Friday, February 1, 2013

The Cycle of the Werewolf By Stephen King

The Cycle of the Werewolf
By Stephen King
Copyright 1982

What started out to be a conceptual calendar featuring the illustrations of comic book artist, Bernie Wrightson highlighted by short narratives by Stephen King turned into a limited edition novella released in 1983. The Cycle of the Werewolf was eventually released as a trade paperback in 1985.

Each chapter is a month and represents a lunar cycle. In the chapters spanning January through June, a new victim falls prey to the werewolf that is stalking Tarkers Mill, Maine. Victims include a isolated railroad worker, the town seamstress, the town constable, and an 11 year old boy flying a kite in the park.

When the human incarnation of the werewolf figures out that it is he slicing and dicing the people of Tarkers Mill, he is horrified. He’s the town’s Baptist minister.

Finally, in July, the werewolf is dealt a setback. He tries to tangle with ten year old Marty Coslaw. Marty is a paraplegic. He sneaks out late on the Fourth of July to set off some fireworks given to him by his beloved Uncle Al – the only member of his family who treats him like he’s a person rather than somebody different, defined by his disability.

The werewolf closes in on Marty and he tosses a Black Cat firecracker at the beast. It explodes in its face and the creature takes off, obviously injured. Marty is horrified in October while trick or treating. He sees Pastor Lester Lowe bearing an eye patch.

Marty likes the pastor and has no desire to see him die. So, he starts sending him anonymous notes, telling Lowe that he knows his secret identity and urges him to kill himself to end the horror.

Posses take to the woods surrounding Tarkers Mill to hunt the person they’ve dubbed, “The Moonlight Killer.” Lowe knows he can’t risk prowling the countryside around the village. So, in November, he travels to Portland to claim his victim who happens to be a resident of Tarkers Mill.

By December, Marty is frustrated and sends Lowe one more letter. This one he signs. Lowe decides to kill Marty.

Marty tells his uncle what he has done. Uncle Al has a friend assemble two silver bullets for him. He comes over to Marty’s house on New Year’s Eve (the night of the full moon) to wait. Shortly before midnight, the werewolf bursts into the Coslaw living room through the front room. Marty fires both bullets. The first one takes out the werewolf’s other eye. The second one catches him in the chest, killing him. The year of terror for Tarkers Mill is over.

This is one of the least discussed of Stephen King’s work. It is not even discussed when people talk of his short work. The story is not a full blown novel, but never appeared in any compilation of King’s short fiction. It appeared as a limited edition book published in 1983 and later as a trade paperback, complete with the Wrightson artwork in 1985.

It’s too bad that more people are not familiar with this book because it’s a nifty piece of short fiction. The victim per month vignettes are taut and well told. With just the barest of backstories, Marty Coslaw and his uncle develop into sympathetic characters the reader is instantly rooting for. I would rank it as one of King’s better short works.

The book is not easy to find. Copies show up from time to time on Ebay and Amazon. Copies in good condition are even harder to find. It is available on Kindle, but the Kindle version does not include the Wrightson illustrations which are pretty cool. Some are pencil drawings. Others are watercolor. They are all excellent.

The Cycle of the Werewolf was made into a movie in 1985 called Silver Bullet. Much more story was added and the action centered around a hot rod motorized wheel chair Marty’s Uncle Al built for him. Marty uses that wheel chair to escape the werewolf pursuing him.

The movie was not well received and did not do well at the box office. At that time, expectations for movies based on King’s work were high. The underdeveloped schlock and garbage that would come later had not yet been released. When considered with all of the movies made based on King stories, Silver Bullet is actually a pretty decent movie and it has grown on King fans over the years.

It’s not an easy book to find and you’ll never see it on a library shelf. But if you’re able to lay your hands on a dog eared copy of the trade paperback, it is worth the 90 minutes it takes to read the story.


  1. Glad to see you're a fan of "Bullet", and also that you have skepticism toward the upcoming "Sleep" book.

    If the question is why on earth am I moaning about THAT disaster waiting to happen, the answer is over at David Squiers blog, Talk Stephen King.

