Conversations About Wolves: Suzy McKee Charnas
Via email, Suzy and I chatted about her short story, socially constructed gender roles, the paralleling of adolescent and lycanthropic transformation, and the use of the werewolf in tales of female empowerment. Much of what we discussed found its way into chapter 6 of my monograph - which explores the figure of the female werewolf and her increasing presence in tales of (women's) empowerment – but I wanted to share some of Suzy’s other thoughts that didn’t make it into the final draft of the book due to the limitations of a pesky word-count. You can read her thoughts below...
On the genesis of her short story: I’d been reading about bullying in schools, and it reminded me of some experiences of my own back in my own school days. We now understand (I think) that bullying is a form of violence, and women at every age still have to try to figure out how to deal with the kinds of violence routinely directed at them (often by other women as well, but that wasn’t so much on my mind at the time). The idea of simply reversing the physical strength dynamic really appealed to me, so that’s what I wrote about.
On the paralleling of lycanthropy and adolescence: The whole werewolf thing is grounded in our ideas about civilization vs. wildness — the human and the Beast, and how people can slip from one state to the other and back again, particularly in group situations where mob fears and emotions sway people (and, conversely when no one else is watching, so a person is tempted to step over that line to see what it feels like, or for the thrill of the forbidden). More specifically, though, the werewolf concept is strongly grounded in our idea of wildness, which is one of becoming totally absorbed in the present, in our own immediate appetites and desires, which of course includes sexual desires. Since adolescence is so powerfully infused with sexual impulses (or worries about not having sexual impulses, or having the wrong ones), that’s a powerful connection to the idea of the wolf-side of the personality, the raw Id freed from human convention and morality.
|Suzy McKee Charnas|
On ideas of werewolves and gender relations: The werewolf idea is appealing because it seems to simplify everything that people have to deal with. Sex? Depends on where you stand in the pack hierarchy and who’s in estrus at the moment. Fitting in? Just live by the rules of the immediate group, which are an imaginative version of “pack” rules, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, handsome or ugly. Sex is central — no disguises or flattering complications. It’s an abstract idea of how many men think they would *like* things to be (with themselves as bigger and stronger than anybody else, of course, how-ever dorkish they may be in reality); some females, too (just pick your guy, give him a whiff, and he can’t help but run after you). A lot of this fantasy is based on the behavior of domestic dogs (which are *not* wolves) or artificial packs of unrelated wolves thrown together by humans.
On Kelsey embracing her newfound power: Well, that was the whole point of the story, really. Let me put it this way: I had an argument with a boy while waiting for the school bus one day in, oh, maybe fourth grade: the burning question was who was better, Roy Rogers or Hopalong Cassidy. He yelled me down and turned his back on me. I lost my temper and punched him in the shoulder. He socked me in the face. I went home with a broken, bloody nose. My mom said, “You have to learn: don’t fight with boys. They’re stronger, and you’ll never win — you’ll just get hurt.” I wanted to become stronger than them, faster, and more dangerous, so I could hit back effectively and make them think twice about hitting someone smaller and weaker than they were. Kelsey becomes a wolf to do that, and of *course* it feels good! It’s not complicated. She could have done the same to a girl bully who attacked her, but being strong enough to overcome the muscular differences between average boys and average girls was the important point: to hit back and *make it hurt*. To win over your own body’s hormonal treachery — who *wouldn’t* celebrate that?
|Adolescent anxiety in The Company of Wolves...|
|Hormonal treachery and teen angst in Ginger Snaps...|
On reader sympathy for Kelsey and her plight: I just wanted to put the reader inside Kelsey’s feelings and perceptions, where the resentment of unfairness burns bright and hot, not smothered by “nice girl” behavior. I heard from a number of male readers who said that they’d been tormented in school for physical shortcomings, and I’m delighted that the story “works” for others than female readers (I wanted badly to see it published in Playboy, where the people who *need* to read it would find it; no luck, of course, since men are not titillated by seeing the other side of their own crappiest behavior through the eyes of a victim — especially one who hits back, and wins). Interestingly, the negative blow-back that I did get about Kelsey came on two fronts: one was objections that the violence was too extreme and too graphic (for a girl in a story about a girl, a qualification implicit or explicit in the criticism). The other was from people outraged by what happened to the dog.
|'Boobs' appears in many werewolf anthologies|
Check out Suzy's website here, and stay tuned for more news about my forthcoming monograph on The Company of Wolves.