The Cycle of the Werewolf

The Cycle of the Werewolf

By Stephen King

                You know how you go to the museum and see some piece of modern art that is just a big white canvas with one red stripe down the center and you think Geez, I could have done this. Then you get pissed because someone did that and made a lot of money on it. But the thing is, as simple as it seems, I can’t do it and that someone who did, does it (arguably) better than anyone else.

Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf is a simple little tale of, well, a werewolf in the cycle of a year. It’s laid out so perfectly; month by month from January to December. And what I love most of all is the following passage:

Something inhuman has come to Tarker’s Mills, as unseen as the full moon riding the night sky high above. It is the Werewolf, and there is no more reason for its coming now than there would be for the arrival of cancer, or a psychotic with murder on his mind, or a killer tornado. Its time is now, its place is here, in this little Maine town where baked bean church suppers are a weekly event, where small boys and girls still bring apples to their teachers, where the Nature Outings of the Senior Citizens’ Club are religiously reported in the weekly paper. Next week there will be news of a darker variety.”

Yes, yes, yes. THANK YOU Mr. King. Sometimes horror just is. It just happens. You don’t have to make up some crazy science backstory to explain what your monster is doing here and now. (I’m looking at you Sarah Pinborough) and you certainly don’t have to make your protagonist spend his time seeking outlandish cures by whipping up some werewolf vaccine (You’re not off the hook either Matheson). It’s a werewolf, make some silver bullets and shoot the fucker.

Each short chapter begins near the full moon of each month, with typically one character as the focus/victim. As the year goes on, King drops clues as to which of the townsfolk is the werewolf. Then we meet Marty Coslaw, a paraplegic ten year old boy who, during a secret night of firework shenanigans, blows the werewolf’s eye out. (You know I want to make a Red Rider BB gun joke, but I won’t.) It takes him three more months however before he discovers who the human version of the wolf is and two more to develop a plan to put an end to it.

It’s all wrapped up in twelve months. The cycle of a year. It’s a simple werewolf tale. No flashy science, no reworked mythology (the werewolf is not a sexy teenage boy who runs around topless for most of the story), and no shortage of gore. That is why this book belongs in a museum where we can all stand around scoffing at its effortlessness assuring each other that “I could write a book like this too.”

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5 thoughts on “The Cycle of the Werewolf

  1. You hit the nail on the head, and said exactly what I wanted to say (but you did it more eloquently). I think I just used the words story, classic, and simple in 15 different combinations.

    I loved that King didn’t feel he needed to change the werewolf trope to make the story fresh, he just needed to make us care about Tarker’s Mills. He made it Anytown, USA which brings the story home. I think that goes for a lot of his fictional towns, such as Derry. He makes a vanilla setting seem vibrant and real.

    The passage you quoted sums up the heart of the story very well, and I’m glad you shared it. In just a few sentences we understand that this is a small town with small town people, that there’s a werewolf, and that there’s no scientific or natural reason for it. It just is, so we shouldn’t expect some fantastical explanation.

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  2. Shawn Ewing says:

    Honestly, Joe-la, I certainly share your enthusiasm for this story. What I enjoyed about this story is how it is “contained”: there’s no interference from forces beyond Tarker’s Mill, the influence comes from the mere presence of the werewolf and people’s fear of the murders.

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    • Shawn,

      You make a good point. The story is very contained and and its own consciousness. It knows that it is and what it wants to be, just a short werewolf tale where the fear is in what is seen not of powers that be.

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  3. Joe-la,

    I enjoyed your review. You pretty much said what I said, but like Chad pointed out, more eloquently.

    This is a nice and short tale of something that just is. We get the story at face value and there is just enough left untouched that our imaginations can run wild with it. We can make up our own reason for the werewolf if we have to. The movie says its a curse of god to be used to kill the sinners, which is the only fault with the film, because why would a crippled child be a sinner? He never did anything wrong. But yeah, this is museum worthy. I mentioned this in my review, but it captures, like his other short works, lightning in a bottle.

    Aaron D.

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  4. Like others have said before me — you hit the nail on the head here, Joe-La. I agree that the best part of King’s take on the werewolf story was its simplicity: Take one small town. Add one werewolf. Go nuts.
    After some of the “scientific” explanations we’ve had to endure so far in the course, this was refreshing. And, like you said, sometimes horror “just happens.”
    By the way, I would NOT have minded if the werewolf did turn out to be some shirtless hunka hunka burnin’ love … but that’s another story, I guess.

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