QUAINT #30: “The Werwolves” by Honoré Beaugrand

Image of a loup-garou courtesy of Wikipedia

The Werwolves were created by Honoré Beaugrand and appeared in “The Werwolves” (The Century, August 1898). Beaugrand (1848-1906) was the mayor of Montreal (1885-1887) as well as the author of stories and novels, including La Chasse Galerie (1900), a classic of Québécois folklore. “The Werwolves” is an early example of Québécois horror fiction as well as an interesting usage of traditional Native Canadian mythology.

“The Werwolves” begins in Fort Richelieu, in Québéc, on Christmas Eve in 1706. The Iroquois are “committing depredations in the surrounding country, burning farm houses, stealing cattle and horses, and killing every man, woman, and child whom they could not carry away to their own villages to torture at the stake.” Local white men have gathered at Fort Richelieu to take part in military exercises and to enjoy the coming holiday festivities. The men are telling stories in one of the barracks when one of the guards of the fort shoots at something. The guard swears he shot at an Iroquois outside the fort, although the soldiers who search for the Iroquois can find no trace of him or his tracks. The fort’s commanding officer is sure that the soldier was either drinking or is a fool and has him imprisoned. But an old trapper speaks up for the soldier and tells everyone that the man had been fooled by a band of Iroquois loups-garou (werewolves).

The trapper has encountered them more than once, which the crowd of men, who love stories of the supernatural, wants to hear about. The trapper tells the men that some years ago he and twenty-three other white trappers set off west across the rivers. They saw, standing on a small island, “ten or twelve renegades, half human and half beasts, with heads and tails like wolves, arms, legs, and bodies like men, and eyes glaring like burning coals…dancing around the fire, and barking a sort of outlandish chant that was now and then changed to peals of infernal laughter.”

The Iroquois were cutting up a human corpse to eat it. The Iroquois saw the trappers watching and gestured them forward. The trappers realized that they couldn’t run and that loups-garou are about to slaughter them, and

as we had both been to confession and taken holy communion before embarking…we knew we had nothing to fear from them. White loups-garous are bad enough at any time, and you all know that only those who have remained seven years without performing their Easter duties are liable to be changed into wolves, condemned to prowl about at night until they are delivered by some Christian drawing blood from them by inflicting a wound on their forehead in the form of a cross. But we had to deal with Indian renegades, who had accepted the sacraments only in mockery, and we had never since performed any of the duties commanded by the Church. They are the worst loups-garous that one can meet, because they are constantly intent on capturing some misguided Christian, to drink his blood and to eat his flesh in their horrible fricots.

Unfortunately, the trappers did not have holy water or a four-leafed clover, which would be potent against the loups-garou, who cannot be harmed in the ordinary ways–normal bullets “would flatten out on their tough and impenetrable hides.” But the old trapper had an idea, and he and his friends cut crosses on their musket bullets, which they loaded into their muskets along with some rosary beads. They fired on the loups-garou, who were forced to flee.

A sergeant of the troop then tells the story of Baptiste, one of his friends, who became romantically involved with a female loup-garou. On one expedition Baptiste had become intimate with La-linotte-qui-chante, a young Indian maiden, and she followed him and threatened him with evil acts if he ever cheated on her. She waited for him wherever he returned from patrol, but when he returned after a three-month long patrol she had disappeared. At this time the governor-general of Québéc offered soldiers a large dowry if they would quit the army, get married, and settle in Québéc. Baptiste was happy to do so, as he’d had his eye on a pretty Montreal girl. But as Baptiste prepared for his wedding he began encountering La-linotte-quichante, who did not say anything to him but simply looked reproachfully at him. Then Baptiste’s fiancée came down with smallpox and dies. The day before her death La-linotte-qui-chante met with Baptiste and told him that his fiancée would die unless he met her, La-linotte-qui-chante, in the woods that midnight. Baptiste did and was attacked by an enormous wolf, which he eventually drove off by chopping off one of its forepaws. Baptiste then realized that La-linottequi-chante had “relapsed into idolatory” and had been turned into a loup-garou. The Sergeant finishes the story by telling how Baptiste was tortured to death by the Iroquois, and how one of the Iroquois was a one-armed woman who “seemed to take special pleasure in inventing the most abominable devices to add to the sufferings of poor Baptiste.”

“The Werwolves” is not usually counted among the major werewolf stories of the 19th century. In some respects this is not surprising, as the fiction of French Canada has traditionally been slighted by American and English critics. 19th century French Canadian genre fiction has been particularly ignored. And as a werewolf story “The Werwolves” is not extraordinary; it is neither groundbreaking, like Marryat’s “The White Wolf of the Martz Mountains”, or splendidly told, like Housman’s “The Were-Wolf”. But as a horror story “The Werwolves” is excellent. It lacks an actual beginning, middle, and end, and reads more like a long vignette of life on the Canadian frontier in the early 18th century. But Beaugrand convincingly evokes the early Québéc frontier in the speech of his characters, in his descriptions of events, and in his use of folklore, so that the vignette has a particularly authentic feel. The plot has no real surprises, but the modern reader will probably be unfamiliar with the Native Canadian folklore which Beaugrand uses and will be able to enjoy a story which, if it had been written about Eastern European hunters making use of Eastern European folklore, would have felt clichéd. The combination of the frontier setting, the Native folklore, and the horror plot result in an entertaining story which is enjoyably different from most other 19th century werewolf stories.

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