The Werewolf of Paris Essay - Critical Essays

Guy Endore


The Werewolf of Paris is unusual in werewolf fiction because it is neither a fantasy nor a mystery. Instead, it is a realistic treatment—sometimes almost a documentary—of the subject and can be considered a historical novel with a werewolf as the principal character. The novel owes as much to Émile Zola’s Germinal (1885) as to any work of fantastic fiction, and like that work it is a depressing and sordid account of human weakness and depravity. Endore saw the human race as having little to admire and much to deplore. Although Bertrand cannot help what he is, in human form, he is a passive character who never achieves any real tragic dimension. He is what he is—he does not like it, but he has to survive and is driven largely by instinct.

Endore’s underlying thesis is that the line between human and beast is very fragile, and a werewolf is particularly unsubtle in crossing it. In fact, the monster Bertrand is obscured by the tidal wave of bloodshed attending the war and the social uprising following it. It is this tendency to subordinate Bertrand to the temporal setting that causes the novel to succeed as historical social comment and fail as a werewolf story. It is hardly surprising that Endore went on to make his reputation as a writer of closely researched historical novels.

Another disappointment for fantasy fans is Endore’s avoidance of any detailed description of the werewolf. Early on, the werewolf is described as being merely an oversized wolf “near as big as a calf”; elsewhere, he is apparently a man and acts like one, but it is clear that he really does change—at least sometimes, the degree perhaps depending upon how much he is influenced by animal nature or plain human depravity. Bertrand is unfortunate, not tragic, but he is undoubtedly a monster who commits horrible, revolting crimes. His death in the asylum is pathetic and unspectacular.

Although it fails to fit the usual fantasy molds, The Werewolf of Paris has one undeniable quality—it is not soon forgotten. Unlike other such works, it improves with rereading and may claim status as “serious” literature. In an area that has no indisputable classic full-length treatment, The Werewolf of Paris comes closer than any work to the status of classic.