The Only Good Wolf: Hunting Culture and the Medieval Werewolf
Allmon, Donald Alan
University of Kansas
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Though werewolves are traditionally portrayed as rapacious and murderous even back to antiquity, several stories in the late twelfth century instead portray the werewolf in a sympathetic light: a chivalrous knight trapped through some deceit in the form of a wolf. Most modern scholarship interprets these unusual stories as representing medieval attitudes toward metamorphosis and hybridity, or as part of a wider cultural exploration of the boundary between human and animal. Little has been said, however, about the relationship between the sympathetic werewolf story and the increasing importance and popularity of hunting and pet-keeping during that same period. This paper redresses that gap by contextualizing three stories, “Bisclavret,” “Melion,” and “Arthur and Gorlagon,” within the broader medieval literary tradition of pet-keeping and hunting. This contextualization demonstrates that these werewolf stories are very much a reflection of medieval attitudes toward wolves and dogs. Examination of four key scenes appearing in each of these stories shows that the representation of the “tamed” werewolf in these stories parallels the representation of wolves and dogs found in a variety of contemporary sources including historical records, hunting manuals, ethnographies, hagiographical stories, bestiaries, and fables. Moreover, a close reading shows that the tamed (were)wolf is described in terms similar to those used to describe a well-behaved dog; and, in turn, the well-behaved dog is described in terms similar to those used to describe the ideal knight. The emphasis these stories place on the civility of the tamed werewolf therefore challenges traditional readings that stress the boundary these stories purportedly draw between human and animal; rather, these stories productively collapse those very boundaries.
- English Dissertations and Theses 
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