Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Werewolf Paradigm – Fun vs Rationality

As cool as werewolves are now in popular fiction, the left side of my brain has some problems with the science of transformation although the right side of my brain just goes along with the ride. I order to keep from having a corpus callosotomy at Arkham Sanitarium; I had to investigate a bit.

Wikipedia has an excellent werewolf article that I highly suggest as background. Popular films and shows have evolved from the depiction of depraved monsters to those with a human side onto a highly sympathetic view. Click on the link to see a list of 20 essential werewolf movies.
 The British TV series Being Human is a good example of the perils and travails of the modern werewolf.  Now in its third season, it’s a fine example of the modern view of werewolves. The U.S. attempt is frankly not worth viewing if you have already seen the U.K. version.

OK, lets get down to the left side of the brain stuff: Where the heck does the energy come from via lycanthropy, to reshape the skeleton and produce all that fur. Fur is protein and that much fur would take a lot of calories. The second problem is where does all the body mass come from? Many stories have werewolves that are bloody huge and mass three to four times a human. Also once the werewolf returns to human shape, where does all the mass go? The fur could just fall out, I suppose and the bones return to their original shape, but where do you put an extra 300 pounds plus?

The whole werewolf silver vulnerability gimmick is apocryphal and is pretty much laid out in the Wikipedia article Silver Bullet.  The gist of it is that the idea was brought up in the mid 1930s in film and novels, although there is some possible folkloric linkage.   The article also has a nice paragraph about the feasibility of silver bullets, for those of you with a ballistic bent.  The silver vulnerability thing is also brought up in the main Wikipedia article on Werewolves.  Silver bullets and silver cane heads just don't work outside of movies.
werewolfThe right side of my brain just tells me to mellow out, it’s just a story and I don’t have to act like such a fanboy about it all. The left side side tells me it makes no rational sense.  Such is life.

The most surprising thing I found out with my delving into werewolves was that the silver bullet thing was a very recent invention. I guess this means I can unload my blunderbuss and cash in on all those silver dimes I had loaded up in there.  Then again maybe not, see the UPDATE 22 Jun 2014:  see below

Additional links of interest
An link leading to a pdf of a doctorial thesis,  The Girl and the Big Bad Wolf:  The Connection Between Werewolves, Killers, Child Death, and Little Red Riding Hood in History and Story by Amanda Power, April 2006, 44 pgs.  Download here:

An article on werewolves in LiveScience: has a listing of 23 folklore stories about werewolves:

German Werewolf has a listing of Victorian novels that feature werewolves:

The NAZI Werwolf organization of WWII:
Also note there was a precursor, which was a post-WWI paramilitary Freicorps Werewolf organization in the early 1920s.

The above pictured werewolf padlock is on Restraintsblog: Story Padlock The Werewolf

Also a great Victorian blog:  Writers in London in the 1890s, Bram and Emily:  Vampires to Werewolves.

An update on Vampire Hunting Kits -- although not about werewolves, they are associated with vampires, at least in Hollywood and in 21th century novels: 
Vampire Hunting Kits Debunked, June 17, 2014

A free download of The Were-Wolf by Clemence Housman  

UPDATE 22 Jun 2014:  in the comments section of Vampire Hunting Kits Debunked, 17 Jun 2014, Graham1973 gave an excellent link to a discussion about silver in reference to silver and lycanthrophy in folklore.  Clearly there are indeed pre 1930 references with werewolves and silver.  The upshot of the article is that silver as an evil magic dissipator as used in these folklore stories that date back some 300 years.  The main theme is that the silver item is a common thing like a silver button or coin most often and it is fired at or above the evil being.

Oddly, there is not a great lot of literature cited about using non-projectile silver weapons such as maces, daggers or swords against such creatures.  The additional interesting link is that generally the silver object in question is a personal object and a sort of ad hoc lightening rod against evil.  The other thing is that the silver projectile is not grounded, in the sense of being connecting a kind of grounding circuit, which would be the case with a wielded silver mace or other silver appliance.

