Friday, February 20, 2015

My take on "Cycle of the Werewolf" by Stephen King

A moment’s preamble:  In June of 2014 I began graduate school at Seton Hill seeking an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. This term I’m enrolled in a course that focuses on MONSTERS, and as a part of that course I’ll blog on each book/story/movie covered.

I'll break each review down into 4 parts: Strength of Character, Genre potency, Poignancy of themes, and Entertainment Value. For each of these I will assign a letter grade. My reviews will contain **SPOILERS**

: In Cycle of the Werewolf each chapter could be read as its own short story. As a whole, the book tells the story of a werewolf terrorizing a small Maine town over the course of a year, following the cycles of the moon.

Strength of Character: A

Stephen King is a master of character, and I don’t throw that term around lightly. I believe he built his empire on the back of his incredible talent for crafting characters. He’s fantastic at pitting them against the uncanny, the bizarre, and the supernatural, but it all begins with character.

I found Cycle of the Werewolf to be no exception. King uses a wide cast to bring the town of Tarker’s Mills into rich life. The wheelchair-bound Marty Coslaw is brimming with personality, as are each of his family members, from the brusque mother, to the ridiculous father. Their chapters were standouts. This book is actually very short, so the space King has to develop these characters has to be used judiciously. I think he pulled it off extremely well.

I only knock this book down from A+ because I know that King can do better. I’ve seen it. It may just be due to a lacking of word count, but few of the “extras” in the book outside of Marty’s family weren’t the sort of stick-with-you-forever types that King usually creates so damned well.
Well that explains a lot.

Genre Strength: B-

King obviously knows his horror, and who am I to pass judgment on him for this book’s “horror cred?” Well, I’ve got this blog and these hands, and this computer, and a good bit of hubris, so I’m going to take a stab at it.

I didn’t find the Werewolf particularly frightening. The creature itself is an old trope, and I believe that was as true in 1983 as it is now. King does bring a nice pathos to the tale of the man-turned monster, and he crafts the scenes of the wolf brutalizing people with his usual mastery of detail. But was it horrifying? I didn’t find it to be.

When I think about great “horror” there will be many books I put ahead of this one, many of King’s impressive catalogue among them, so I can’t rate the book higher than a B-.  But don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the hell out of this ride.

Thematic Poignancy: B

The character of Reverend Lowe, AKA the Beast, illustrates the frailty of a man who doesn’t want to die. No matter how much evil he may perpetrate, he convinces himself that he deserves to go on. Somewhere in there is a theme of stubborn pride, of the fear of death, of the hypocrisy of moralizing would-be holy men in the world.

Even more interesting was the inner strength of the crippled, unafraid Marty Coslaw. My reading of him was that King wanted to show that suffering builds character, and that inner strength is sometimes belied by a lack of outer strength.
This illustration was a standout.

Entertainment Value: B+

I was entertained by this book. It was a quick, easy read, and one that contained surprising depth. It was fun, to put it simply, and I’d recommend it for that reason.

I feel I need to address the illustrations by Berni Wrightson in the novel, since they take up nearly half of the page count. The “Entertainment Value” section of my review seems as good a place as any. If I were to give them a grade, I think I’d top out at B-. They do the job well, adding some depth to the scenes, and visually aiding the reader along the way. But I didn’t think they succeeded at adding anything profound to the story, like I would’ve liked. I’m no art critic, but I found them to generally convey their subject in an expected sort of way. They were a little too reminiscent of the Hardy Boys covers from the 60s.

Random Notes and Final Grade: B+

*Proof that King knows his business: The crippled Marty Coslaw is the one to bring down the Beast while his uncle sits there uselessly with an unfired magnum in his lap.

*That eye patch seems like it would be more of a give-away than King made it out to be in such a small town where everyone knew everybody and saw them on a regular basis.

*That mother sure was brusque. King described her that way at least a half dozen times, which would probably be frowned upon in a writer’s workshop, but he did it with a clear purpose in mind. King manages to break writing “rules” in surprising ways every time I read him.


  1. "A good bit of hubris" -- That's how I felt about ripping into Barker last week.

    I felt the same way about the eye patch as did you. It seems like it would've been more of a tell than it was.

    The mother and Marty's sister were both completely unlikable. In the film adaptation, the sister reconciles with the brother and it's touching. Honestly, I was hoping the werewolf would've devoured her last, to be honest.

    And as you point out, it takes a King to break the rules well. I think that comes from knowing how to break the rules right. First we must learn the rules, then we may change the genre.

  2. I have to agree with you this time: the book was quick, fun, entertaining, but not scary. I enjoyed it simply because King is the King and is an awesome writer. You're right, the horror didn't get to me, I wasn't on the edge of my seat, I wasn't looking over my shoulder, but the story worked. I guess that just goes to show that something can be published even though it's not traditionally of the genre. The only thing that made this horror was the monster. However, I did find it more interesting than rawhead.

    1. I will fight you over Rawhead Rex.

      Not really, actually I'd just politely disagree and toast some whiskey to the greats. You know, writer-style aggression.