    Turns out King gave a detailed talk with EW. I don't know, every time I hear mention of that book my stomach tightens, fists clench and visions of George Lucas clog my brain.

    The only other person who feels the same way as us would have to be Bob Ledrew at Kingcast. He said he'd share his thoughts on podcast soon, and I'm anxious to hear it. Though I have no idea where he's got to.

    Anyway, the main reason for this rambling post is I've worked out for myself the reasons WHY "Sleep" is such a bad idea, and if possible it can emailed.

    That's your call.


  2. I'm loathe to post my email address here. But your free to post your thoughts on Dr. Sleep here if you like.

    I'll give Dr. Sleep a chance, just as I gave Star Wars Episode One a chance. I actually kind of liked it. Don't count me among those who are angry at George Lucas.

    However, I saw what Black House did to the character Jacky Sawyer and The Talisman and it wasn't good.

  3. Ay, I here what you're sayin'. Okay then, a condensed as possible version.

    It all had to do with remarks I've heard from several authors about what events in a novel are "True" or "Inspiration", and when are they mere "Invention" at best, "Lies" at worst. This may all sound confusing, yet when I heard it, I just thought like, "Yeah!"

    It all started when I heard Pete Straub outline a how-to guide for writer's in the King anthology Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the craft of Writingwhere he said suppose you're character is a serial killer and you have most of your story worked out, even the end. Then, Straub went on, suppose you come to a spot where your "Dexter" clone sees a pretty woman standing at a stop light and your character has the urge to push her in traffic.

    Here's where Straub said something very odd. He said if you have your character push her into traffic, the smart members of the audience will know you are no longer writing, but merely LYING, and will lose interest and put the book down. IF, however, you have the woman turn toward your protaganist who then charms his way into her life, maybe to the point where she gets involved in his crimes, then you are telling the "Truth." Well, now what does that mean I wondered.

    Listen this is going to take some explaining so what I'll have to do is turn this into a multi-part post, yet I'll try and keep it short and simple as possible

    To be continued.


    1. Okay, sorry for the delay.

      Anwway, after the lecture by Straub I came across two very interesting quotes from C.S. Lewis that agreed with what Straub said, and they also square with what King says in on writing about stories that "Pretty much make themselves."

      Here's Lewis first:

      Lewis: I don’t think conscious invention plays a very great part in it. For example, I find that in many respects I can’t direct my imagination, I can only follow the lead it gives me…I come more and more to the conclusion that all stories are waiting, somewhere, and are slowly being recovered in fragments by different human minds according to their abilities-and of course being partially spoiled in each writer by the admixture of his own mere individual invention.

      Now here's Tolkien:

      Tolkien: Although you may feel that your story is profoundly “true”, all the details may not have that “truth” about them. It’s seldom that the inspiration (if we are choosing to call it that) is so strong and lasting that it leavens all the lump, and doesn’t leave much that isn’t mere uninspired “invention”.

      The idea that four authors in different times could form pretty much the same conclusion about stories got me wondering about stories themselves. Someone once asked Lewis if "Jung's Archetypes might account for it", i.e. that stories are achretypes.

      Lewis's reply: Jung’s Archetypes do seem to explain it.

      In other words, Tolkien and Lewis believed that what makes a given sequence in a story, or even a whole book true or not, inspired, invented or lying is Jung’s theory of the Archetypes. So this begs the question, what is the theory Lewis and Tolkien talk about?

      To be continued.


    2. Okay, so basically, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis express the same opinion as King and Straub that "Stories pretty much make themselves" and that there is a difference between a story being "True" and a "Lie". A concept which apparently encompasses all aspects of any given story right down to characterization.

      Tolkien and Lewis go deeper in that they back their theory up by pointing to the theories of psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. He's a shrink who's books I've read, and I'll admit up front, he can be understood, it just takes awhile on account of the non-straightforward way he wrote even his public lectures sometimes.

