Ethics and the Misanthropic Supernatural of Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf

For those tired of the hoopla around the Twilight franchise — perhaps tired because it is another in the series of franchises designed to produce an excitable audience who CAN’T MISS IT and so traffic in your excitement and not a media text — worthy antidotes are Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf (2011) and Talulla Rising (2012). Here is what Steven Poole said in the Guardian making a similar point:

The Last Werewolf is like an updated version of Dracula, only for werewolves, and as rewritten by Bret Easton Ellis. As though in reproof of the plague of twee paranormal romances aimed at “young adults”, Duncan effectively says: here we go, this is a story about monsters, so let’s see how much sex and violence you can take.

I think it is more like Twilight written by Ballard in Crash mode. In Crash, all the assemblages of a middle class lifestyle become libidinal surfaces that can be penetrated. Seduction as a function of the accident, rather than any romatic ideal. The libidinal topology of the werewolf’s world in The Last Werewolf is similar except as well as sex, transformed werewolves eat that which they love. The signature refrain of the werewolf is fuckkilleat, it organises their world. Humans are sex objects and food. Vampires make a cursory appearance in the first book. Unlike werewolves, vampire (males) cannot have sex. It is not made clear in either book if female vampires have sex. Vampires see themselves as superior however as they retain the capacity for communication while the wulf does not.

The main character of the first book, Jake Marlowe, is the last werewolf. Werewolves have been hunted to near extinction by World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena (WOCOP) and blocked from reproducing because of a virus that kills anyone bitten. Jake is 200 years old and basically over it. IT being everything. He is in the thralls of a terminal mis(lyc)anthropy. Like all proper (supernatural) misanthropes he doesn’t hate himself or humans, he is just exhausted, tired, over it. He doesn’t want to fight anymore. He is ready to lie down and accept that at the next full moon he will turn into the beast and have his head chopped off. (Agents of WOCOP do not want to kill him as a human, out of some sense of honour, they want to kill the nine-foot wolf.) Justin Cronin in the New York Times:

Marlowe’s quandary boils down to a bad case of existential exhaustion. The tale begins in well-fed languor. “Two nights ago I’d eaten a 43-year-old hedge fund specialist,” Marlowe offers with trademark insouciance. “I’ve been in a phase of taking the ones no one wants.”

The relation between the wer and the wulf is explored by Duncan throughout both books. There are many situations in both books where characters critically analyse each others’ motives in terms of the their actions being the product of two or more types of actor. Here I mean actor in the general sense, a form of agency or character that acts. Action is mostly the resolution of tension between these different actor tropes (good-girl::dirty-girl, ahistorical::grounded-in-the-present, heteronormative-werewolf::homosexual-werewolf, etc.). For example, the wulf is going to win out at least once per month, the werewolf has no choice, such is the curse. The werewolf doesn’t even have a choice of to fuckkilleat or not. Jake lasted four months of not killing before ripping his own skin off (that is not a metaphor). When the transformation happens it is a relief for the werewolf. All the literal skin crawling and joint-aching tension of the moon’s cycle the wulf escapes; it is a resolution.

The actions of the human (and, to a certain extent, vampire) characters are contrasted with the wulf-compulsion. The dramatic tension of the inevitable werewolf transformation contrasted with the relative freedom of action of the human (and vampire) characters presents two orders of ethical action. The wulf is often presented as an alien force encroaching on the wer; it is a supernatural socio-biological imperative. ‘Compulsions’ for the humans, however, are primarily premised on belief (religious, morality), ideology and the imaginary of social relations (family, friendship, companionship). How the werewolf functions to incorporate the inevitable is an ethical question. There is a certain distribution of contingency used as a scaffold for the passage of action. This is not about making ‘choices’, as the werewolf does not have a choice, but whether or not the wer is worthy of the burden of the wulf-event. Drew Toal for NPR writes (about the sequel Talulla Rising):

The compulsions of the curse don’t allow for moral dietary restrictions, so innocent joggers and retirees are also at risk. It’s difficult to judge Talulla too harshly. She does her best to limit the damage, if only out of a sense of self-preservation.

Toal kind of misses the point here a bit. It are not the actions of the werewolf we judge, but the actions of those who have a greater degree of freedom in choosing the burdens for which they are either worthy or not. The true monsters (and heroes), like in all good horror fiction and particularly the sequel, are the humans. The sequel presents a comparison to a greater number of werewolves and the ways they differently accept and work to incorporate the burden of the wulf while wer. I think this point is made most clearly in the first book however, when Jake shifts from having no reason to go on with the burden of the wulf. Jake has been alive so long that there is no dialectical movement for Jake’s synthesis of action, no contingency that has not already been accounted for. He is presented with a reason to live when there is a redistribution of contingencies.

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