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What If Werewolves Were Real?

VO: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
Written by George Pacheco Once the full moon rises, be very afraid. At least, that's what all the myths, legends and spooky stories tell us! But what if werewolves were an actual reality? What if lycanthropy was a real-life condition? How would the world be different? And would we be watching the moon like our lives depended on it??

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What if Werewolves Were Real?

There's a certain sense of tragedy behind the werewolf myth, which makes it just a little different from its monstrous contemporaries, such as mummies, vampires or zombies. The clear lack of control, and the feeling of helplessness against an unconquerable curse, leads us to identify, just a little bit, with these deadly shape-shifters.

Maybe that’s why we seem to connect so closely with them, and why examples of the creatures continue to pop up in blockbuster films such as "Twilight" or on popular TV programs like 'True Blood". It's not entirely impossible for us to imagine what life as a lycanthrope might be like… So, what if the curse was actually real, and something that society had to incorporate into its daily routine?

As is the case with most monsters of folklore, there are a number of real life explanations as to why the myth came about. Rabies is perhaps the most realistic and frightening disease which paved the way for the modern werewolf tale. Right off the bat, we have the fact that it’s most commonly communicated via an animal bite, causing confused and violent behaviour, before eventually leading to the victim's death. The appearance and actions of a rabid animal or person are not pleasant, and early societies probably had no idea how to deal with the disease.

After rabies, there are other afflictions which might’ve been aligned with lycanthropy, including porphyria – which attacks the nervous system and affects the skin with a shrivelled, feral look. Then, there’s a hereditary condition called hypertrichosis, or "human werewolf syndrome" – where the body produces an abnormal amount of hair. And, sometimes these problems were intensified further still, as medieval diets were often infected with ergot, a fungus which causes a hallucinogenic effect similar to that of belladonna, triggering vivid, metamorphic delusions.

The human element of werewolves is particular cause for concern when imagining a world where they actually exist. For starters, werewolves are human most of the time, so recognising them amongst everyone else could be tricky. We could assume that, like the famous "Wolf Man" of the movies Larry Talbot, most werewolves are seeking an end to their curse, and might voluntarily submit to quarantine and study, hoping that scientists can create a cure.

That assumption upon man's inherently "good" nature is fairly optimistic, however, and doesn't take into account the probable population of werewolves who’d take pleasure in their curse. These wolves might have already assembled a subculture or society of their own, and could be quite happy getting away with murder whenever the full moon’s on. And so, humanity could quickly fall back on negativity, ditching our natural empathy in favor of suspicion and fear.

The closest comparisons to such an atmosphere would be the Salem Witch Trials or McCarthyism in the 1950s, where friends and neighbors judge and condemn their friends and neighbors. Accusations of lycanthropy could become an attempt to satisfy a long overdue grudge or bias, while deep-rooted prejudices around things like race or sexual orientation could fuel a hysterical "Werewolf Panic". Of course, you’d hope that contemporary society might learn from the mistakes of old, but either way, the court system would be inundated with werewolf claims – most of questionable legitimacy. And, if any number of werewolves did go rogue, there’d be monthly lycanthropic murder cases requiring uniquely specific evidence for a conviction.

Gun laws, always a controversial topic of passionate debate, would become even more heated, with gun lobbyists using safety and heightened self-defence as reason for their views. Perhaps the everyday citizen might easily acquire a handgun and silver bullets for their protection. Animal control officers might see their duties expanded, as it now becomes imperative for any werewolf food source – alive or dead – to be regulated, and the streets to be kept as clean as possible. The moon cycles would be also be intensely monitored, both for general safety, and as a way to spot which among us reverts to their bestial nature come nightfall.

Discussion of the werewolf needs to be centered on its human nature if coexistence is even going to become a remote possibility. Lycanthropy has often been portrayed as an idea similar to human sexuality, representing traditional masculinity and virility as an "awakening" of wolf in man. But while the "wolf man" is a common theme in horror movies, the lycanthrope isn’tlimited to males, and could theoretically be passed down from mother to child.

This opens up another world of discussion; Because who’s to say that two people can’t be together, even ifone or both of them carry the curse? Here, we'd have to assume that society has a general handle over how humans and werewolves treat each other. But, would there be legal attempts to block interspecies marriage and childbirth, in an attempt to slow the werewolf population? And would it perhaps matter whenyour significant other was bitten – before or after your relationship started? Interspecies couples would certainly have an uphill battle to get their union recognized, and opponents might argue whether the question is actually about human rights or animal control.

Therein is the issue that runs intrinsically through the werewolf's dual nature as both human and beast. The idea of man and wolf living together would be the most optimistic hypothesis in a world where werewolves are real, but the reality is that human and werewolf rights might be very different – given the latter’s uncivilised nature, and inability to communicate. Whereas other fictional monsters, such as the vampire, are sometimes still able to speak, the werewolf's unpredictability might require it to be caged during transformation, if it is ever going to be deemed safe.

This would bring up another whole mess of legal issues, including unlawful imprisonment, while at the same time severely impacting international economies, as full moon nights would become ultra-tense times when people stay indoors, do nothing, spend nothing and generally pretend they don’t exist. That said, TV networks could look to capitalize by specifically gearing their programming to werewolf nights – perhaps some sort of ridiculous reality show would fit the bill, with specifically designed, wolf-inspired commercials. Security companies would also benefit, as every house on Earth would want top of the range locks, hatches, industrial-strength doors and unbreakable windows. And there’d always be the hunters seeking instant fame by going out on the prowl, risking certain death to try to film a one-on-one werewolf encounter, for the benefit of YouTube.

Which brings us right back to the werewolf's defining characteristic of tragedy. These are people, after all, with many having no choice but to live life as a lycanthrope. Their unenviable situation might be one inherited at birth, or forced upon them by chance or misadventure. The modern werewolf might not even see their lycanthropy as a "curse" in the traditional sense, but instead as something to embrace and feel proud of, a familial feeling of belonging to their "pack”.

But, could we live, side by side? It's a question which perhaps mirrors our own history, for better or worse, more than we might like to admit.

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