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The Literature Collection

Sandemose, Aksel, 1899-1965 / The werewolf; Varulven (1966)

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[chapter]

  [p. 18]  

The shadow of the Werewolf

The sun was streaming across the floor when Erling was awakened by sounds in the kitchen. He had been sleeping so heavily he wasn't at first quite clear as to where he was; before he opened his eyes he felt apprehensive lest he be somewhere he didn't want to be, seeing a strange room or, still worse, encountering some person he must talk himself away from, while still thirsty, unwashed, disgusted, empty.

He was in his own room, he was at home, and Felicia was there once more at long last! How he had missed her, longed for her! He stretched himself, arching his body, sensuously conscious of muscles and sinews, stretched himself blissfully once more and yawned like a dog. It was like stretching oneself after being born.

A fragrance of coffee reached him. Outside, the birds were singing, and through the window he could see the virginal glitter of budding birches, ready to burst. It was a calm morning; the sun across the floor boards made him feel good; he must have slept late for the sun already to have reached the windows, and now he wanted to get hold of Felicia.

But he decided against it; first one must get up, and then go to bed again. Shake off the sleep. And one thing and another. He had, remarkably often, read about people being awakened with a kiss to a lovely day, and then immediately beginning to make love—how else to interpret the most endearing words and dashes?—there was no talk about coffee, and a beer would have been in horribly bad taste; then talk and talk about the sweet things in life, while the imaginative reader suffered with the one who had been awakened with kisses and who undoubtedly was lying there thinking hopefully about something else.

Such aside, it was one of his physical imperfections that he would awaken in the most cheerful spirits when he had been drinking in the evening; conversely, he was in an abnormally bad humor when he hadn't had anything to drink; indeed, the awakening seemed like a horrible accident. In his younger days he had often wished he might get some small (not too big) stomach ulcers to dampen his thirst, since he wasn't lucky enough to turn green after a bout, or be kept in line some other way. When drunk he also lost all sense of shame, was apt to laugh at the wrong time, and felt embarrassed when others were highly entertained. Once he had felt—as did all his friends—that he wasn't quite normal; with the years, however, there was much he had taken up for further evaluation. His children had once, long ago, suggested that he get drunk   [p. 19]   every evening when it had such a pleasant result in the morning. Ellen had been unable to suppress her smile, even though she strongly clung to morals and thought it was completely out of line to be happy, when it was God's will that one should feel rotten and remorseful after being drunk.

He stole out silently. Felicia caught sight of him through the window, as he was pouring a bucket of water over his head and jumping about after the shock; she came running out with a towel which he grabbed from her on his way inside—he noticed in passing her slender waist under the belt, the yellow, tight skirt which allowed more than a suggestion of the play of muscles in thighs and hips, her straight legs, and her feet in the low gray suede shoes—and he rubbed himself, shivering and only half dry, before he pantingly disappeared under the blanket. "Something to drink!" his teeth clattered. "I'm thirsty, terribly thirsty!"

Only then did he discover that she already had an opened beer bottle in her hand. "Here you are, drunkard!" she said, but her voice was almost devout.

He drank eagerly from the bottle and lay down with happy sighs and groans. Felicia went back to the kitchen. A pleasant warmth spread through Erling, he was conscious of every particle of his body and seemed to breathe through every pore, even sucking in air through his outstretched toes.

Out in the kitchen Felicia was singing in a low voice, while preparing something that undoubtedly would be good. She sang pensively and with interruptions one of the old werewolf ballads he had once taught her. With the song he could almost discern her actions in the kitchen—it was louder, or lower, or there was a pause, depending on what occupied her:

I had been told as a tiny maid,
So falls the dew and gathers the frost,
The wild werewolf would be my death,
So please it God wherever I be.
My dearest wolf, please don't bite me!
So falls the dew and gathers the frost,
My silken shift I give to thee,
So please it God wherever I be.
Little Kirsten she cried so hard,
So falls the dew and gathers the frost,
  [p. 20]   Herr Peder heard from his farmyard,
So please it God wherever I be.
But when he came to the rosy grove,
So falls the dew and gathers the frost,
There met he the wolf with bloody mouth,
So please it God wherever we be.
Herr Peder straightway drew his sword,
So falls the dew and gathers the frost,
And cut to pieces the wild werewolf,
So please it God wherever we be.
He leaned the sword against the earth,
So falls the dew and gathers the frost,
The point it cut into his very heart,
So please it God wherever we be.

His ideas about Man's fall Erling had gathered from the Werewolf.

In his youth he had known people who were considered religious and who occupied themselves with problems related to theology, but they had squirmed uncomfortably when he had asked them if they believed in any of it. He could never get an answer. He must then assume that they didn't believe, only played with an empty shell, toyed with senseless problems that they had picked up in religious homes as children, or whatever the circumstances.

