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The Wolfen: by Whitley Strieber (1978)

Manny Ortiz


One of my favorite undertakings at The Fright Chapel is to read older horror novels, especially classic works and books published decades ago. These are golden gems that people may have forgotten over the years. To us at The Fright Chapel, it’s an opportunity to highlight these books for a new generation.

On one of my recent trips to our local Public Library, I browsed the horror section and came across a title that seemed familiar to me, The Wolfen, written by Whitely Strieber and published in 1978. It reminded me of the film I had seen when I was eleven years old. The film, also titled The Wolfen, was directed by Michael Wadleigh, starred Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Edward James Olmos, and the late Gregory Hines. It was released in 1981. I didn’t know it was originally a novel. I checked it out from the library and found I wished I’d read the book first.

Strieber begins his story in a Brooklyn junkyard where two police officers are patrolling the area. He quickly presents the main conflict of the story in the first several pages. A group of unidentified fierce animals have mutilated and killed both officers. This sets off an investigation that introduces our main characters, Detectives George Wilson and Becky Neff. Strieber does a great job on character development. We get to know the protagonists well. It begins as a strained partnership that develops into a closer friendship but it uncomfortably becomes intimate. However, they are both great detectives and an unbeatable team.

Wilson and Neff are facing their biggest challenge. It’s the first time they have been pushed into the unknown to find clues about a group of killers they have never confronted, who have kept themselves in the shadows of mankind for centuries. In these circumstances, Wilson and Neff have succumbed to fear and a desperation to find the truth about their adversary before it is too late. The detectives are constantly on the move, on edge for what may jump out of the shadows to devour them. As our suspecting protagonists gain insight and knowledge about the killers they are facing, the wolfen get closer to killing the detectives.

As the story progresses, a question arose for me as the reader. Are the wolfen truly the foe? It becomes unclear. Although the wolfen are fierce creatures and gruesome in the mutilation of their prey, they love their family and value honor. They are acting in accordance with their traditions and nature. You could argue that the story’s theme is Man versus Nature. But that would be too simplistic. The theme I found Strieber writing about is the protection of tradition, family, and those you love in order to survive. Along with the wolfen, Wilson and Neff act on this theme. The story is not partial to the “heroes”. Strieber writes from the perspective of the wolfen as well. You become familiar with the hunters in the shadows, seeing things through their eyes. The author shows us the strength and weaknesses of both sides.

This hardly seems like a pure horror novel. The story is a mix of both horror and crime mystery. Strieber does a great job bringing these two genres together. He gives a perspective of the werewolf we haven’t experienced. It’s a book worth reading. So head to your local public library and check out the book.

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