Anne Rice’s The Wolf Gift (2012) follows Reuben Golding, a young reporter with the San Francisco Observer, whose assignment is to write an article in order to sell a magnificent mansion set deep in the redwoods of Northern California, high above the cliffs and waters of the impeccable Pacific Ocean. He is invited to spend the night by the owner of the grand home, an older and elegant woman by the name of Marchent Nideck. He inevitably spends the evening and night in the company of the grandiose home filled with a mysterious family history, all painted against the wicked, cold beauty of the western coast. It is during this night that a tragedy occurs, and his transformation into a werewolf begins to take place, forever shifting the course of his life and destiny as a young man in modern times. With his wolf-like state of being, Reuben takes it upon himself to rid the world of “evil”: murderers, rapists, etc.
Werewolves have always, in general, been feared. The image of the werewolf was representative of the other, the “monster” as Gothic theory would state. Especially when it comes to the physical aspect, the body of the monster reflected innate desires such as sexual freedom, social freedom, and violence. They represented a sort of seductive liberation, and their new freedoms ultimately led to the destruction of themselves and to those around them. Older movies and books featuring the grotesque descriptions and scenes of vampires, werewolves, witches and any sort of supernatural creature reinforced this idea of what not to become, showing what happens when one succumbs to these desires.
Anne Rice, especially in The Wolf Gift, completely eradicates the notion of these desires as evil through her examination of the body of the werewolf. She gives Reuben Golding, both man and wolf, the best of both worlds. Reuben is fully conscious of his transformation and actions, able to make decisions and intelligently act upon them. He is not some simple savage beast incapable of controlling himself. He is an intelligent and purposeful creature as a werewolf that embraces his newfound transformation and his desires, all the while being conscious as a man.
If you remember, Anne Rice single-handedly rewrote the vampire genre through her publication of Interview with the Vampire (1976). She gave a new purpose to the vampire, who is also a monster exemplifying “evil” desires through the vampiric body. She challenged the notion of the vampire and his desires as evil, and created an intelligent vampire, a beloved vampire. So it comes as no surprise that, nearly half a decade later, the author delved into the essence of the werewolf. The book is entirely Gothic in nature, done in a fantastical way that redefines the evil nature of the mystical “werewolf.” The concept of the werewolf and its animalistic implications are nothing new in the literary world, but Anne Rice, as she did with the figure of the vampire, completely revolutionized the definition of it.
But why, you may ask, has the romanticizing of monsters become so drastically popular in more modern times? It is because we now live in a culture more open-minded, a culture detaching itself away from the grip of religion that analyzes life as being either black or white, evil or good. Simply put, modern culture has drifted away from the notion of absolute good and evil and has decided to embrace the desires that used to be categorized as evil on more neutral ground The embracing of the monster, along with its its desires that once used to represent sin, is now quite common. Topics such as sexual freedom, feminist movements, homosexual issues–all of these used to be categorized as evil and reserved exclusively as characteristics of the old monster. Nowadays, because these topics are no longer seen as wrong or evil, the image of the monster has become more human and more relatable.
These monsters, due to their transformative state, were able to move freely across boundaries normal humans were unable to. It is with this ability that Reuben, our main character, exemplifies an important shift of thought in today’s society. Both human and animal nature is a theme common throughout our protagonist’s epic journey in search of his purpose with his newfound abilities. Reuben purposefully begins to rid the world of the so-called “evil” we see today. Instead of wallowing in sorrow and being labeled as evil, he continues his daily life and flourishes under his new desires, his new abilities. His transformation enhances him rather than isolates him (as the older literature of monsters often tended to emphasize). And instead of his transformation branding him as a killer, he is viewed as a savior by the media within the book, which fondly nicknames him as the “Man Wolf” who brings justice. Not to mention that Reuben is a complete gentleman, a likable young man who saves victims from their oppressors rather than some aged monster that often appears in older works. All of this is indicative of the “new,” in the shifting of the main character being treated and recognized as a savior rather than a monster both within the book and by readers.
The “old” paradigm of monstrosity still exists within the book, in order to form a contrast to the new. The “old” is very much represented by Reuben’s brother Jim, a Catholic priest. As Reuben confesses his sins, Jim responds (as typical of the old paradigm) in the following way: “You killed them, Reuben. You killed them in their sins! You terminated their destiny on this earth. You snatched from them any chance for repentance, for redemption. You took that from them.”
The importance of this quote is immense in the context to the book. Father Golding, Jim’s brother, argues from a traditional perspective that everyone can be redeemed, no matter the sin. It is precisely because Reuben represents the new image of the monster that a comparison to the conservative old needs to be addressed. By arguing from a very Catholic viewpoint, Jim creates a tension, a struggle that is indicative of and mimics modern life. Once again, we return to the fictional monster representing a freedom associated with modern times in terms of sexuality, feminism and social justice.
The Wolf Gift is an indelible work that reforms the image of the traditionally “evil” monster through detailed Gothic prose.
The work allows for a reorientation of the old monster, which has occurred due to society becoming more open-minded. Readers will ultimately be challenged by Anne Rice’s conception of monstrosity in The Wolf Gift, a fantastic and literary masterpiece that asks readers to embrace open-mindedness and to reflect on the status quo through the unforgettable body of the monster.