The White Wolf by Franklin Gregory science fiction, horror, and fantasy book reviewsThe White Wolf by Franklin Gregory science fiction, horror, and fantasy book reviewsThe White Wolf  by Franklin Gregory

In 1948, future sci-fi Grand Master Jack Williamson released the expanded version of his novella “Darker Than You Think,” which had appeared originally in the December 1940 issue of Unknown magazine. The resultant full-length novel was a one-shot horror excursion for the author, and would go on to be proclaimed one of the finest fictional treatments on the subject of lycanthropy – that is to say, werewolves – ever written. This reader has experienced the book twice over the years, and it continues to be one of my favorite horror novels of all time. I had long believed it to be the only novel dealing with the subject of werewolves written during that decade (Anthony Boucher’s truly wonderful “The Compleat Werewolf,” from the April 1942 Unknown, being another novella), but as it turns out, I was wrong, and thanks to the fine folks at Valancourt Books, I have recently discovered another terrific werewolf novel from that Golden Age decade … namely, Franklin Gregory’s The White Wolf.

The White Wolf was originally released in 1941 by Random House as a $2 hardcover, and featuring cover art by one Hans J. Barschel. It would be reprinted in the Winter 1941 issue of Two Complete Detective Books (a 25-cent pulp magazine), together with Thomas Polsky’s (I know … who?) Curtains for the Editor, and then, in 1942, as a 25-cent paperback. Ten years later, Gregory’s novel would be reprinted in the August 1952 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries magazine. And then, The White Wolf would go OOPs (out of prints) for no fewer than 62 years, till Valancourt opted to resurrect it in 2014, with the same Barschel artwork that had graced its first edition.

Now, before diving into the wonders to be found in this other lycanthropic novel of the ‘40s, a quick word on the author himself. Franklin Gregory was born in 1905 and spent most of his career as a journalist on The Philadelphia Record and Newark, New Jersey’s Star-Ledger. He is the author of two novels, his first being a mystery thriller entitled The Cipher of Death (1934), as well as 10 or so short stories. Gregory lived to be 80 years old, ultimately passing away in 1985.

As for his second novel itself, it introduces the reader to Pierre de Camp-d’Avesnes, a perfumer who is able to trace his family business back 800 years. Pierre owns a high-class perfume shop in Philadelphia and lives with his grown daughter Sara in a rural suburb. But his ancestral business isn’t the only thing that goes all the way back to the Middle Ages, it seems. When we first encounter Pierre, he is telling his friends Manning Trent (a journalist) and Dr. Justin Hardt (a psychiatrist) the story of his family’s supposed curse. Due to the wicked deeds of one of Pierre’s ancestors in the 12th century, the legend goes, the eldest child every seventh generation would be doomed to become a werewolf. Pierre’s tale is of course met with disbelief and ridicule, but soon after, very strange things begin to occur. Sara meets a Satanic figure whose abode in downtown Philly lures her irresistibly. Her boyfriend, David Trent (the son of Manning), begins to notice differences in her tastes and behavior. And before long, ducks and cattle are slain and mutilated in the rural community, and then matters grow even more dire, when a baby is kidnapped and beheaded in the big city, and when children are attacked and killed in Pierre’s neighborhood! A large white wolf with strangely human eyes is spotted at the site of one of the attacks. Meanwhile, Sara’s conduct grows ever stranger: She never seems to eat, and only shows signs of vigor after one of her frequent nocturnal walks … walks that she can never seem to recall. And then, as the superstitious Pennsylvania Dutch community shivers in fear and cowers behind locked doors, Pierre, Manning and Hardt notice one evening that Sara does not seem to throw a shadow!

The White Wolf   by Franklin Gregory science fiction, horror, and fantasy book reviewsIn the weeks that follow, Pierre, convinced that his only child is the source of the recent bloody murders, takes to locking Sara in her bedroom … unsuccessfully. A journalist’s snapshot of the white wolf reveals the image of Sara when it is developed (!), and before long, two wolves – both of them impervious to gunfire – are reported coursing together, while David Trent’s personality and memory are also affected. Eventually, even the bodies of the recently buried are profaned by the marauding wolves, and poor Pierre, unable – despite all the evidences – to convince his friends of the true state of affairs, realizes that he must put an end to these abominations all by himself. But how?

For those of you who hate when these seemingly supernatural affairs are explained away with a disappointingly mundane rationale, let me assure you that the events depicted in The White Wolf are very much the real deal. Sara’s and David’s murderous inclinations here are not a case of psychological lycanthropy, in which a patient only believes herself or himself to be a werewolf, but rather a matter of Satanic deal making in Sara’s situation, and contagion in David’s. Offhand, I cannot recall another book in which a male and female werewolf are shown running together, other than in Williamson’s. But in Darker Than You Think, the couple was shown to be shapeshifters, rather than strictly werewolves per se. Compared to some other werewolves of that same period, Sara and David are similar to Boucher’s Wolfe Wolf, who can change to the four-footed animal at will, as could the Princess Irma character in Greye La Spina’s marvelous Invaders From the Dark (1925). Sara and David, however, are dissimilar to the humanoid werewolves as shown in Jessie Douglas Kerruish’s The Undying Monster (1922) and Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris (1933). So yes, rest easy: This is very much a tale of the supernatural, and the crescent-shaped figure that mysteriously appears on Sara’s wrist, the devilish gentleman to whom she is drawn, the transformations, the absence of shadows coming from Sara and David, and even Pierre’s ultimate resolution of his dilemma are all added touches of the macabre here.

