The Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King
When Pablocheesecake mentioned he was going to do a month of Werewolf reviews, I was very pleased. Being a big fan of all things Lycan, I immediately volunteered to help out. For me, the Werewolf is quintessentially a creature of horror, and not an excuse for some pretty Native Americans to show off their overly developed pecs. They are the bestial side of humanity, the feral and unhindered darkness that dwells in all of us. It seemed appropriate then, that one of the reviews should be from, in my opinion, the quintessential horror writer – Stephen King.
Originally published in 1984, Cycle of the Werewolf is a short horror novel and uniquely features illustrations by renowned comic book artist Bernie Wrightson. The story is set in the small town of Tarker’s Mills, an isolated community in the state of Texas. Nah… I’m only kidding, it’s in Maine. C’mon … this is King after all.
The story spans a year in Tarker’s Mills, with each short chapter covering a single month. As each month goes by, the body count starts to rise and the murderer is inevitably called ‘The Full Moon Killer’.
The story centres around a young paraplegic called Marty Coslaw. As the town is gripped in fear, a curfew is placed and the Independence Day celebrations are cancelled. Marty is disappointed in missing out on the firework display, but he is consoled by a gift of fireworks from his slightly irresponsible Uncle. While he enjoys his festivities in secret that night, he is attacked by the werewolf and narrowly escapes after he injures his attacker in the eye.
He identifies the attacker to the authorities as a werewolf, and so his parents, believing he is in shock, send him away for the rest of the Summer. When he returns in the Autumn, while out trick-or-treating, he discovers one of the townsfolk missing an eye – sporting the same injury he had inflicted upon his attacker in the Summer.
Despite denials from the law enforcement, one aspect I found interesting about the book is that the townsfolk seem to quickly jump to the ‘werewolf’ conclusion, if only in whispers and quiet corners. This is why it is so brilliant that King continues to set his novels in Maine, a US state I also have a particular fondness for and fascination with. If this novel had been set in a sprawling metropolis, you would expect behavioural analysis talk from gritty cops over their coffee and donuts as they tracked down the latest in a long line of serial killers. Only in small town America is it believable that the fantastical is more readily accepted.
Each chapter is full of the colourful and descriptive narrative that you expect from a King story. King is an expert in characterisation and no one does it better in my opinion. In just a few pages, you get to know each and every victim in the final moments preceding their bloody demise. The early chapters focus on individual characters, but the story starts to merge, using multiple characters as the townsfolk start to unite in the common goal of finding the killer.
The overly critical amongst you (you know who you are) may spot that there are a few inconsistencies, but these are well documented. In early chapters, the werewolf is described as having yellow eyes, but later they are described as green. Also, when Constable Neary is killed in his truck, it is described as a Dodge truck, but a few paragraphs later it is described as a Ford pick-up. King himself makes a disclaimer at the back of the book, saying that he took artistic liberties over the frequency and timing of the full moon for the sake of the narrative.
For those of you who think they are not familiar with the story, you may know more than you think as it was made into the 1985 film Silver Bullet (see my review of the movie here) featuring Gary Busey and a young Corey Haim. The novel itself is a quick read, with only 127 pages (including the artwork) and it is definitely doable in one session.
The only real criticism I have about this book is that the story is perhaps a little underdeveloped and I would have much preferred a full length novel. However, I recently found out that this book was originally intended to be a Calendar, featuring Wrightson’s artwork and a small vignette from King. Finding this too restrictive, King elaborated on the story slightly until it became the short novel we know today. If you haven’t read the book – grab yourself a second hand copy, you won’t be disappointed.