When we encounter stories of vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of the night, many of us want to believe they’re real, if only for a moment. But most rational people understand the difference between fantasy and reality.
In her book Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America, Linda S. Godfrey persistently poses the question what if? What if werewolves were real? What would their behavioral patterns look like? Real Wolfmen is a survey of over twenty years of research by Godfrey, where she compiles reports of werewolf sightings into certain categories (ex. werewolves seen by the side of the road, or in a graveyard), and at the end of each chapter there is a brief speculative summary about what we might learn from these sightings.
To Godfey’s credit, I found that she tried her best to be as thorough as she could, given there is very little physical evidence. She must go with anecdotal evidence (personal reports) and try her best to form a cohesive portrait of one of horror’s most beloved bipeds. She also demonstrates a consistent talent for writing with journalistic flair and brevity. This makes her work both engaging and on a “need-to-know” basis. (The reports do not go into superfluous detail.) On top of all of this, the conclusions she draws about the behaviors of werewolves make a certain amount of sense, but when dealing with reports of werewolves vanishing almost into thin air, she introduces some pretty outlandish ideas.
This book requires a certain suspension of disbelief, which I think many readers are willing to entertain. But when it comes to proposing ideas like extraterrestrial technologies having an influence, that suspension of disbelief becomes difficult to maintain. Godfrey’s level of attention to detail in researching related topics (such as folklore and clinical lycanthropy) are spot on, but to shift from solid research and a (somewhat) objective perspective to Roswell-level thinking seems problematic at best at times. But this conflict is also an arguably natural one when a serious discussion of the existence of werewolves is taking place. And we do immediately know Godfrey’s thoughts on the matter; her view is right in the title.
All that said, Real Wolfmen was a genuinely enjoyable read. Godfrey’s categorization of the material laid out a solid foundation that she continued to build upon throughout the course of the book. The ancillary material (folklore, etc.) is always relevant, and the reports themselves make for fast, enjoyable reading.
I would advise readers to go into this with a critical but open mind. While the suspension of disbelief helps make this an enjoyable read, Godfrey also does put in the effort to explore more rational explanations for werewolves, such as isolated pockets of prehistoric creatures that have not been forced to evolve.
Overall, I would give this book a solid four out of five stars. It’s definitely an enjoyable read, but a focus on more rational explanations would serve the overall function of this book a bit better. Godfrey has spent a lifetime studying werewolves, and it really shows in the quality of her work.
Note: I purchased this book independently.