Sunday, 16 September 2012


There are, apparently, two ways for a man become a wolf. Either he is born a werewolf or he utters a transformation spell while wearing a magic skin. Poul Anderson, of course, gives us both. His two Operation... novels are narrated by a werewolf and the hero of The Broken Sword (London, 1977) transforms. The same close thinking goes into describing the experience in both cases.

Anderson realises that the wolf brain would not be able to carry all the memories and purposes of the man. His werewolf is trained to retain enough self-control to fulfill his human purposes in animal form and not simply to hunt or go wild. This character tells his readers that words cannot describe the experience but then describes it very well.

There is a vivid description in The Broken Sword:

"It was strange, being a wolf. The interplay of bone, muscle, and sinew was something else from what it had been. The air ruffled his fur. His sight was dim, flat, and colourless. But he heard every faintest sound, every sigh and whisper, the night's huge stillness had turned murmurous - many of those tones too high for men ever to hear. And he smelled the air as if it were a living thing, uncounted subtle odours, hints and traces swirling in his nostrils. And there were sensations for which men have no words.

"It was like being in a new world, a world which in every way felt different. And he himself was changed, not alone in body but in nerve and brain. His mind moved in wolfish tracks, narrower though somehow keener. He was not able in beast shape to think all the thoughts he did as a man, nor, on becoming man again, to remember all he had sensed and thought as a beast." (pp. 127-128)

He smells a frightened hare but his human soul drives him on because his purpose is to spy, not to eat. To enter a castle, he transforms into an eagle and Anderson also describes that experience.

Until it happens to someone, this is the best description that we will get.

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