April 21, 2010

The Wolf Leader by Alexandre Dumas: Review

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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.

Still, he returns home full of anger, when a black wolf enters the hut on two legs and starts speaking. If Thibault saves him from the baron, he'll offer him any wish he desires. Thibault knows one wish is good but more is better. The wolf tells him that he can have as many wishes as he has hairs on his head. In fact, he offers him wishes in exchange for those hairs. Thibault, thinking of his thick hair, figures that this ain't such a bad deal.

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?"


  1. A teacher was just attacked and killed by wolves this spring out in one of the villages. Nasty nasty stuff. But the book? Sounds fun--I loved Queen Margot and it's probably my favorite of his

  2. This sounds really good, but oh how I hate fairytale wishes gone wrong - such a waste.

  3. I can only hope that Hesperus Press prints this one soon. They're excellent at printing little-known stories by well-known classics authors. I recently read Dumas' One Hundred and One Ghosts which they published (they do an excellent job too!). Considering how many novels Dumas wrote, it's amazing how few of his books we have! I agree, this one sounds great!

  4. I had no idea Dumas wrote a book like this! He's one of my favourite authors, something about his characters that make you wanting more of them. Thanks for the review and bringing the book to my attention, I may have to add it to my TBR list.

  5. This looks like fun!

  6. I agree - how is this not a more popular book? It sounds fantastic! A great alternative to the werewolves that are proliferating these days. Thanks for this great review - I definitely want to read this one!

  7. Ah! I love Dumas, but I have never heard of this one. I will definitely have to go out and find it now : o !

  8. Ever read Stephen King's Cycle of the Werewolf? I remember it as being great-- then again, I was a teenager at the time.

  9. I have to echo Aarti's comment entirely as I wanted to leave a comment with almost the exact same words :) Can you pretty please post the link where you found this online?

  10. I didn't even know Dumas wrote a book like this! I enjoyed his books around The Three Musketeers, though my heart will always belong to The Count of Monte Cristo :-) This one sounds like one I should read, too!


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