The other reference is about an assassination attempt against a non lycanthrope in the hope that the would given by a silver bullet would not heal.   In this case it would convey a sort of curse of non-healing. 

 I’d like to thank Graham1973 for this excellent listing about the general of silver in dissipating evil.  I was unaware of the link and feel it is important enough to put into this blog in the body of the post so it won’t be overlooked.  The original comment was in Vampire Hunting Kits Debunked.

 UPDATE June 2016
Here’s an interesting excerpt from the book, A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft, by Rev John Hale, orig pub 1697, 1702 edition, Chapter XII, Pps 84-85. 

 “Tells of a Woman confessing her self to a witch, who pretended she had been turned into a Wolf & filled a Sheep & Cow in that shape, and the Cow & Sheep were killed at that time.  And of a man Wolf that was suspected in that shape, to devour Cattle, and his face had several scratches and hurts, which they said were given him by the Dogs that took him for a Wolf …that twice a year he was changed from a man to a Wolf. “  But Hale disputes this saying, “But his change could not be real, but an abuse of a Phantasie, either from a distracting Melancholy called Lycanthropia, whereby he imaged he was transformed into a Wolf.”

That’s pretty interesting that as a local minister, who attended the Salem witch trials in 1692, would find that the wolf man story to be a fantasy or mental illness or at best a deception.  It falls in line with contemporaries Cotton and Increase Mather on not trusting spectral evidence.  It might have to do with the fact that both of them taught at Harvard where Hale received his degree.  Anyway I am diverting away from the lycantrophy reference here, so I’ll cut this off.
Download a copy of Rev Hale’s, A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft, 1702 edition.  Keep in mind this is a scan of the original 1702 printing, which uses the archaic serif S character (which in that typeface the "s" looks like a lower case f) and can lead you to some interesting misreadings if you are not careful.  A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft (Boston: Printed by B. Green and J. Allen, 1702)

Monday, March 21, 2011

We Are Steampunk

Despite the fact that Steampunk is nearly mainstream in SF circles and has even begun to creep into the mundane world, there is still a lot of confusion about the genre.  I hope to throw a little petrol onto the fire by over-answering the question.

Steampunk takes place in the Victorian Era, but with alternate history and alternate technology.  Imagine a world where Jules Verne actually invented his ideas, much like Edison or where the rules of thermodynamics were a lot more forgiving than they are here.  Image a galaxy where aether allowed you to span the gulfs of space in an Edgar Rice Burroughs flyer or that time travel was really possible or any of a million possibilities but set in the Victorian Era.
Private Pooh
Camel Gatling Gun with Airship
There is a lot of discussion about what is Steampunk and you won’t get exactly the same description from any two dedicated fans.  I found that the Wikipedia article on Steampunk that gives a good background about Steampunk’s evolution as a genre and its growth from a nameless movement as well as a nice early bibliography of Steampunk readings.

A little more exhaustive is the definition(s) from some excellent sites: The Steampunk Forum at Brass Goggles and are pretty well along with the many subtle variations of steampunkatude.

