When I was a kid, my Dad loved the Abbott and Costello movies, my first introduction to werewolves was in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Lon Chaney Jr played the Wolfman. That was funny, definitely not scary. But as I got older, I found versions of werewolves that were much more creepy. First, there was the teen movie Silver Bullet starring the late Corey Haim as a boy in a wheelchair hunting for a werewolf. Then as an older teen, I watched An American Werewolf in London. By the time I was in my twenties the werewolf was being played by Jack Nicholson as a unhappy middle aged editor in Wolf. Now we have werewolves in Harry Potter and Twilight. But before all these films, there were werewolves. Werewolves have been part of European folklore for hundreds of years. In fact, it was the folklore of France that inspired Alexandre Dumas to write The Wolf Leader.
Dumas apparently wrote The Wolf Leader (Le Meneur de loups, 1857) during a reflective mood when he was thinking about his childhood in Villers-Cotterets. His father's old friend took him out hunting one night and told him the story of Thibault and his pact with the devil.
Thibault is a poor shoemaker living in a hut in the forest. He is a jealous and angry man. When he sees a local baron (a real jerk) out hunting a buck, he feels hatred for the man, interrupts the hunt and goes after the buck himself. For this, he is whipped nearly to death but is saved by a village girl, Agnelette. He falls instantly in love with her.
Then Thibault makes a few requests, with terrible consequences for other people, and not always working out quite like he imagined. Plus, his hair is becoming noticeable to others as it turns an unnatural red. He finds himself shunned by everyone, even sweet Agnelette, except for the local wolves of the forest who now gather around him every night. The more he wants, the more he loses, but the wolf isn't done with him yet.
I loved The Wolf Leader. It's part folklore, part fantasy. Dumas is such a storyteller. He's taken a simple story and embellished it with such detail. I didn't want to put it down. I don't know how this isn't a more popular book. Thibault is both sympathetic and repulsive. I couldn't wait to see what awful thing was about to befall him. The guy is just one of those losers.
Unlike some of Dumas's other novels, The Wolf Leader isn't the hefty tome that say The Count of Monte Cristo is. I actually read this one in a couple of days. It still has the elements you'll find in a Dumas novel: revenge, romance, action, and humour.
I read this for The Classics Circuit tour for Alexandre Dumas. This was free e-book edition I found online. It wasn't always easy to read, as the mistakes were numerous. But as my Dad says, "What do you want for nothing?"