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Literature / Cycle of the Werewolf

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A short story written by Stephen King and published in 1983, Cycle of the Werewolf is about a small town in Maine that is terrorized by a series of killings. According to That Other Wiki, King originally started the project when he was asked to write twelve short chapters that would accompany a werewolf-themed calendar. Apparently, no one told them that this is the guy who wrote The Stand— the "uncut" version of which is over 1,100 pages long. Inevitably, the decision was made to scrap the calendar and instead release the story in Graphic Novel form, with accompanying illustrations by Bernie Wrightson (of Swamp Thing fame). However, the influence of the calendar idea can still be seen in the format of the story, as each chapter focuses on one month in the year of the killings.

The story uses a whodunnit format for the most part, with the reader knowing that a werewolf is responsible for the killings, but not knowing who the werewolf is. It also has plenty of horror scenes, with most chapters describing a werewolf attack rather than developing the non-victim characters. The first survivor, a crippled boy named Marty Coslaw, is not introduced until the third of the twelve chapters, and is only featured prominently in chapters seven, ten and twelve. As a result, there is no strong protagonist to oppose the werewolf, and some may consider the narrative to be a little weak for this reason.

In 1985, the story got a film adaptation called Silver Bullet, starring Corey Haim as Marty and Gary Busey as his alcoholic Uncle Red. In the movie, Marty is featured as a main character from the beginning and his experiences throughout the year receive just as much attention as the werewolf killings. This fixes the problem found in the book, which makes the film one of the better adaptations of one of King's stories, even though most reviews regarded it as good, but not great.

