Running With the Wolves: A Selection of the Best Werewolf Fiction Available as Audiobooks
Inside, a log fire crackles softly, its warm, yellow, glow throwing strange shadows upon the wall. In here, is a sanctuary, safe from the elements, safe from the cold and hopefully, safe from other things too. But that, is inside…
Outside, the snow is driving hard. The wind howls mournfully through the trees and the wolves, from the spaces between them. Things that were never supposed to be, stalk the shadows and the imaginations of those inside.
By the fire, seated in an old rocking chair, an ancient looking woman, draped in a thick woolen shawl, leans forward.
A hush falls on the hut. Children, gathered expectantly round her ankles, bristle with excitement, tinged with fear, as even the adults stop their chatter and pull up their chairs, ready to hear the old woman’s story. A tale of moons and monsters, of men and of beasts. She takes a deep breath and closing her eyes, begins to speak…
It might just be me, but wouldn’t you love to listen?
There is something about the oral, folkloric, tradition from which tales of werewolves evolved, that makes these stories perfect for audiobooks.
Sure, werewolves have hunted on screen for almost a century and prowled the pages of novels for even longer, but there is something about the words, read aloud, that suits this particular subgenre perfectly. Tales of werewolves are meant for recitation, they are stories made to be heard.
But where to start?
With the werewolf’s bloody paw prints trailing across over a hundred years worth of novels and short stories, ranging from the truly unsettling to the virtually unreadable, from the horrifying to the horrifyingly constructed, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
Some of the more recent additions to the genre have tended to emphasise the romantic element or have infused what is, at its core, a tale about man’s own bestail nature, with so much sickly sacharine sweetness that the reader risks slipping into a diabetic coma.
Finding a werewolf narrative that makes you howl with pleasure rather than frustration can be a dangerous pursuit and no amount of silver bullets will put silver dollars wasted on a substandard audiobook back into your pocket.
Luckily, even the world of literary lycanthropes has its luminaries. Certain stories and novels that thrust their hairy heads above the rest and cry at the moon to be heard. So, without any further ado (or ‘adooooooooooo’ if we’re sharing cheesy werewolf jokes) let’s lock the doors, load the silver bullets and explore the best audiobooks that the world of werewolves has to offer.
1. The Werewolf of Paris – Guy Endore
Let’s start with the big guns. Lauded by many as the werewolf genre’s answer to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and held in equally lofty esteem), Guy Endore’s novel is indeed similar in both scope and ambition to Stoker’s masterpiece and seeks to do for the werewolf what the Irishman’s narrative did for vampires.
Part modern tale, part folklore and part historical fiction, The Werewolf of Paris is an essential jumping-off point for anyone looking to explore the genre.
Set during the events of the Franco Prussian war and the Paris Commune, it unfolds the story of Bertrand Caillet as revealed in ‘The Galliet report’ a defence of Bertrand written by his step-uncle Al Galliet at his court marshall.
To say that Bertrand is a bad boy or a ‘bit of a wrong ‘un’ would be quite the understatement, leaving as he does a trail of incest, murder and transformation behind him as he flees his village for the bright lights of Nineteenth-Century Paris. Micheal J. Fox in Teen Wolf he is not.
As real-life historical events unfold and explode around him, Bertrand succeeds in finding a masochistic ladyfriend who, unbelievably, is almost as mixed up as he is. Her approach to calming his monthly bloodlust being to voluntarily (yes you read that right, voluntarily) allow him to feed on her. The things some people will do for love, eh?
As you may have guessed, this plan to suppress Bertrand’s more animalistic tendencies does not entirely succeed and things go awry with disastrous but highly entertaining consequences.
The appendix to the main narrative gives a final beautifully gothic twist to the tale and underscores its status as a classic of the genre. For those interested The Werewolf of Paris was adapted into a movie in 1961 by the infamous Hammer Horror studio under the title The Curse of The Werewolf (though it has nothing whatsoever to do with the excellent ‘An American Werewolf in London’ or its risible sequel ‘An American Werewolf in Paris’).
