure any paper trail if an affair had occurred between her and the giver. But then the poem gets wrapped up by an article featuring Mr. Wolf, and then there is nothing left to do much make sordid connections where they may or may not be.

I guess one should always be careful where they leave their meringue.

RTJ

[To be concluded in The Monster's on the Loose!!! Non-Chaney, Pt. 3: Were-Rik? There-Rik! in the near future.] 

Comments

Aaron Lowe said…
Good sir, I am ashamedly behind in reading your blog, but hot damn was this a fantastic piece. Really, top notch.

I've actually been mulling over a piece that dips into similar territory as your descriptions of walking home from school. It's interesting, because at the age you describe you were a horror fan, while I was too much of a fraidy cat to really give them a shot. I was scared of a lot of things back then, and yet, also unlike you, I was never really afraid outside. I spent a lot of time in the woods at night near my house, and while I found them creepy and spooky, it was always in a very comforting way.

I believe I'll go off and work on that piece. Once again, this was great fun to read.
Rik Tod Johnson said…
Thanks for the kind words, Aaron. Much appreciated.

To the point, though, I was actually a burgeoning horror fan. What I was more of at that age was a monster fan – then, as now – with more of a focus on science fiction and ERB-style adventure, who was just beginning to dip his toes in the horror film pool. Over the next three years or so, I would see most of the classic Universal and Hammer horror films, and then VHS would come along and open the horror doors up fully for me.

Rik

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