      From what I can tell, Jung's two contributions to psychiatry are the theory of Psychological types of introversion and extraversion, and the idea of Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious. The theory of Archetypes, as far as I can tell, is that they are in fact the "Images" or products of the imagination, which in turns is an instinct like Fight or Flight. Collective Unconscious is Jung's scientific label for the instincts, because they exist below the level of consciousness and everyone has the same basic instincts including imagination.

      Jung's theory in summary is that instincts,including imagination are what regulates mental health, and insanity crops up whenever someone acts in such a way that is counter to their instincts. Insanity is what results when a mind tries to act in a way counter to instinct and thus cuts itself off from it's own source, leading to a mental deterioration that results in all the basic clinical affictions know to medical psychology.

      It is instincts that try to bring a mind back to sanity, because their basic function is one thing only, SURVIVAL. If a mind won't act in it's own best interests, instincts will try to pull it back to it's original position of sanity.

      To be Continued.


    3. Continued from last part.

      Okay, we’ve had the set now I’m gonna run like hell for the home stretch as soon as possible.

      What all the above boils down to in terms of King, “Shining” and “Sleep” is this. By his own admission, the guy was an addict/alcoholic.

      Yeah, so, big deal, why pick on him for that? Leave the poor schlump be for f’s sake.

      I'm not picking on him, I'm just trying to explain my understanding of the guy as it is at the moment. And I'll admit, that at least, MIGHT be the general response. In all my readings of reader reactions, I’m surprised only a few have bothered to take into account King’s mental health, something which his drug/alcohol problems clearly point to.

      Well, that doesn’t have anything to do with his books, does it? And even if it does, it’s not like he’s writing his whole life story.

      Maybe not ALL his life story, but certainly, at least to an extent, King’s books chronicle some of his own mental issues. Remember, this is all being read through that Jungian lens which posits that stories, especially the “True” ones can reveal aspects of the personality that aren’t made public. This was something Jung discovered in his practice with mental patients.

      Are you saying King’s like a freakin’ Head Case or something?!

      I will only go so far as to say this: Addiction is a form of neurosis that if left untreated can form into a depressive psychosis. King, it seems, never developed that far, but a lot of what powered the engine of addiction for him was his own personal frustration which engendered anger and self-loathing, hence his turn to drugs.

      Looked at in Jung terms, it makes perfect sense that the imagination would rush to his resuce in the form of a story about a boy who tries to help his father past his anger and alcohol issues, which is what King suffered from at that time and up to about 1988 if ‘m remembering dates here.

      So what’s the “Shining” all mean, to YOU anyway?

      To Be continued


  4. Continued from last part.

    Okay, the end is in sight.

    Jung said that archetypes, or the products of imaginative instinct, took the form of types of figures, i.e. the hero, the wise old man, even such figures as the mother and the child hero. In fact, the truth is Jung actually beat Joe Campbell to the idea of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Jung’s findings of mythological material in the fantasies of disturbed patients made him realize that there was a connection between all these old ancients myths and folktales a the sanity of the next person to come down the street.

    The more he looked into the fantasies of his patients, the more Jung saw how all these old bunch of stories were drawn from or “Inspired By” (remember Tolkien and Straub) man’s experience of real life. That, in others words, the instinct of imagination has over time taken the collective experiences of humanity and SYMBOLIZED it all into various forms of stories.

    Remember, Jung said imagination is an instinct that operates under the basic laws of nature, over which no man in the world appears to have any control, and yet we have free will….Alright enough of that, the point is, imagination makes stuff up automatically by rule of Natural Law, and the people who are mentally able to tap into that particular instinct, like King, are called artists for reasons that don’t really make much sense but they sometimes produce fun stuff so there it goes.

    Furthermore, Jung found a way to utilize his patients fantasies, sometimes by having his patients not ACT out so much as PLAY out their fantasies, fantasies which he noted contained “Archetypal” (his word) elements which pointed to the idea that imagination had a therapeutic aspect. In other words, that the imagination, along with other instincts, will naturally try to draw an unstable mind back to sanity in order to guarantee survival; which brings us to King and the child archetype.

    To be continued