The audiobook version of the novel I would recommend is available from audible in reading by Jean Brassard, whose lofty tones, nasal snarl and tendency to place heavy emphasis on the final syllables of words give the reading an air of theatrical melodrama perfectly suited to the material. For the bibliophiles out there, first editions of the novel come with a gorgeous clothbound cover and are both fairly rare finds and worth a pretty penny.
2. Cycle of the Werewolf – Stephen King
Where do you go after a legend, but to a King?
Considering the scope of his contribution to the horror genre and the breadth of horror characters he has employed or created over the years, it is somewhat inevitable that somewhere within King’s cannon one is bound to find a werewolf lurking.
Indeed, images of werewolves pop up in a number of King’s novels and stories, notably as the form employed by the demonic clown Pennywise when hunting Richie Tozier in King’ classic novel IT, (which is well worth a listen ‘its’ own right).
King’s exploration of the werewolf narrative found its most pleasing and fully realised form with his 1983 novella Cycle of The Werewolf. Later adapted into the film Silver Bullet starring a marvellously hammy Garry Busey.
Cycle of the Werewolf is notable for its structure, with each chapter being assigned to a month of the year in which the titular creature stalks its victims. Each chapter, initially intended to be vignettes but extended by the notoriously wordy King, could work as short stories in their own right.
The overall narrative follows Marty Coslaw a wheelchair-bound young boy and traces his reactions, fascination and fear of the monthly maulings in his quiet Maine town.
King’s prose is always superb and lends itself brilliantly to audio. The narratives structure, progressing over the year as seasons change allows the reader to almost feel the months being ripped from the calendar as tension builds and the inevitable confrontation between our protagonist and the hellish hound grows ever closer.
An audiobook is available from Signet and can be found online free from a number of sites for the less scrupulous amongst you.
Once again for those who like a physical tome to go along with their preferred listening, Cycle of The Werewolf is a real treat as most editions feature jaw-dropping illustrations by horror comics legend Berni Wrightson, that capture beautifully the visceral nature of the narrative.
3. Gabriel Ernest – Saki
“There is a wild beast in your woods…”
From this evocative opening line alone, you just know that this is going to be good.
Anyone familiar with the more adult-oriented work of famed children’s author Roald Dahl will know that he dealt in tales with deeply sinister undertones.
Like a drop of arsenic in a cup of sweet tea, the twists in Dhal’s short fiction often displayed a penchant for the more exotic flavours of cruelty and generally focussed on the darker side of the human character.
What you may not know is that the blueprint for much of the tone and structure of these works was laid out during the Edwardian period by one of Dahl’s greatest influences, the author H.H. Munro better known by his nom de plume ‘Saki’.
Saki’s work explores the same dark depths as Dahl’s and often involves a sinister twist, whilst also retaining all of the posturing sensibilities and understated subtlety of the Edwardian period. In short, Saki is what you would get if you put Oscar Wilde, Roald Dahl and the scripts from Black Mirror into a blender.
The resulting short stories are wickedly cynical, deliciously twisted and often tinged with the blackest of humour. Any dip into Saki’s oeuvre is worth your time, especially in such tales as Tobermory, Srendi Vashtar or The Open Window. In terms of the werewolf genre, Saki’s contribution is the fiendishly endearing tale of Gabriel-Ernest.
A story exploring the rebellious nature of adolescence as well as the inherent fear held by one generation for the other, the tale is more subtle in its delivery than say Endore’s rip-roaring yarn or King’s graphically flesh-ripping novella, it does however succeed in unsettling, especially with its twist in the tale, which, in typical Saki fashion, doesn’t so much as twist as curl, like the tail of a scorpion, viciously sharp and loaded with venom.
The story is available as an audiobook in a number of collections of Saki’s work, collections of short horror and in collections dealing specifically with ‘ Classic Werewolf Fiction’.
As it is in the public domain at this point, it is also available for free on Librivox and in a number of commendably read versions on Youtube.
