The Act of Transformation

In a 2012 Sleet magazine article, Shannon Scott ’10 M.A. said she was known as “the werewolf lady” during her time as a graduate student at St. Thomas.

Scott, now an adjunct professor of English at St. Thomas, St. Catherine and Hamline, laughed at the recollection.

“I don’t know if I am anymore,” she said. “It was just a fun, weird period in my life.”

Whether or not she holds onto her title as “the werewolf lady,” Scott certainly has spent a lot of time in the presence of werewolf literature. She taught a class on werewolf literature in 2012 at St. Thomas; co-edited Terrifying Transformations: An Anthology of Victorian Werewolf Fiction, 1838-1896 with professor Alexis Easley; and, most recently, her essay, “Female Werewolf as Monstrous Other in Honoré Beaugrand’s ‘The Werewolves’” will appear in She-Wolf: A Cultural History of the Female Werewolf, published by Manchester University Press and released in April.

An early transformation

Scott said she remembers being drawn to werewolf stories when she was young.

“I think I always liked the idea of transformation as a kid,” Scott said. “Like most kids, I wanted to be able to shapeshift into any kind of animal.”

As a graduate student at St. Thomas she explored werewolf literature in more depth, and especially was drawn to Victorian-era stories.

“We think of the Victorians as so reserved and refined,” Scott said. “They were reading such gory stuff and loving it. … The penny dreadfuls were so sensational, so graphic.”

Scott then learned about the She-Wolf book, spearheaded by Hannah Priest of the University of Manchester, that was in the works.

“It’s such an interesting monster,” Scott said of the female werewolf. “You wouldn’t think (they) would crop up so much, especially in the 19th century. (But) it really does. I think it’s because things were changing so much for women at the time. … It’s the ultimate femme fatale figure.”

Scott said in Victorian-era stories female werewolves almost always were portrayed negatively: They tricked men; killed them; and transformed because they were evil and wanted to. They also were often of another race or from a different place, adding an additional level of transgression in the eyes of British readers.

On the other hand, Scott said male werewolves were sympathetic characters, bitten against their will but trying to be good guys.

The monstrous other

For the essay she submitted to She-Wolf, Scott veered away from Victorian stories. She originally wrote “Female Werewolf as Monstrous Other in Honoré Beaugrand’s ‘The Werewolves’” for a class on 19th century American literature Liz Wilkinson, associate professor of English, was teaching. Finding Beaugrand’s text was particularly helpful because it addressed so many issues of the time, Scott said, while also having the werewolf aspect.

“It’s so filled with carnage, slavery and the eradication of indigenous peoples,” Scott said. “It’s one of those you don’t enjoy looking at, but such are the realities of the century.”

Beaugrand was a Canadian author, journalist and politician. “The Werewolves” is about Linotte, a Native American woman who also is a werewolf, and takes revenge upon her husband, a French trader, after he leaves her for another woman.

Scott drew comparisons from Beugrand’s work to other literature of the 19th century, saying that such stories were ways to dehumanize Native Americans: By making them werewolves, akin to savage, predatory animals, it not only became acceptable to kill them, but encouraged. These stories were riddled with historical inaccuracies, which painted Native Americans in an even more negative light. (Scott emphasized the ridiculousness of Linotte being the one to infect her husband’s new lover, a white woman, with small pox.)

Scott grounded her own analysis in real history and facts, noting how disturbing much of the language used about and toward Native Americans was, especially in the case of President Andrew Jackson.

“The government was very deliberate, obviously, in its desire for land and how they wanted to take it,” Scott said. “Reading those sorts of documents where they’re laying out who needs to be removed and their reasons for it, or comparing how you can kill a wolf and an Indian, but that’s it – it’s very disturbing stuff.”

In “The Werewolves” Native Americans can transform into wolves if they’ve lapsed from the Christian faith, another element of transgression.

Scott also wrote about how the stories of indigenous people in regard to shapeshifting were ignored deliberately. Instead, Canadian and American writers incorporated elements of European folklore. She noted that the ending of “The Werewolves” veers away from traditional European stories when Linotte kills her husband.

“Underneath all the blood and gore that saturate Beaugrand’s ending is a view of the frightening ‘New World’ through the lens of an old European one,” Scott wrote. “As a result, what manifests from the interaction between two cultures becomes a warning that European traditions no longer win out in a landscape where a huntsman who is foolish enough to marry a werewolf can and will lose everything.”

Sharing the monsters

Scott taught a werewolf class in 2012 at St. Thomas, which covered stories from the founding of Rome to modern-era tales, including some films. She said “An American Werewolf in London,” which her students helped her enjoy, was probably her favorite even though it was “gory and kind of strange.”

Her new focus is circus literature, which she has taught at St. Thomas and currently is teaching at St. Catherine. She described the circus as her “new monster.” Her circus literature class covers Edward Hoagland, Franz Kafka and newer novels, such as Geek Love, Night Circus and Water for Elephants.

Scott said she enjoyed teaching at different schools, because each is a little different.

“(St. Thomas students) are willing participants for the unconventional,” Scott said, praising them for their ability to try group work or creative writing.