Cycle of the Werewolf provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Both of Marty's parents seem visibly uncomfortable with their son's disability, to the point where both of them are in full denial, especially Mr. Coslaw who happens to be a physical education teacher. He puts on a boisterous act and talks down to Marty often while in the opposite direction, while Mrs. Coslaw is more or less emotionally distant with her son to the point where she hardly laughs around him and sometimes takes not being soft with him a little too far.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: In April, town drunk Chris Wrightson staggers home under the full moon after consuming a large amount of alcohol, with the bartender (incorrectly) predicting that if the wolf gets anyone that month, it will be him.
  • Artistic License – Space: King points out in a short author's notes section that anyone with just a little interest in astronomy can tell that the moon cycles portrayed in the story couldn't happen in reality. He freely admits that he ignored this because he found the idea of setting the chapters on various holidays too appealing to pass up on.
  • Asshole Victim: Milt Sturmfuller, which the narrative lampshades almost immediately upon his introduction.
    And perhaps God is just after all, because if there is a first-class grade-A shit in Tarker's Mills, it is Milt Sturmfuller.
  • Black Comedy: In one chapter, the werewolf slaughters several pigs on a farm. In the illustration, which shows the farmers surveying the damage, one pig's head is sitting on top of a fencepost facing them, almost as if the werewolf put it there on purpose.
  • Cassandra Truth: Marty tells the police that the killer is a werewolf after he survives an attack. In the book, they declare that he is suffering from post-traumatic stress. Hoping that being away from town will cure his "delusion", he is sent to Vermont to live with other relatives.
  • Christianity is Catholic: The aversion of this is actually a plot point: it's because Marty's Catholic that he doesn't figure out who the werewolf is until Halloween, since he obviously doesn't attend Reverend Lowe's Baptist sermons or have any reason to cross paths with him, and isn't at first aware that the Reverend's now missing an eye.
  • Cool Uncle: Uncle Al, to Marty at least. He secretly gives Marty some fireworks to celebrate his own Fourth of July, and even has the silver bullets Marty needs forged. He is also the only member of the family who stays with Marty to await the werewolf on New Years Eve.
  • Death by Irony: Milt Sturmfuller congratulates himself on going out of town the very night murders tend to happen, thinking this will ensure he will be spared. Turns out this is the one night the werewolf got out of town as well to avoid the mob looking for him, and he just happens to be staying at the same motel as Milt.
  • Death of a Child: Zigzagged. While Marty does make it to the end, one of the werewolf's victims is a child in both the book and the movie.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: Arnie, the first victim, dies fighting the werewolf with an ice axe.
  • Domestic Abuse: Milt Sturmfuller to his wife Donna Lee, in just about every way it can be done. At one point he beats her badly enough to hospitalize her, giving the "she fell down the stairs" cover story (which she backs up). Later, he's mentioned to have caught "a roaring case of herpes" from his mistress and passed it on to Donna Lee.
  • Doomed Contrarian: Brady Kincaid and Constable Neary are among the few characters not to believe in the werewolf, and both pay dearly for it. Averted with Marty, who also doesn't believe at first but survives two attacks.
  • Early-Bird Cameo:
    • Marty is briefly shown (although not mentioned by name) in the March chapter in a montage of people listening to the werewolf's howling (with Constable Neary being another of those people).
    • Reverend Lowe is mentioned briefly in the beginning of the April chapter, giving a sermon about the coming of Spring, before being the POV character of the next chapter and remaining pretty important afterwards.
  • Extreme Doormat: Donna Lee Sturmfuller has been abused by Milt for so long that she's completely cowed and can't bring herself to make any attempt to defend herself or to call him out when he lies about abusing her.
  • Eye Scream: When the werewolf attacks Marty on the 4th of July, he defends himself by shooting a firework into the beast's eye. Marty shoots the werewolf's other eye out with a silver bullet in December, killing it.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Upon realizing that it's a werewolf that's approaching her, Stella backs up in fear, but then closes her eyes, waits for death and thinks something poetic.
  • Facial Horror: The werewolf tears the constable's right cheek off before mauling him to death, which is partially shown in that chapter's illustration.
  • Fairplay Whodunnit: Before Reverend Lowe is revealed to be the werewolf, there is a chapter where the character has an intense dream sequence showing several other townsfolk turning into werewolves. Experienced readers/viewers may recognize this as a symptom of lycanthropy.
  • Foreshadowing: Neither Milt Sturmfuller nor Reverend Lowe get killed in the chapters that introduced them; the former's first scene is merely used as a Establishing Character Moment to show what kind of person he is, while the latter's first chapter merely focuses on a strange nightmare he has involving everyone in the church turning into a werewolf. This is a build-up to both Milt's upcoming Karmic Death in later chapters and the reveal that Lowe is the werewolf.
  • Gorn: Several of the illustrations through the book are quite gory, especially the dead pigs and the death of Milt Sturmfuller.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: Tends to happen to the werewolf's victims, human and animal alike.
  • Handicapped Badass: The wheelchair-bound Marty is able to use firecrackers as weapons and arm himself with silver bullets.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The full moon happens to coincide with an unusually high number of holidays. Notably averted however for the October chapter, where the full moon does not coincide with Halloween but has already happened a few days earlier.
  • Hot for Preacher: Barmaid and church choir singer Elise Fournier is mentioned as having a secret crush on Reverend Lowe.
  • Kid Hero: Marty.
  • Motive Decay: Reverend Lowe initially struggles with the curse, particularly in the book, but in both versions they eventually justify their actions by saying that God gave him the curse for a reason, and most of his victims have been sinners anyway. Once Marty starts sending him anonymous letters asking him to kill himself to end the murders, Lowe somewhat petulantly says to himself "because I don't want to".
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Because the town constable decides Marty has gone a little crazy from the shock of almost being killed, his failure to follow up on Marty's testimony results in more deaths, including his own.
  • No Name Given: One of the victims of the werewolf is a drifter, Killed Offscreen right outside of town. His chapter focuses on the discovery of his body, surrounded by wolf tracks. No one in town knows the man's name, and he doesn't get a POV of his own to reveal it either.
  • Off with His Head!:
    • The fourth victim, Brady Kincaid, is found decapitated and disemboweled.
    • The werewolf rips Milt Sturmfuller's head off; the illustrations show the aftermath.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Not really different, as for the most part the classics are followed. This werewolf is described as having the man-wolf appearance when transformed, is vulnerable to silver, transforms at the full moon with no control, and reverts back to human when killed. The only major departure is that he doesn't seem to infect through bites—Reverend Lowe is apparently infected through a flower, which is classically said to carry the curse of the werewolf, a method which predates Viral Transformation through bites. However, in the book the werewolf does speak. The werewolf also spoke more in the script to the film adaptation but for some reason that was not included.
  • Pet the Dog: An almost literal example. The first scene has Arnie hear the werewolf (which has yet to kill anyone) scratching and whining at the door of the line shack where he is snowed in. Sympathizing with an animal trapped out in the cold (although hesitant due to a bad feeling in his bones) he starts to go let it in before the wolf starts snarling hostilely and then suddenly breaks down the door and attacks him.
  • The Reveal: Reverend Lowe is the werewolf.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • Milt Sturmfuller attempts to do a short term version of this by driving over to a different town on the night of the November full moon, while also using the opportunity to see his mistress. Unfortunately for him, the werewolf has also driven out of town to avoid the hunting parties and runs into him there anyway.
    • Earlier on, a handful of minor townspeople move away from Tarker's Mill due to the werewolf attacks, such as barmaid Elise Fournier.
      ''But she plans to leave the Mills by summer, crush or no crush, this wolf business has begun to scare her. She has begun to think that the tips might be better in Portsmouth...and the only wolves there wore sailors' uniforms.
  • Silver Bullet: Played straight. It's even the title of the Film of the Book.
  • Suicide Dare: After Halloween, when he discovers who the werewolf really is, Marty starts sending anonymous letters to him, some of which asks him to commit suicide to end the killings. Once it becomes clear that the werewolf has no intention of ending himself, Marty signs his name on the last letter with the intention of forcing a confrontation.
  • Tragic Monster: Reverend Lowe has no memory of his actions as the werewolf, and the werewolf itself appears to be almost entirely bestial, to the point that it took him almost six months to even realize he WAS the werewolf. Downplayed near the end once he starts trying to justify the murders to himself, edging closer to a Fully-Embraced Fiend.
  • Tsundere: Kate Coslaw, who ranges from Bratty Teenage Daughter to Cool Big Sis when the time comes. When the werewolf tries to go after Marty, she's easily the most concerned for his safety, despite having taunted him the night before, and often tries to make up for any act that might be deemed cruel to him.
  • Vigilante Militia: The Zineman brothers, local farmers, deduce the existence of a werewolf from some slaughtered livestock and tracks in the mud, and spend the next two months organizing hunting parties to pursue it once the leaves fall off the trees, as it won't be able to hide as well in the forest. Unfortunately, this just causes the werewolf to drive over to another nearby town before transforming.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The above-mentioned Vigilante Militia, who Marty never tries to tell about Lowe (although he might not have known about them due to being out of town for a while and being a kid whose parents don't talk to him much about what's going on).
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: One victim thinks the werewolf is a man in a mask and tries to yank it off while being killed. The werewolf replies by clawing his face off.