Gregory’s book, I should add, is a finely detailed one, with nicely rendered depictions of the rural backdrop: the woods and hills surrounding the town, and the oddball characters inhabiting it. The author clearly knew the area well and did his homework before setting pen to paper. Thus, we are given fascinating bits of information regarding the area’s Revolutionary War history, its geography, and the perfume industry (in Pierre’s emporium we find “soft fatty civet from Abyssinia … castor from Russia … Tonquin musk from Tibet, benszoin from Siam, storax from Asia Minor … oils of ylang-ylang and jasmin, of rose and palmerosa…”), and learn of the “hunger rocks” in the Delaware River, of the European legends regarding the voukodlak, priccolitsch and vrykolaka, and of such medieval experts on the supernatural as “St. Ambrose, Bodin, Sprenger, Vincent of Beauvais.” It is a wealth of convincing detail that lends a patina of verisimilitude to the outré events.

The White Wolf is a surprisingly violent book, with any number of infants and young children maimed and killed, in addition to all the adult victims. Looking back, I was surprised to find that the novel has no genuine standout scenes; no gripping set pieces or action-filled moments. All of the violence is seen in aftermath; a found body here, a desecrated corpse there. I suppose that the best scenes in the book are those in which Pierre and his two friends try to come to grips with the problem, with Pierre unsuccessfully managing to enlist their aid and credence. The book, rather, is a realistic slow burn, one that does not frighten so much as faithfully describe how an otherworldly visitation might affect a superstitious community. jAnd the novel, commencing as it does on Halloween and wrapping up shortly after Christmas, is just perfect for fall and winter reading. One of the book’s more suspenseful moments, actually, transpires on Christmas Eve; ironically enough, Gregory would himself pass away on Christmas Eve 44 years later.

Gregory’s novel, if I haven’t mentioned it before, is a beautifully written affair, and it is to be regretted that The White Wolf marked his final attempt at this longer form. The book features a surprisingly and shockingly downbeat ending, one that I did not foresee coming. It is a book in which religion, science, and even the close bonds of friendship and family are not in the least bit availing to Pierre’s plight, and the reader does indeed sympathize with the kindly and well-meaning father’s dilemma. The author throws in many small but pleasing touches, too, such as when Pierre sits with Sara in his library, looks down at his own shadow, and thinks “You never trouble about them. You take them for granted. Like air. They’re part of you. But when they’re gone, what a ghastly difference!” It strikes me that, similar to The Undying Monster, which was effectively brought to the big screen by 20th Century-Fox in 1942, The White Wolf could also have been nicely adapted. I can almost picture Louis Calhern in the role of Pierre, and Ellen Drew as the stricken Sara…

If I were forced to lodge a single complaint about Gregory’s work here it is that some of the geography of the town, and its relation to the Neshaminy Creek that runs by it, is a little difficult to keep in mind, and ditto for the book’s large cast of townspeople. And despite how well the book holds up 82 years after its initial appearance, some bits must unavoidably strike the reader as being dated, such as when Manning brings David to an upscale nightclub in Philadelphia that is said to be good for anyone “who could afford seventy-five cents per drink”! But these are surely minor matters. The bottom line is that The White Wolf is a splendid and little-discussed addition to the werewolf canon that all fans of supernatural literature should certainly enjoy. Not for the first time, I am grateful to Valancourt Books for bringing it to my attention…

Originally published in 1941. In the heart of the superstitious Pennsylvania Dutch country stands the mansion of Pierre de Camp-d’Avesnes, whose family history dates to the 12th century, when, according to family lore, an ancestor made a deal with the devil. As part of the bargain, the legend says, every seventh generation a terrible curse is visited upon the eldest child of the family. Recently strange things have begun to happen: children are being savagely murdered, a mysterious white wolf has been sighted, and Pierre’s daughter Sara has been behaving oddly. Is the curse to blame, or is there a rational explanation? Desperate to uncover the truth, Pierre enlists the aid of cynical journalist Manning Trent and psychiatrist and occult expert Dr. Justin Hardt. It’s a race against time to save Sara and stop the killings as modern-day science and skepticism are pitted against medieval magic and superstition in this suspenseful thriller. Praised by contemporary critics and recognized by horror scholars as considerably ahead of its time, Franklin Gregory’s The White Wolf (1941) is one of the best werewolf novels of its era. This new edition features the unabridged text of the first edition and a reproduction of the original jacket art.


  • 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....

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