“Steampunk is a genre of fiction set somewhere in the 1800’s during the Victorian Era. The fictional part comes in that technology has gone a bit skewed - though the exact methods vary, generally steam-powered devices that would have been impossible or unfeasible at the time are found to exist. Examples include steam-robots, flying castles, under-water bases, moon rockets, time machines etc.”
On Campaign
Now that you are starting to get a grip on the genre, here comes the bucket of petrol on the bonfire with more definitions and subgenres from the same source:
Victorian Science Fiction - Steampunk by any other name, though possibly leaning more towards fiction actually written in Victorian era, as opposed to fiction retroactively set in Victorian times.
Gaslamp Fantasy - The Girl Genius equivalent of Steampunk, with more leeway for very tight bodices, slapstick comedy and non-humans.
Steampulp - Perhaps if I had the opportunity to rename Steampunk, it would be to Steampulp - the -punk suffix causes a lot of confusion amongst those who imagine it means strife and rebellion.
Fireside Science Fiction - A warm and cozy alternative name where decent Victorian gentlefolk may begin their adventure around a fireplace with a small brandy, but could end up on the moon or beyond!
Neo-Victoriania - A Japanese originated alternative where the aim is to recreate certain Victorian aspects of life using modern tools and ways. Elegant Gothic Lolita is a variety of Neo-Victoriania, and were this some kind of many limbed diagram, we’d be at our closest point to Gothic in Neo-Victoriania.
Wild/Weird West - Specifically focused on the American West in the 19th Century, and you’ll find cowboys and scientists alongside saloon girls and giant mechanical spiders.  Think Wild, Wild West TV series.
Voyages Extraordinaire - The title of the series of works of Jules Verne, when he decided to explore the wonders and potential of science and exploration in his tales of adventure. Now almost synonymous with Victorian adventures with a larger than life twist.
Scientific Romance - An early, mostly British, name for science fiction, that fell out of fashion, but was also used to describe Verne’s works. Now being used more for nostalgic Victorian based science fiction

Take into account that the actual Victorian era ran from 1837 to 1901, but most people seem to be more comfortable with the 1860s to the 1890s. I prefer to be more challenging and run games from the 1840s to the early 1870s. It requires more from both the GM and the players and gets them off the popular, generic Victorian paradigm. I also like games that are lighter on Steampunk gimmicks and longer on character resourcefulness and thought.

Although a number of games touched on the genre, the earliest Steampunk RPGs was Space 1889, which was published in 1988. Since then, a number of RPGs have covered the subject, generally to a greater or lesser degree.

The above video may give you a bit of a better idea about the philosophy and aesthetic of steampunk:  A classic animated Steampunk video from YouTube.
UPDATE:  This steampunk video was brought to my attention by a friend.  It pretty clearly explains (in barbershop quartet/rap) about the aesthetics of steampunk.  That’s not to say that there is complete consensus as to what constitutes steampunk and being an arbitrary collection of individuals, there is a lot of  discussion among the ranks.

UPDATE THE SECOND:  Sepiachord has published a "Steampunk Scholar's Must-Have Primary Texts" on their blog 9/27/2012 with a pretty good list of basic steampunk texts.  I highly recommend their music and their blog to persons interested in steampunk.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick’s Day – Indiana Jones Style

Today is St. Patrick’s Day and I wanted to put a Celtic item on the blog, but instead I put on a Coptic cross.  The shamrock is a classic triple Christian reference and this also leads me into the triple cross.  Although not authentic to Dark Ages Ireland, this Coptic cross is still a pretty good piece and the Copts are very early Christians.  It’s a huge processional cross, over 25 inches tall and designed to set up on a six-foot plus staff.  This is the biggest Coptic processional cross I have seen outside of a museum.  It is presently sitting on a base rather than on a staff, but it’s still pretty impressive.   It would make a great prop for an Indiana Jones character and the Etypian/Ethopian association would be good for Call of Cthulhu as well.
Coptic Cross Coptic Cross detail
The triple cross iconography recalls the Trinity, but the most interesting feature is the Holy Grail depiction, which is figured as a cauldron.  When carried in procession, a white sort of scarf is looped through the grail and draped down dramatically.   If you recall, Celtic mythology has a lot of references to magic cauldrons, so it is here that I think this might work as a prop for an ancient Celtic staff.  The cross springs up from the Holy Grail and the triple symbolism goes on and on.  This particular piece probably dates to the 1920s and not much earlier.  It is cast in white bronze, although a few early processional crosses appear in silver.  I’ve always liked the pierce work in Celtic and Coptic items. 

The Copts insist that they are the inheritors of the Holy Grail and that is hidden in one of their temples.  Remember that ancient Alexandria was the seat of magic and learning for hundreds of years, all of that could be worked into a campaign.  This is a rich area for research.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

CoastCon 34 After Action Report

I had a wonderful time at CoastCon 34, mostly because it’s a time to catch up with old fannish friends, some of whom I have known for over 30 years and generally from the early CoastCon days. I also really enjoy meeting new fans as well and seeing members bringing their kids to CoastCon. These kids have a great time costuming and are excited just to be there. We had a good cross-section of gaming of all types as well as LARPers and the like.

