Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Uses of Silver In Werewolf Mythology

When one starts writing a paranormal novel of one's own, the hardest part (well, one of them, anyway ;-) is world-building. You have to decide what will be your creatures' strengths and weaknesses. As you're deciding whether or not your werewolves can transform only during the full moon, or if they can do so at will, anytime, one of the things that will strike you is -- why?

It's accepted as common knowledge that werewolves are killed by silver; Stephen King even named the title of his novella Silver Bullet after a weapon made of such metal.

Having done a bit of research, silver has been known for its antibiotic properties since way, way back; the ancient Greeks noticed that those in the upper classes who stored water in silver canteens didn't get dysentery, whereas the majority of the lower-class troops did. (Incidentally, if silver is ingested over a long period of time it gives the skin a bluish tinge, which is apparently where the term 'blue-blood', a name for aristocracy, is derived). Throughout the ages, silver dollars or pieces of silver would be put in milk and water containers to retard spoilage; doctors started advocating the use of silver nitrate drops in newborns eyes to retard blindness, and silver foil dressings were used until around WWII (after which antibiotics were the method of choice to fight infection).

Since lycanthropy was thought to be a sort of infection, spread when one was bitten (or sometimes scratched) by a werewolf, the use of an anti-infection agent like silver would seem to be a natural 'cure' or way to kill the beast.

Or is it? During the course of my research, I've also encountered sources that claim that silver only started being used in werewolf myths after Hollywood's 1941 Wolfman film (which draws heavily upon gypsy lore, and as gypsies only tell fortunes if their palms are crossed with silver, perhaps that's where it came from?). I know -- kind of a bummer to find that out!

Although the idea that one can only kill a werewolf by something silver (bullet, sword) seems to be very popular -- Dog Soldiers, Silver Bullet, The Howling all draw upon that idea (though American Werewolf In London's creatures were killed apparently with regular bullets). Why is this? I think it makes them scarier -- imagine if just any old gun would cut down a werewolf -- where's the fun in that? Much better and more dramatic to have to rummage through your cabinet and jewelry box for silver items that can be melted down and forged into bullets...

What do you guys think about werewolves and the silver myth? Should the metal of the moon be the only one that can kill a werewolf, or should you be able to use whatever you've got lying around?

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post Nicole. I have used silver in my vampire mythology as well, which I think is also quite common. Having a special metal adds to the mythology - afterall, these are supposed to be magical creatures and just being able to shoot them kind of takes away from that magic...

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  2. I agree that something special, such as silver, should be needed to kill something as magical as a werewolf, or like vampires, beheading would absolutely kill them, in my stories--a bolt will kill, but in my case I wanted it to be an absolute, no return to life.
    Using the older myths to our advantage I think is the way to go (:

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