Friday, February 24, 2012

"'That orbed maiden with white fire laden...

...Whom mortals call the Moon.'" (Sir John quotes Percy B. Shelley in The Wolfman (2010), by Johnathan Maberry)

No semester of monster-reading would be complete without something that included a werewolf.

I watched the DVD (2010 remake of the 1941 film) 6 months ago. The film starred Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt. I loved the film. What's not to like about Anthony Hopkins breaking out into a swarthy hairy beast? But this blog isn't about the movie, it's about Maberry's book.

First of all, I thought it was clever to write a story/novel based on a short story and movie which had outlived it's copyright. I'm not sure, exactly, of all the legalities involved but it's smart to pinpoint a novel on something related to a topic (movie/short story) you love and write on it. If it's beyond copyright law, then awesome. Never mind that your story is already outlined for you and all you have to do is fill in the words. It seems sort of like painting by number. 

This is not to devalue Maberry's work, mind you. There's very good paint by number people, and those that suck at it. Some choose their own colors without paying attention to the number/color guide, some have no technique and just slap the paint on there, and some make paint by number seem like an original Picasso because they are  masters in understanding brush strokes, color and they have finesse. Maberry is the latter. If I hadn't seen the film I would have still enjoyed this story. Immensely.

I will have to admit (because I bought the Kindle version) that the editor in me highlighted the passive voice which seemed overused throughout the prose. I did wonder why, on page 18, Lawrence considers the moon 'threatening.' It seems illogical. He considers it threatening as he parts the curtains of his room only to see what he thought was the moon, was actually the face of Big Ben. It was a  foreshadowing, but it was something that didn't make sense to me since Lawrence hadn't transformed into a hairy were-beast. Not yet.

I had to look up the word daguerreotype, which was educational. It's French for the first successful photographic process. The novel was different from the 2010 film in that Lawrence received notice of his brother's disappearance via a hand-written letter from Ben's fiance' (instead of in person), but the part where the walking stick he received from a kindly old gentleman on the train (which bore a wolfhead design and parted into a sword-like/rapier weapon) was basically the same. More foreshadowing. (If I were to write a book, based on this story, I should like to do it from the perspective of the old Frenchman that Lawrence met on the train.)

Maberry writes the Frenchman's words: "It is one of the few privileges of the old,” the Frenchman said, “to pass on our burdens to the young.” (page 28). I loved that line, and intend to use it on my children. And maybe my grandchildren. Or my great-grandchildren. Time will tell. 

In the movie, Lawrence politely but respectfully refuses the cane. In the book he accepts it in trade for his own plain one. An interesting difference, but I think the later holds much more meaning.

The name of the town, Blackmoor, has a foreboding quality to it. Although I already knew the story, the name of the town still filled me with a certain...curious dread. Maberry's description of Talbot Hall was both poetic and frightful. The fact that Lawrence felt he had to knock on the door at a place he grew up in said so much. "...he had never been here as a man"(page 29). 

Sir John was as distant and unapproachable as seen in the film, and Maberry drew his countenance on paper as if it were a photograph. The fact that Ben's body was discovered, and that Lawrence's father broke the news to him seemed out of place somehow, but I went with it. And so it goes throughout this novel, certain things that are different, a twist here and there, which make the reading of the novel interesting after having seen the film. What I also enjoyed was Maberry's use of language. The story 'sounded' as if it were written in older times, as if crafted in the 1800's, and Maberry made the 'feel' of it equal to the tale at hand.

A hundred and eight pages in, we finally see a werewolf. And the way it wrecked havoc on the gypsy camp was painted in gory detail. Everything about the werewolf is speculation up until then, but after that scene there is no doubt as to the werewolf's existence, and how devastating the slash of it's claws can be.

When I first started watching the movie, and when I later read the book, I didn't get the splintered hints of the love story until the end. And it wasn't just one love story. From the slash and bite of the werewolf's claws and fangs on Lawrence's body to the final showdown at the end between Werewolf and Wolfman, there were the love stories of father and son,  mother and son, of brothers and that of man and woman. And finally there was the story of ultimate sacrifice.

Would I read this story again? Absolutely. Maberry did an excellent job with it. Despite the number of 'nods' I noticed in the sentences (Timons Esaias, you have forever ruined the 'nod' for me), and the frequent lapses into passive voice, the writing was beautiful and I enjoyed every minute of it. I think Maberry pulled this novel together with moonlit finesse. I heard the monster howl. I felt and smelled the blood. And I experienced the loss that perhaps not just humans, but beasts, feel as well.

"Fate’s way is a cruel one. But she seeks a greater end.”



  1. I also liked the writing that Mayberry did for this. I think he did a great job on the descriptions, and had some very beautiful metaphors, and simile present in the text. I love the line near the end about Lucifer driving his fist through the heart of the house when it is burning to the ground. I agree with you that the language felt appropriate to the time era, and at times, I felt like I was reading an author from that time period. All in all, I think he did a good job on the project.

  2. The name Blackmoor also struck me. It could have two meanings. The moor could be dark and foreboding. It could also mean that the Moor is dark and foreboding, especially as both of actors who portray the Talbot men have portrayed Othello. This last meaning implies that the characters are outsiders and that a misunderstanding will be their downfall.

    I have to say that I read right over the passive voice, nods and other such writerly quirks. I think that the olde timey diction worked well when combined with a syntax that was just slightly more old fashioned than we are used to. I did like the gory bits, which are one of the more modern aspects of the novel. Of course, I also love the splatterpunks.

    I don't know if the original is out of copyright. Regardless, this is a Universal picture anyway. I'm pretty sure they own the copyright, as Siodmak (who died in 2000) wrote the screenplay as a work for hire.

  3. I have to agree with Benet. I read right over the passive voice and never noticed it. Part of it has to do with the fact I really love literature that hearkens back to this time period. Most of it is written in passive voice with a lot of adverbs. The narrative voice might have come across too modern, if those sections weren't there. I also think that its okay to break some of these rules as long as there is a reason to. For one thing, I think passive verse conveys indecision and internal struggle. Throughout the novel, Lawrence is not only trying to find out who he is but also categorize good and evil, sort through jumbled emotions and face a traumatizing past. Especially, when dealing with a dominant personality type like the alpha male Sir John, it makes sense he would lapse into passive voice. Passive voice has a disarming quality. People with these personality types can go on the defensive even when a person is simply being assertive. It will be construed as threatening.

    Passive voice is something I'm struggling with in my thesis. I have a shy character who avoids confrontation and lacks self-esteem. No matter how hard I try, I am unable to get an authentic narrative voice without resorting to passive voice sometimes. She's passive, so action verbs and commands which cut to the chase just seem out-of-place. I could really use some ideas about this, though. :) I need all the help I can get.

  4. Yeah, Tim Esaias has ruined reading for me, too. I came across a "grimace" in there and lost my concentration for a few minutes. Dammit. :)

    I, too, thought Maberry did a great job of creating an old world feel to his writing. Although I did have to look up the first usage of the word "zombie." I thought he'd blown it there (nope, first used in the 1870s).

  5. I noticed the passive voice, the nods, and the missing commas. But you know what? It really didn’t matter. The book was written well, and I refuse to let a few peoples’ opinions of what is “correct writing” spoil for me what clearly worked. :)