Our local channel, WLOX did a super job with the interview.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

CoastCon 34 is this weekend

CoastCon, the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s premier SF & F convention is holding its annual convention this weekend, 11 – 13th March, 2011 at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum, Biloxi MS. You have only a few days (or hours depending on when you read this) to come enjoy that “space cadet glow” that only is achieved when hundreds of die-hard fans get together in one spot.

This year’s theme is “zombies”, a theme that I generally only partake Sunday evening, when I am coned out at the end of a weekend. CoastCon even survived Hurricane Katrina, holding the convention off-venue in a small hotel. Fans came anyway because they needed a break from reality. We could have held that CoastCon with a zombie theme, but frankly we had just lived for months on the set a of a zombie holocaust movie and didn’t need to pretend. We didn’t call for brains, we wanted ice!

CoastCon is fan-run and each person who works at or for the convention does super duty in support of fandom. I'm going to report this fangirl video again, just because.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Vintage Spirits and Cold Biers – Niels Erickson & Margali

Niels Erickson Hard Boiled P.I.Margali Morwentari was a character created in the very late 1970s by Niels Erickson, a local fan who was an early attendee and sat on the Board of Directors of CoastCon, the MS coast SF & F convention. Niels Erickson was also heavily involved in gaming and worked for Gamescience Corp. off an on for years as an illustrator and editor in the 80s and 90s. He also operated a game shop until a hurricane closed him down.

Margali hosted a Jackson, MS based late night host horror show called Thriller Theater from 1990 to 1993 and eventually it covered five southern states at its peak. Thriller Theater was clever low-budget entertainment on a shoestring holding together B movies foreshadowing the good-humored repartee of such shows like MST3K. Drawing on childhood memories of a famous New Orleans show, Morgus, Niels Erickson and his confederate, Tim Hess, who had the character, Hans the hand servant, who was …. well … a detached hand. O.K. so now you see were this is going, created a retro late night horror host show. Niels was also the voice of the ever-unseen werewolf announcer, Weldel.

Along with being a late night TV show host, Niels Erickson also co-authored a fantasy RPG called Wizard’s Realm, published in 1981, but now out of print. Lately, Niels Erickson has authored three film-related books and has two others that he is presently working. The premise of these works is to link famous films with their often forgotten original stories that were their inspiration. The stories are gathered and edited from original sources, which are now out of copyright. The books make fascinating reading and background for any movie buff.

Vintage Spirits and Cold Biers
Nightmares That Left a Film
London After Midnight
The Undying Monster
    upcoming works
The Prints of Darkness
Celluloid Spooks and Reel Monsters

Niels and will be attending this year’s CoastCon at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum, March 11 – 13 2011. Margali will be hosting the annual costume contest. Hopefully you’ll be at CoastCon this week also!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Airships, Ho!

Paratime Steampunk Victorian history is a lot of fun. From my very private collection is a page from Harper's Weekly about the First Victorian Gulf War.

The U.S. Airship Thunderbolt flies above besieged Baghdad Mahdist forces while allied camel corps stand by their Gatlings. Unseen in the river are underwater Carmagnolle units to screen the allied fleet from attack. Coalition forces deployed against Mahdist rebels include Great Britain, United States of America, Ottoman Empire, Prussia, French Empire and various Arabic units.

Camel Gatling Gun with Airship

Coalition forces were called in to attack Mahdist forces who were working on various infernal devices to spring on their enemies. Intelligence suggests they received equipment and support from Dr. Fu Manchu, whose insidious labs have produced chemical agents, infernal devices and other sundry bedevilments.

During the siege of Baghdad, the false Mahdi escaped and fled to Afghanistan via airship and hid in deep mountain caves, touching off the Fourth Afghan War. Airship bombardment sealed the entrances but the Mahdi continued to elude capture.