He realized now he hadn't been mature enough to understand the context, and perhaps they also had not been too convinced. Or, if they were, perhaps they felt he was unable to understand because they clothed their life problems in the old rags they had inherited, and in that sense one could be as sincere as a believing person. It was barely a hundred and fifty years since poets and others had expressed themselves through Greek mythology—just because they didn't believe in it, weren't bound by it, and didn't commit any sacrilege when they filled it with their own thoughts and used the symbolism as they wished. Then Greek mythology became obsolete, too narrow and too distant, and by that time it was fairly safe to annex the Christian mythology instead, with its universally familiar symbols and expressions. A weakened Christianity had opened the Bible to the unbelievers and the profane; they had been able to gather treasures there in the same way as one takes from classical literature in general, once the memory of school and its daily grind and platitudinous explanations have been safely forgotten. Similarly, one   [p. 21]   could hardly be expected to understand a figure like Lucifer, until one had studied him closely and grown familiar with this bearer of light, who had become the great hater and had supplied people with the darkness they eagerly desired when frightened by the light.

Erling felt he had many times seen the Werewolf. It mattered little whether sometimes it appeared in the shape of an ordinary tiger or a saber-toothed tiger. Some Africans had chosen to drape themselves in leopard or tiger skins when they gathered for ritual blood-drinking. He believed in the Werewolf as one believes in mythological figures, but also somewhat further: the old Werewolf had become the modern Satan-god, the Destroyer, and the priests and worshipers of the earlier god could not get over to the new god fast enough. The good god had only too late discovered that his camp was full of deserters and quislings; in his heaven he must have been wondering if there was anybody left outside of collaborators and cowards. But Erling had learned that truth is never new:

Und wie des Teufels einziges Ziel und Streben Verderben ist, so treten nun auch beim Werwolf alle anderen Interessen vor dem Drang nach Mord und Zerstörung zurück. Er nimmt die Thiergestalt an, einzig und allein um Schaden zu stiften.

There wasn't a deviltry people hadn't figured out and perpetrated against each other, and would continue to do:

In der christlichen Zeit, wo man die Existenz der heidnischen Götter zugab, um sie zum Teufel erklären zu können, wurde der heidnische Cultus zum Greuel der Teufelsanbetung, die Diener der Götter zu Teufelsdienern (I Corinther 10:20-21), und hier entstand mit dem Hexenglauben die Vorstellung von Menschen, die sich mit Hilfe des Satans aus reiner Mordlust zu Wölfen verwandelen. So wurde der Werwolf in düster poetischer Symbolik das Bild des thierisch Dämonischen in der Menschennatur, der unersättlichen gesammtfeindlichen Selbstsucht, welche alten und modernen Pessimisten den harten Spruch in den Mund legte: Homo homini lupus.[1*]

The Werewolf is a child-killer and scents his way to the foetus in the woman's womb; he always unerringly finds his way to the source of life. Through all ages he has represented what man prefers not to see but to put outside himself—and it becomes more real than man himself.

  [p. 22]  

But it is also true that man's dream of atonement never fades, whatever shape it might assume: There were once a farmer and his wife who labored in the field. When it was dinner time they sat down in the shade of the wood to eat their bread. Then a wolf came out of the forest. There was something peculiar about that wolf; they were not frightened by it. It didn't seem dangerous to them; rather, it looked very sad. "It seems unhappy," said the wife. "Don't you think we should offer it a piece of bread?"

The husband gave the wolf a piece of bread, and it walked some distance to eat it. Then it turned into an old man with a tired, sad face. He knelt before them and thanked them. He had been promised he would not have to die as a werewolf if some person unasked, purely from the kindness of his heart, offered him a piece of bread.

Felicia came in with the tray; there were coffee and boiled eggs and marmalade and toast. She let him hold the tray while she doffed her kimono and arranged the pillows so they could sit comfortably. Then she too crept under the blanket and sat beside him. "Eat now, drunkard! Aren't we playing the good children who are being rewarded with coffee in bed!"

When they had eaten, Erling carried out the tray and, returning, picked up a book and brought it back to bed with him. "Do you intend to lie and read in bed?" asked Felicia, in consternation. "And I thought you had got all the cognac out of your system by now!"

"I shall read aloud," said Erling. "Listen well, this is Holberg. He always has some well-chosen words for every occasion: 'One might in some degree control one's passions. One might also know the rules to follow for this purpose. But if the blood is hot, and the fluids in the body stirred up, then there is little use in following the rules. When fire reaches the powder there is an explosion, and when the fluids for one reason or another begin to ferment they continue until they are released. I know there are persons who will not agree with me in this. There are also certain persons who will bear witness through their own experience that by following rules they have, so to speak, conquered themselves and become different persons. It is possible there are such warriors; it is also possible that many boast of victory without fight. Generally speaking I believe if someone has fought his desires so long that he has conquered them, then his passion might not have been very ardent in the first place.'"

"The fluids are fermenting, Felicia!" he added, tossing Holberg on the floor, and after it the many pillows. "You are most desirable in pearls and wrist watch."


Notes

[1*] This passage, equating the Werewolf symbolically with what is animalistic, demonic, and insatiably egoistical in human nature, is from Wilhelm Hertz, Der Werwolf: Beiträge zur Sagengeschichte (Stuttgart, 1862).

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