BRITAIN

It’ll be a howler: Werewolf conference aims to transform opinion on mythical shapeshifters

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 August, 2015, 3:43pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 August, 2015, 10:33pm

Scholars from around the world will gather at a British university for a conference on werewolves next month, where they will discuss the cultural significance of the mythical creature.

Professors and delegates attending the Open Graves, Open Minds event can expect to “walk with wolves”and visit the UK Wolf Conservation Trust.

They will also visit the grave of Peter the Wild Boy, a child found in 1725 in the woods near Hamelin , northern Germany, and of unknown parentage. He was said to lived an entirely feral existence - walking on all fours and eating forest vegetation - before being brought to Britain by Caroline of Ansbach, the wife of King George II. Peter was buried in the parish of Northchurch in the 18th century.

Other highlights scheduled for the three-day conference at the University of Hertfordshire include keynote speeches by experts in the field. Dr Sam George, senior lecturer in literature at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “People have been fascinated by human to wolf transformations, down the years, especially in film."

He said many people may recall Lon Chaney Jr in 1941’s The Wolf Man, or the 1980s hit An American Werewolf in London, or the terrifying transformation scene from The Company of Wolves.

George added: “How many people actually know the different ways that you can become a werewolf according to folklore or that there were actually werewolf trials in France and Germany where people were hanged and found guilty of lycanthropy, the correct name for this phenomenon?

“We want to draw attention to these little known facts and discuss the werewolf in all its many transformations."

Also on the eclectic agenda is a talk by Dr Catherine Spooner, of Lancaster University, who will speak on werewolves and the fashion industry, while there will also be wolf-themed theatricals and games.

Werewolves - “cursed” humans with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf - were popular creatures in medieval European tales. But the concept of wolf-men goes back to antiquity, when Pausanias, the Greek geographer, told the story of Lycaon, who was transformed into a wolf because he had ritually murdered a child. Ovid had said Lycaon served human flesh to Zeus the greek God.

George added: “The werewolf is the spectre brother of the wolf and we want to debate the significance of wolves too."

The wolf population in England diminished under the Anglo-Saxons, who had placed bounties on their heads, and they no longer exist in the wild. “Wolves were driven to extinction in the UK - we need to debate these issues and the possibility of bringing them back,” George said.