The Big Idea: Catherine Lundoff
For the big idea in her novel Silver Moon, author Catherine Lundoff looks at lycanthropy in the context of a “coming of age” story. What makes it unusual? Which age the protagonist of the story is coming into.
Women have always been monsters.
From Lilith to Carmilla to the femme fatales of the silver screen, beautiful women are shown consuming men, and sometimes other women, as prey. Female monsters are thin and beautiful, ageless, if not actually young, the embodiment of seduction and desire: vampires, succubi, sirens, demons.
Against this backdrop of feminine monstrosities, depictions of female werewolves are rare. It makes some sense, given werewolf mythos. Werewolves are out of control, ferociously strong, unbelievably dangerous. They are, therefore, almost universally assumed to be male. Female werewolves simply aren’t sexy enough.
In a 2006 MTV interview about the Underworld films, actress Kate Beckinsale said that there were no female werewolves in the movies because “…that could be really horrifying. Hairy, thuggish women.”
That well-thumbed health reference, the InternetHealthLibrary.com, lists amongst the signs of menopause: “Psychological instability” and “Violent mood swings” and “…hair growth on the face, which is quite unlikely for a woman.” Or hairy and thuggish, if you prefer.
So I began with the impossible and the horrifying: a woman who is neither young nor thin nor beautiful who is wrestling with both psychological instability and hair growth. Lots of hair growth. A woman who has become a monster in her own eyes, but is otherwise like your mom or your friend’s aunt or perhaps one of your elementary school teachers: familiar, comfortable and ordinary. For a werewolf of “a certain age.”
Like female werewolves, there are very few middle-aged female protagonists in science fiction and fantasy. When middle-aged women appear at all, they are generally background players, secondary and tertiary characters in the flow of a larger tale. Always the monster food, never the monster.
But then, as my protagonist Becca Thornton says, speaking for herself, “Seems to me that when you go looking for monsters, that’s all you see. And sometimes you miss much scarier things.”
What’s scarier than monsters? It depends on your fears. Monsters are relative (and sometimes related, but that’s a different story). You can find them hiding in a graveyard waiting for dark, lurking in an alleyway on a lonely night or sharing your bed. For some people, gay, lesbian and trans people are monsters, to be stopped at any cost, whether that’s killing or conversion. Those people are the models that I used for my werewolf hunters. They don’t care about orientation or gender, but they do care deeply about changes they can’t control. Deeply enough to try and cure the local werewolf pack of being what they are: a Pack of middle-aged women from very different backgrounds, united by some common experiences.
The werewolves of Wolf’s Point are called into being by the ancient magic of the place where they live. It picks and chooses which women will serve as the valley’s protectors, deciding who will change and who will not, based on a logic all its own. Sometimes, it makes mistakes.
Becca thinks she might be one of the latter; it must have meant to pick someone else and somehow got her by mistake. But then, she thinks that about a lot of things. In this respect, Becca was a hard character for me to write. Like her, I’m a middle-aged woman just entering menopause. Unlike her, I’m not terribly introspective or insecure about what I’m doing. Of course, I’m also not dealing with the changes she’s wrestling with.
That, really, was what I was hoping to capture in this novel: the experience of change, both physical and psychological, that is absolutely earth shattering. I wanted to examine what an ordinary woman does with those kinds of events. Menopause is a time in a woman’s life where her body feels like it’s transforming into something else, something alien, and potentially monstrous. Not unlike changing into a werewolf, only less fun, at least from my perspective.
There’s an element of wish-fulfillment in that aspect of the book. The thrill of being something much bigger and stronger with fewer aches and pains, at least once a month, is pretty appealing to my middle-aged self. Apart from the whole uncontrollable killing-machine aspect of lycanthropy, who wouldn’t want that in some form? The werewolves of Wolf’s Point have some things that a lot of us might envy: a sense of purpose, of belonging, of newfound power at a time of life that can feel most disempowering.
Given that, I think Becca’s right; there are much scarier things out there than monsters. Perhaps monsters are more familiar than we realize. And maybe we’ve all got a bit of one inside us. It’s what we do with it that counts. Welcome to what I do with mine.