Although originally published in 1857, The Wolf-Leader probably was conceived during the years 1852-1854, when Dumas lived in Brussels. This was after he had sunk into financial ruin and his collaborator Maquet had left him. (Dumas worked with a number of collaborators during his prolific career.) This period is before he returned to Paris to found the journal Le Mousquetaire.
During his time in Brussels, Dumas wrote several works based on memories of his childhood home near Villers-Cotterets, in Aisne. The Wolf-Leader is based on a folk legend that Dumas had heard, but he mingles with it memories of his childhood as well as elements of his own imagination. The basis for the story is one of the many werewolf legends. In this case, a man makes a pact with the devil in exchange for having his wishes fulfilled. Dumas changes the tale by adding a moral element. As Thibault the shoemaker becomes more bestial and base in his desires, he increasingly comes to resemble a wolf until the transformation is complete. At the end of the story, when he has given his soul completely to Satan, he actually becomes a werewolf and is hunted down in the form of a wolf.
The exterior transformation of Thibault reflects his interior transformation, until at the very end, when he is saved from the devil by his unselfish wish. The only part of Thibault that remains for the baron of Vez is the wolf’s skin, the symbol of Thibault’s depravity.
Dumas’ tale is a challenge to the idea that people can benefit from or be pleased by the misfortunes of others. According to the wolf’s agreement, Thibault only has to give up his hairs if he does not find immediate satisfaction in wishing evil on others. In every case, something occurs to make the evil wish turn out even worse for Thibault. Only in his final, unselfish wish, directed to God, does Thibault wish for something that benefits someone else, and only this wish benefits him in turn.