fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore

I owe a debt of gratitude to writer Marvin Kaye, who selected Guy Endore‘s classic novel of lycanthropy, The Werewolf of Paris, for inclusion in Kim Newman and Stephen Jones‘s excellent overview volume Horror: 100 Best Books. If it hadn’t been for Kaye’s article on this masterful tale, who knows if I would have ever run across it. And that would have been a real shame, because this is one very impressive piece of work indeed.

In this beautifully written novel from 1933, we learn the history of one Bertrand Caillet, the product of a lecherous priest with a sinister family history raping a French peasant girl in the early 1850s. Caillet is later raised by Aymar Galliez, the nephew of the woman who had hired the peasant girl as a maid, and his notes on Caillet, purportedly found many years later by the author, form the kernel of this tale. It does not take Aymar long to realize that something is decidedly wrong with his young charge; in fact, Caillet is a werewolf, who loves nothing more than leaping out of his bedroom window at night and killing livestock and assorted wayfarers around the countryside. Years later, as a young man, Caillet runs away to Paris, to continue his depredations in a more populous arena, but at a most inauspicious time: right in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War, and right before the incredible violence of the Paris Commune of 1871.

But this novel is so much more than a simple tale of horror, although there are many grisly scenes. Endore (whose real name was Harry Relis) views his werewolf not as a monster, but rather as a sympathetic victim. Although Bertrand commits some truly horrible acts — killing his best friend, committing incest with his mother, despoiling graves, murdering countless creatures, draining his wealthy Jewish girlfriend (a neurotic, self-destructive, death-obsessed girl who today would probably be a Goth) slowly of her life’s blood — the author makes it clear that the atrocities going on around him (e.g., the 20,000 Parisians killed by the Versaillists during the Commune) make his sins seem small indeed. Presciently, the author says that future wars will kill millions, a prediction sadly borne out just a decade after this book’s release.

Perhaps what is most remarkable about this tale, though, is its seeming veracity. Endore gives us so much information about the Commune, and peoples his novel with so many actual historical figures, that it really is difficult to tell where fact ends and fiction begins. There supposedly really was a Sgt. Bertrand in 1840s Paris who was said to be a grave-despoiling werewolf, and that fact adds an additional frisson to this tale. Thus, The Werewolf of Paris works as both an excellent tale of terror and an easy-to-take lesson in French history. I knew virtually zilch about the Commune before going into this book, but feel that I’ve learned quite a bit about it now, and in a fun way, too.

That’s not to say that fans of a good horror tale will be left unsatisfied. As I mentioned, this tale contains its fair share of gore and grue, and some pretty terrible incidents are depicted. The reader will not soon forget the horrible tale of that lecherous priest’s ancestor being tortured in an oubliette; the real-life facts of the Commune atrocities are equally disturbing; and a discussion of the dietary experiments tried by the desperate Communards (ragout of rat, anyone?) will surely turn the stomachs of most. The pitiful final fate of Bertrand Caillet will surely move most readers, too. Despite an occasional glitch here and there (Bertrand travels northeast to reach Paris from the Yonne River valley, when he should be going northwest; Bertrand is said to have been interred in August 1873 and exhumed in June 1881, after eight years and two months, but that should be seven years and 10 months), this really is a terrific piece of writing from Mr. Endore.

Anyway, thanks again, Marvin! I owe you one!


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....