4. The Last Werewolf – Glen Duncan
For a more recent take on the werewolf narrative, a great place to dive in would be with Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf.
An author of immense talent, Duncan has a penchant for the macabre and is another writer whose work seems always to have been formed somewhere in the shadows.
With I lucifer and Weathercock the British author applied his marvellously lucid and erudite prose to dark and at times, frankly disturbing, themes. (Weathercock in particular is not for the faint of heart).
It was therefore with some anticipation and not a little trepidation that I greeted his foray into the world of fur and fangs, anxious to see what his acerbic wit and tantalising turn of phrase would make of the werewolf.
The result, in many ways, picks up where I Lucifer left off, in that it is narrated by another well-written anti-hero of supernatural origins. Duncan pleasingly toys with werewolf tropes acknowledging them with postmodern irony, whilst all the while constructing a story that employs the central tenants of the legend as its frame.
The Last Werewolf’s cubs, in the forms of two sequels (Talulah Rising and By Blood We Live) are also well worth picking up, all three are available as audiobooks and stand as proof that modern treatments have in no way entirely polluted the power of the werewolf to terrify and entertain.
5. The Bloody Chamber (The Werewolf and Company of Wolves) – Angela Carter
From one writer often accused of producing ‘purple’ prose,
(a style which, with its overwrought grandiosity, I would argue is perfectly suited to the werewolf genre) to another who famously responded to the accusation by not only acknowledging that she did but responding with the question ‘So fucking what?’ Indeed.
When the prose produced is as sumptuously rich as that produced by Angela Carter, you have to think she was entirely justified.
If anything the adjectival density of Carter’s work only makes it more vivid, with its connotations of luxurious castles, moss clad woods and cosy, if eerily homely, cottages.
However, Carter’s feminist reworkings of fairytales in The Bloody Chamber are not notable only for the characteristic skill with which they are crafted, but also for the creativity of their reworkings.
The collection features two stories that could be viewed as werewolf tales in The Werewolf and The Company of Wolves. Both play with the liminality at the root of the werewolf myth and produce, with their atmospherics and subversion of familiar settings and stories, beautifully memorable pieces which are, in and of themselves, worth the price of the whole collection.
As it is, the Bloody Chamber also features a number of other marvellously constructed fairytales, which, from The Tiger’s Bride to The Erl King, prowl the same themes of predatory masculinity, feminine strength and notions of wildness that make the werewolf genre so engaging.
There are readings of these stories by enthusiastic fans available on Youtube, though I would recommend purchasing the entire collection as an audiobook in the version featuring Richard Armitage and Emilia Fox.
6. Classics on the cheap – Various
I mentioned above that there are collections of classic werewolf literature available in audiobook format.
Some of these, which feature classic wolf, werewolf and were-animal stories, mostly from the nineteenth century, are available cheaply from Audible.
They are also available if the listener is willing to search them out individually, for free on services like Librivox that provide volunteer readings of stories in the public domain.
In fairness, these readings can be hit and miss in terms of quality as, despite their enthusiasm and unquestionable commitment, some people simply do not possess the requisite acting skills or tone of voice necessary to make reading engaging.
I would, therefore, advise any listeners to search out the free versions and try them, but be aware that sometimes with audiobooks, you get what you pay for.
In terms of titles to search out: Kipling’s The Mark of the Beast in which a man is punished for disrespecting a shrine by being afflicted with the werewolf’s curse is a notable classic well worth a listen, as is Clemence Housman’s The Werewolf, which features a female werewolf and was praised for its authentically folkloric atmosphere by none other than H.P. Lovecraft, high praise indeed.
So, there you have it. Some great titles in the werewolf genre for you to sink your teeth into, running the gamut from the gory to the grandiose, subtle to sadistic and classic to modern.
Now you are spoilt for choice, take my advice and as autumn approaches, throw another log on the fire, grab yourself a blanket, listen and enjoy.
And if you do happen to hear howling outside, it’s probably just a dog. Probably.