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Word of the Day: weerwolf (werewolf)

Today it’s two days after full moon, so it’s safe again to talk about one of the scariest creatures our imagination ever gave birth to. The werewolf. DE WEERWOLF. Aaargh. 

All over the world people believed at one time or another that humans could change into animals or vice versa. Not such a weird idea, really, when you think about it. After all, we, thinking apes, are animals at heart, even though we deceive ourselves by believing that we are in a different class. The WEERWOLF represents the beastly beast in us. It’s the reasonless human. The unthinking man. The unbridledly passionate man.

The WEERWOLF is an extremely ancient creature. Stories go back to the Greek historiographer Herodotus (5th century before CE). In one shape or another these juicy bits of FOLKLORE came back. In what kind of story does the WEERWOLF belong: the fairy tale, the myth, the horror story? If you ask me, I’d say that the WEERWOLF is a living figment of the world’s imagination and thus a phantasm of FOLKLORE. Tomorrow more about this surprisingly young word.

A ‘werewolf’ is also known as a ‘lycanthrope’ (from the Greek ‘lykos’, ‘wolf’, and ‘anthrōpos’, ‘man’), EEN WEERWOLF is usually a temperate human who can change into a vicious wolf-like creature. In the gory days when witch hunts were rife this creature was seen as an incarnation of the devil.

More recently they have been sharing the world of darkness with vampires and zombies. Better be careful for if you receive one bite or scratch from another werewolf you will also turn into one. They say that WEERWOLVEN cannot stand sight or touch of silver, but I doubt this.

I don’t think that werewolves are aware of their dual nature. When they have the shape of a human they act human and when they change into a wolf when the moon is full, they temporarily lose their human capacity to think and remember.

Sometimes I think that I could be a WEERWOLF too.

Why? Names are significant. And my name reflects a wolfish nature. What’s in my name? Well this: my full first name is Rudolf. Originally it is a Scandinavian combination which found its way into the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf (another ‘wolf’) as ‘Hroðulf’. ‘Hrōð’ or ‘Rod’ means ‘fame’, and ‘olf’ ‘wolf’. In other words, my name means ‘famous wolf’. At birth my parents probably suspected what lay ahead of me and warned me by giving me the name Rudolf or Ruud.

You can see me in my wolfish shape, at the Binnendoor (short cut) in the Pandercomplex in central Den Haag. The Pandercomplex used to be a furniture factory (founded in 1887). In the eighties the building was converted into a commune, which it still is. Hague Artist Ingrid Rollema (1953) must have caught my alterego there one night in the early nineties when the moon was full. This image was then captured by her in this marvellous sculpture.

The official name of her sculpture is extremely complex: ‘De Weer-of-geen-weerwolf in schaapskleren, de anti-fontein’. This needs a lot of explaining. ‘Weer of geen weer’ is an expression meaning ‘come rain or shine’ and ‘een wolf in schaapskleren’ is ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’. So her title could be translated as: ‘Werewolf or normal wolf in sheep’s clothing for all weathers’. The wolf stands up on its rear legs from a cattle-grid. In winter when it is freezing the wolf can be seen to blow clouds of steam. And this phenomenon probably explains the second part of the title: ‘de anti-fontein’ (the anti-fountain).

This wolf is not a normal wolf, that’s for sure. The statue is Rollema’s statement against bourgeois smugness and political resignation. It is as if she says to us: ‘Come on Hagenaars, there are times when you must have the guts to change into a fierce werewolf and stand up against injustice.’

Lots of Dutch children identify with Rollema’s view of life. They adore a young version of ‘de anti-fontein’, namely Dolfje Weerwolfje.

Dolfje (ha, another form of ‘Rudolf’) is an extremely successful series of Dutch children’s books created by Paul van Loon in 1996, drawn by Hugo van Look and published by Leopold in Amsterdam.

A werewolf for very young children? Is that safe, sound and well-considered? Of course it is!

What is Dolfje about? When Dolfje turns seven he discovers his true nature. As a werewolf he has a white coat of fur (his human hair is white) and he still wears his glasses. Dolfje was adopted by a family who love his weirdness. His real family did not want to have anything to do with him because they dislike werewolves.

The series of thirteen books is very popular and has also yielded a feature film and a prizewinning musical. The novels have been translated into Spanish: Jacobo Lobo; German: Viktor Werwolf; English: Alfie the Werewolf; Finnish and Swedish: Uffe Varulv; Italian and Japanese: Dolfi and Korean; Korean: Gong-Po-Bus.

Here is a short preview of Dolfje Weerwolfje.

Toen pas hoorde Dolfje het lied.
Grommende stemmen zongen:

’t Was nacht.
’t Was nacht.
’t Was midden in de nacht.
Toen hoorde ik een vreselijk gelach.
Het was de…

Het was een raar lied.
Dolfje wist niet wat het betekende.
Het klonk griezelig.
Misschien door de rare tekst.
Misschien door de schurende stemmen.
Ze klonken erg vals.
Dolfje maakte dat hij wegkwam.
De stemmen achtervolgden hem.

’t Was nacht.
’t Was nacht.
’t Was midden in de nacht…

Dolfje rende tot hij thuis was.
Hij stopte niet meer.
Keek niet meer om.

Only then Dolfje heard the song.
Growling voices were singing:

It was night
It was night
It was in the middle of the night
When I heard terrifying laughter.
It was the…

It was a weird song.
Dolfje did not know what it meant.
It sounded creepy.
Maybe because of the weird text.
Maybe because of the grating voices.
They sounded very false.
Dolfje made himself scarce.
The voices chased after him.

It was night
It was night
It was in the middle of the night

Dolfje ran until he got home.
He did not stop anymore.
Did not look around anymore.

(translation: Ruud Hisgen)