Where do sexy, alpha male werewolf narratives come from?
February 10, 2014 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Is there an origin book/story/movie for the sexy werewolf alpha male narrative/cliché? Or when did that become the overwhelming narrative about werewolves? (Or wereanything really.)

I seriously can't believe I'm asking this and that it came about from watching Bitten, which is a truly terrible tv show (and I say that as someone who loves terrible tv). But I was wondering where the trope of werewolves as totally sexy, man-beasts, who put the A in alpha, mate for life, and all the rest of it came from. And when did that come to the fore in the popular perception of werewolves? It seems recentish to me, by which I mean its a late 20th century spin on the narrative, but maybe I'm missing something.

(BTW, I'm not looking for recommendations of sexy werewolf books to read as I don't actually find them sexy and don't like alpha males in fiction; I don't want to read these books, just to find the source of the modern trope, if there is one.)
posted by lesbiassparrow to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How recent ? Jack's character in Wolf may count.

More recently, the Underworld series of movies have explored that as well.
posted by k5.user at 12:24 PM on February 10, 2014

I suspect its what we know about wolves (or believe we know) alpha is in charge of the pack, etc, and as soon as paranormal romance blossomed, the writers just transferred those wolf qualities + MANLY! Alpha is SEXY! into stock romance leads.
posted by Jacen at 12:29 PM on February 10, 2014

Just to be a bit more specific: I'm not looking for examples (though those are fun), more whether there is a particularly influential origin story/movie that kick-started the trend.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:31 PM on February 10, 2014

Honestly, I think it was Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series (which debuted in 1993) that gave birth to the current generation of 'sexy' Alpha wolf heros in urban fantasy and paranormal romance (of which Bitten is certainly an example). Specifically the third book in the series, published in 1995, which introduced the werewolf Richard.
posted by artemisia at 12:52 PM on February 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Silver_Wolf is probably the earliest were novel I've read with this sexy alpha male thing. Whether it kick started the trend or not, I can't say.
posted by TrinsicWS at 1:08 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Kelley Armstrong--the author of Bitten (2001)--did a lot to bring this trope into the romance novel/alpha male scenario. You find this a lot in modern vampire novels, too, where the vamp is a super Alpha sexy man beast. Definitely Laurell K Hamilton, and Charlaine Harris. As mentioned above, the movie Wolf (and Teen Wolf!) show the bitten guy starting out kind of meek and mild, but getting all extra manly or athletic post-bite.

The Company of Wolves, the Neil Jordan movie based on an Angela Carter short story, is the first blatant werewolves = sexual nature thing I can recall seeing (I remember it being quite good, but I saw it a long time ago... the suck fairy may have visited in the meantime). Cat People, both the 1940s original and the 80s remake, link animal shapeshifting to The Sex.

I think it just grew naturally alongside the shift in how vampires are portrayed in media--from gross undead monsters to sexy sexy immortal hotties. Pretty much any supernatural being is getting the sexy makeover these days.
posted by lovecrafty at 1:14 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Werewolves as sexual avatars goes back to the gothic horror era at the turn of the 20th century, but usually those werewolves were used to represent the dark side of human sexuality - lusty, greedy, and depraved. The Werewolf of Paris came at the end of that era and was #1 on the NYT bestseller list during the great depression.

Looking at the list of werewolf fiction, wolves as romance genre alpha-males seems to spring up concurrent with other paranormal romance/urban fantasy tropes in the early 1990s.
posted by muddgirl at 1:15 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

It might be easier to view the alpha-male werewolves as a watering down of the gothic werewolves' depravity and violence. Just like emo vampires are a watering down of soulless vampires.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:34 PM on February 10, 2014

Fwiw, the story of Red Riding Hood in some early incarnations has pretty strong sexual undertones and the wolf seems pretty clearly a were creature in essence if not precisely spelled out, so the wolf man as a (potential) sexual force has been around for awhile.
posted by edgeways at 10:39 PM on February 10, 2014

I've read hundreds of paranormal romance/erotica books, many of them about werewolves. The earliest alpha werewolf I encountered was indeed Alice Borchardt's werewolf romance series, dating back to 1993. Susan Krinard was also an early writer in the genre. I believe that her sister also wrote at least one alpha werewolf novel.

Most of the writing in the genre and the "rules" that codify the behavior of shapeshifters and their packs is loosely based on wolf behavior and werewolf legends. The earliest werewolf legends involved things like corpse eating and random acts of violence, but sympathetic portrayals in film probably inspired romance writers to write about tortured alpha werewolves instead of tortured alpha dukes. There was at least one medieval story with a sympathetic werewolf--a lay recorded in French that inspired the tale of Sir Marrok from King Arthur. Marrok was cursed with lycanthropy by his wife and forced to remain in wolf form for many years because she hid his clothes, which he required for transformation to his human form.

However, not all writers stick to the alpha trend. Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was not an alpha, though he was tortured. The werewolf in both the U.S. and British versions of Being Human is sort of lovably dorky, though he does take on certain alpha-like behaviors during the full moon.

Christine Feehan's Carpathian series, which covers both vampire-like and werewolf-like creatures, is what I would consider one of the most extreme expressions of the alpha paranormal male in the genre. Though she started the series in the late 90s, many of the relationships in these novels read like 80s romance throwbacks in the sense that many of her heroines seem to lack their own agency or sense of self once they've been identified as the "one true mate." Many paranormal romance writers credit Feehan as an inspiration for their own series.

My theory is that the popularity of alpha human males declined because they read as distasteful, but literal beasts are more sympathetic and easier to digest for modern readers.
posted by xyzzy at 11:13 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't say that the modern romance hero werewolf is a "weakening" of the mythic werewolf, but rather a reversal of the idea that humanity is a civilized veneer covering animal savagery. Rather it conceives of animals as part of a civilization or an ecosystem, distinct from humans perhaps but not less than them.
posted by muddgirl at 7:25 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

More generally, War for the Oaks by Emma Bull is a highly influential early urban fantasy novel. The love interest is a sexy, alpha-ish phouka. Strip out the high fantasy stuff and it's pretty much the model of most 'hot werewolf and adventure' stories.
posted by danteGideon at 7:34 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Blood and Chocolate was the first book I ran across with this trope, but I am sure it goes earlier.
posted by Windigo at 11:31 AM on February 11, 2014

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