Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Where Have All The Werewolves Gone?

Long time passing...

This article from the Fortean Times looks at why werewolves have faded from the list of things to be afraid of. (source).

For most of recorded history, the half-man, half-wolf lycanthrope reigned supreme as the creature travellers most feared encountering in the woods and along dark roads at night. Numerous legends concerned werewolves – the awful deeds they committed, how to protect against them, how to kill them – and belief in their reality can be found in many cultures from ancient times to the present. But while the werewolf still holds a place in fiction and films, few people today actually fear meeting one in reality. Many individuals and groups actively search for cryptids, but there are no werewolf-hunting organisations. So – where have all the werewolves gone?

It's Darwin's fault.

...In 1843, some years before the publication of the Origin, he wrote to fellow naturalist GR Waterhouse (1810–1888), who had just published an article on biological links. “I never understood,” Darwin wrote, “a half-way link, but merely one in a long series. I think you have done good service in pointing out how rare half-way-links are, if indeed they exist… one cannot have a simple species intermediate between two great families.” [4] In general, such attitudes, along with the view that dogs and primates followed two very different lines of descent, suggested they could in no way join together or one turn into the other. Natural historians had also shown that while various living organisms could change their shape or colour temporarily, when threatening or being threatened, for example, none could shape-shift in the manner attributed to werewolves.

The scientific method and evolutionary theory put such a stain on monsters that by the end of the century any attempt by naturalists to engage with them could be seen as an intellectual step backward – a problem which still haunts crypto­zoology today. In 1886, Cornell University physio­logist Simon Henry Gage believed monsters and mythical creatures had finally been put down. “Fairies are fled,” he wrote, “the genii banished the mermaid and the remora are captured.”

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