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Jane Minogue

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A Full Moon, Werewolves, and Betrayed Love

Posted: 09/03/09 12:45 PM ET

The signs of late summer sliding into autumn proliferate: So Cal valley afternoon temperatures hover in the 100s; firestorms rage around us; and www.aqmd.gov states my air quality today as "unhealthy for sensitive persons." Through the smoky haze, I see people building pumpkin patch stands along the freeway that will sell Christmas trees in December. And our local Costco, besides displaying large tubs of seasonal yellow chrysanthemums, has started offering artificial trees with white lights as well as Christmas wrap and ribbons. The year can't go by that fast. I can accept fall coming, but I'm definitely not in the mood for those holidays. With the full moon coming upon us on September 4, I'm more in the mood for, say, werewolves.

Werewolves are in the news these days. The movie The Twilight Saga: New Moon from author Stephenie Meyer and director Chris Weitz, is supposed to come out on November 20. MTV is going to have a TV version of the Michael J. Fox 1985 movie Teen Wolf. A new version of The Wolfman with Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins is to arrive on Feb. 12, 2010. On the unromantic side, ABC news has reported that werewolves could be stories about hypertrichosis, a genetic condition that causes humans to have an excessive amount of hair all over their bodies. But, since this is a medievalist's love and marriage blog that keeps you up to date on the twelfth century, here's a story of werewolves, love, and betrayal circa 1180 from Marie de France.

A baron in Brittany called Bisclavret is a good, noble knight. He and his wife love each other, but he has a strange habit of disappearing into the woods for three full days each week without explanation. After much pleading and a pledge of true, faithful love from his wife, the baron divulges that he is a werewolf. When asked if he is naked or wears his clothes when he becomes a werewolf, the baron replies that he removes his clothes and hides them in a hollowed-out rock. If he does not get his clothes at the end of the three days, he remains a werewolf. The wife quickly schemes to end this crazy marriage. She calls upon an old suitor, who still loves her although she did not care for him, to say she is available if he will steal her husband's clothes from the hollowed-out rock the next time Bisclavret goes a-werewolfing. The suitor does so. Bisclavret remains in his hirsute lupine state in the woods. The wife and suitor marry. A year later, the king hunts in Bisclavret's forest. The king's dogs find Bisclavret and are ready to tear him to pieces, but Bisclavret begs for mercy and becomes part of the king's household. Bisclavret is gentle and loved by all. However, one day when the suitor who married Bisclavret's wife comes to the court, Bisclavret attacks and tries to kill him. Bisclavret displays the same savage behavior when his ex-wife arrives at the court and manages to tear off her nose. (No Freud yet to comment on this.) The sages at court believe that the creature must be enacting some sort of revenge. The ex-wife confesses all to the king and gives him Bisclavret's clothes. The werewolf goes into the king's bedchamber, dons his old apparel, and becomes human again. The king returns Bisclavret's lands to him, and the nose-less ex-wife is punished further by giving birth to nose-less daughters as a symbol of her betrayal.

Is the moral here to stand by your man no matter what? Must one ignore the beast and see the inner man? Can one not escape medieval misogyny here, even with one of the rare female authors? The old suitor, the ex-wife's accomplice, has deformed daughters, but he and his sons remain intact. Perhaps the worst crime is to betray true love. Marie always lets you be the judge. So much for the medieval mind.

I'm ready for fall, and there's almost a full moon out tonight...

 

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