Sunday, February 05, 2006

Shunned House: Werewolves

Metafiction is a text in which the writer directly addresses the reader and engages the reader into the text. Rod Serling ( a fan of HPL) was a practitioner of breaking down the fourth wall in television with his scripts and directorial magic.

Before all that, there was HPL.

In Shunned House (circa 1924), one passage stands out.

“I wondered how many of those who had known the legends realized that additional link with the terrible which my wider reading had given me; that ominous item in the annals of morbid horror which tells of the creature Jacques Roulet, of Caude [1], who in 1598 was condemned to death as a daemoniac {sic}, but afterward saved from the stake {burning} by the Paris parliament and shut in a madhouse. He had been found covered in with blood and shreds of flesh in a wood, shortly after the killing and rending of a boy by a pair of wolves. One wolf was seen to lope away unhurt.”

Lovecraft certainly told the reader that he was a fastidious researcher. Like his earleir use of Skinner, HPL was in a mood to crib notes from folklorists the month he wrote Shunned House.

Joshi [2, p 420, n.39] reports that this entire passage was taken from John Fiske's Myths and Myth-makers: Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted by Comparative Mythology, 1872: “In the year 1598, 'in a wild and unfrequented spot near Caude [sic], some countrymen came one day upon the corpse of a voy of fifteen, horribly mutilated and bespattered with blood. As the men approached, two wolves, which had been rending the body, bounded away into the thicket. The men gave chase immediately, following their bloody tracks till they lost them; when suddenly, crouching among the bushes, his teeth chattering with fear, they found a man half naked, with long hair and beard, and with his hands dyed in blood. His nails were long as claws, and were clotted with fresh gore and shreds of human flesh.' This man, Jacques Roulet, was a poor, half-witted creature under the dominion of a cannibal appetite ... it is certain that Roulet supposed himself to be a wolf ... he was sentenced to death, but the Parliament of Paris reversed the sentence, and charitably shut him up in a madhouse”. Joshi further says that the initial passage of Fiske is derived from S, baring-Gould's Book of Werewolves (1865) which HPL did not read until 1934. [3]

Don't be too hard on HPL for cribbing Fiske. Another famous folklorist did the same – with a number of ammendations. Montague Summers says, “Jacques Bocquet [4], a werewolf, who was sentenced ...{with} Francoise Secretain, a notorious witch, who confessed to having attended the sabbat on numberless midnights ... was accused of werewolfery by the warlock Jacques Bocquet ... she was executed in July, 1598. ... On the 14th December of the same year at Paris, a tailor of Chalons was sentenced to be burned quick for his horrible crimes. This wretch was wont to decoy children of both sexes into his shop, and having abused them he would slice their throats and then powder and dress their bodies, jointing them as a butcher cuts up meat. In the twilight, under the shape of a wolf, he roamed to woods to leap out at stray passers-by and tear their throats to shreds. Barrels of bleaching bones were found concealed in his cellars as well as other foul and hideous things. He died ... unrepentant.

“In the same year again, a werewolf trial took place ... In a remote and wild spot ... an archer ... and some rustics came across a nude body of a boy aged fifteen, shockingly mutilated and torn. The limbs, drenched in blood, were yet warm and palpitating ... two wolves bound{ed} away ... {they} gave chase ... {and found} a fearful figure, a tall gaunt creature of human aspect with long matted hair and beard, half-clothed in filthy rags, his hands dyed in fresh blood, his long nails clotted with garbage of red human flesh. So loathly was he and verminous they scarce could seize him ... Jacques Roulet. On 8th August, 1598, he confessed ... that his parents ... had devoted him to the Devil ... by use of unguent ... he could assume the form of a wolf with bestial appetite. ... He confessed to attendance at the sabbat. This varlet was justly condemned to death, but for some inexplicable reason the Parliament of Paris decided that he should be rather confined in the hospital of Saint Germain-des-Pres.” [5]

1 {see Joshi, below} p. 420 n. 36. S, Baring-Gould makes a typo and calls the town of 'Cande' by the name “Caude”. It is reproduced as such by several copyists, including HPL.

2 H. P. Lovecraft, The Dreams of the Witch House and other weird stories. ed. S. T. Joshi. Penguin. 2004.

3 Montague Summers, The Werewolf in Lore and legend. Dover, 2003. original 1933. pp. 229-231

4 I wonder that Summers has two Jacques's with virtually the same name in the same year: Jacques Bocquet and Jacques Roulet. This is an eerie coincidence.

5 Joshi, op.cit. Above, p. 420, n.39. HPL tells Clark Ashton Smith in his letter of Feb. 11, 1934 that he had just read S. Baring Gould. Joshi reports that this letter is in a private collection.

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