Summary: Our unnamed narrator, an American grad student living in Paris, chances upon an old manuscript, and the reference to "luperal temples"catches his eye - "lupa" being Latin for wolf. The manuscript, which he calls "the Galliez report", is the defense at the court-martial of Sergeant Bertrand Calliet, the eponymous werewolf. His research leads our narrator to the sad story of Aymar Galliez and his strange nephew Bertrand.
"The vast strides of our generation in the conquest of the material world must not mislead us into thinking that when we have plumbed the physical world to its depths we shall thereby have explained all there is to explain. The scientists of a former day strove mightily to fathom the depth of the spiritual world and their successes and conquests are all but forgotten.
If today the lonely traveler can walk fearlessly through the midnight shadows of the silent forests of France, is it because of the vigilance of our police? Is it because science has taught us to be unbelievers in ghosts and monsters? Or is not some thanks due the Church, which after a millennium of warfare succeeded at long last in clearing the atmosphere of its charge of hidden terror and thus allowed for the completer unfolding of the human ego?"
The story starts with the ominous birth of a boy (on Christmas Eve) to a young servant girl, who has been raped by a priest. The woman is a maid in the house of Aymar Galliez. Aymar raises the boy as his own and soon begins to realize something is terribly wrong with him. With long curves fingernails, eyebrows that meet and hair on his palms, Bertrand resembles his father, the wayward priest Pitamont and is a descendant of the curse Pitamont clan, who spread evil wherever they went. As Bertrand grows up, he begins to have nightmares of running free in the wild, chasing and being chased and his step-uncle realizes with growing terror that the mystery behind the disappearing wayfarers and mauled livestock lives in his own house. Bertrand, in spite of his Aymar's continued efforts to lock him up, escapes his home and runs off to Paris. The account follows Bertrand's struggles to calm the beast inside him. Set in France, the story has its gory ending during the fall of the Paris Commune.
" When the body of a man weakens, the soul of that man begins to detach itself from the tentacles of flesh and prepares itself to fly off the instant the body dies. (...) It happens occasionally that the soul of a beast gains entrance into a man's body while he yet lives. Then the two souls war with each other. The soul of this man may depart completely and leave only that of the beast behind. And that explains how there are men in this world who are only monsters in disguise, playing for a moment at being men, the kings of creation. Just as a servant plays with his master's clothes."
My Thoughts: This book is nothing like I expected. The great combination of horror and historical fiction makes it thoroughly engaging. Apart from being a very exciting read, the book gives a glimpse into this brutal time in the French history, with characters who were actually there then. It is hard to distinguish fiction from fact and the blend of fantasy and reality adds to the horror. The book is filled with endless horror, gore and gruesome death, but it is so much more than just another tale starring some supernatural creature. The book, with its social commentary and metaphors reminded me constantly of Stoker's Dracula. We are shown, throughout the book, how inherent violence is in man. The werewolf is compared to the people of Paris who killed each other viciously right on the streets. The wolf appears more to be a victim of his own intrinsic and uncontrollable violent urges rather than a monster. The book is written in a very frank, precise manner, which was, for me, one of the best things about it. The narration does become incredibly gloomy at times, but it's a short book and can be read in one sitting. The Werewolf of Paris is undoubtedly a great book and and I am sure I will read it again.
This was the first book I finished reading as part of the R.I.P. VII Challenge Peril the First! (Although, on a side note, I'm also considering it for the Back to The Classics Challenge.) I say finished, because I have been reading The Terror by Dan Simmons for the past week, but it's just a really very long book! This is also the first time I have read any werewolf fiction, and I have to say, I liked it. Would you recommend any books on werewolves or similarly terrifying supernatural creatures?