The anecdote behind that neologism above has its roots in Appalachian talk. As the story goes, it was an exchange with a neighbor, wherein the speaker said “That dog is pretty spoiled,” and the neighbor said “That dog is ruint.”
Fantastic word, “ruint.” Deserves more exposure.
And werewolves are ruint for me.
Whoa-ho-ho, it might be said. You spent a decade-plus of your life working on games starring werewolves. You use them in your home games. You’re a sucker for werewolves. How can they be ruint for you? Well, the trouble’s a simple one: tradition. See, the tradition is that werewolves are monsters. Villains. Antagonists. And I just have a hard time with that these days.
It comes down to learning about wolves, basically. The big metaphor of werewolves is that they’re what happens when people turn into wild beasts, but wolves… aren’t really a good example of wild beasts that behave much worse than people do. The archetypal werewolf, the monster that tears things apart by the light of the full moon, doesn’t behave much like a wolf. It’s become a gnawing disconnect I just can’t get past. A Three Panel Soul comic would go well here, I think.
Now, there’s a lot to be said for that beast within concept. But I think it’s scarier when you’re dealing with Mr. Hyde. Yeah, Stevenson’s novella seems kind of tame and vanilla compared to the Grand Guignol villains we’re used to seeing all around us today. Shoot, in the effort to stir up the jaded sensibilities of readers who have seen it all, there are piles of books about much more horrible human beings that don’t really have much of an excuse. No special formula involved, they just happen to be written by Cormac McCarthy or Bret Easton Ellis or, if you stick to your genre fiction, George R.R. Martin and his many imitators. But I think there’s still something evocative about the Jekyll/Hyde formula, because it actually shackles a monster like this to a good man, and it implies that this could be any one of us.
But werewolves? I have to figure out a way to rationalize why they’re worse than a hybrid of human and wolf would theoretically be. And it’s tricky. What about wolves says “frenzy?” What about wolves says “must taste human blood?” What about wolves says “attack you with their claws?” It was a lot easier for the ol’ ancestors to put all this stuff together (although even they didn’t really picture werewolves using claw attacks) when they were just basically ignorant and fearful. And then here comes science and empirical observation, ruining things.
Nowadays, if I use werewolves as villains, particularly in a setting where the players are not expected to be werewolves themselves, it has to be about the personality involved. The beast is more frightening not when it’s running amok for hazily explained reasons, but when it’s directed by a human intelligence. In effect, they draw from that Mr. Hyde archetype, only with a more animalistic side. And when they run mad and frenzy, then yes, they get a little more classic — but at that point I’m drawing on the image of the rabid animal. They’re murderous and violent in part because they’re sick. And a sick beast winds up having a bit of pathos to it, even as it’s alarming for all the reasons werewolves are supposed to be alarming — it’s out of control, it uses its strength like an animal does, and you can’t reason with it.
But werewolves as monsters and villains because that’s how they’re supposed to be? Because it’s their nature? I’m broken on that front. It feels a little sad to me, but then again, I think Werewolf did this to a lot of people. You don’t see a lot of movies where the werewolf is wholly bestial and unintelligent when it changes any more, and when you do they’re either not all that successful (sorry, Benicio), or they’re working on a different metaphor entirely (um, hi, Ginger Snaps). So I’m not alone.
Still, it seems kind of ironic that working on werewolves for so long means I’m not as versatile at it as someone who came at the subject fresh. If there’s a way to even come at the subject fresh any more, I suppose. And while I’m being honest, I don’t really miss the mindless werewolves — the intelligent ones whose monstrous nature is rooted in their human side are the ones that do it for me. I guess I’m spoiled. No, wait, ruint.