Skip to main content

IMC 2016: Sessions

Session 629: It's Only (Super)Natural?: Literary Depictions of Werewolves and Otherworldly Creatures

Tuesday 5 July 2016, 11.15-12.45

Moderator/Chair:Mary Michele Poellinger, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds
Paper 629-aMerlin and Issues of Identity in Arthurian Literature
(Language: English)
Rosanne Gasse, Department of English, Brandon University, Manitoba
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - Middle English
Paper 629-bBreaking the Taboo: Fairies in Robert Henryson's Orpheus and Eurydice
(Language: English)
Piotr Spyra, Department of Studies in Drama & Pre-1800 English Literature, University of Łódź
Index terms: Folk Studies, Language and Literature - Middle English
Paper 629-cHuman Beings as Food: Werewolves and Other Cannibal Humanoid Creatures in Medieval Jewish Tales
(Language: English)
Yoel Perez, Department of Hebrew Literature, Ben Gurion University
Index terms: Folk Studies, Hebrew and Jewish Studies

Paper -a:
Merlin, the reputed son of a demon, possesses a great many unattractive traits which mark him as his father's son. But Merlin's relationship with his father is more complex than the simple inheritance of bad blood and it shapes how he interacts with others far beyond his easy willingness to be complicit in rape. His father tried to have him killed - a conflicted father/son relationship which is then mirrored throughout the Merlin sections of the Arthurian narrative. First, there are the variations on the 'unknown father' motif. The central figure in this repetition of fathers and sons is Arthur, the boy taken by Merlin from his parents at birth. Merlin's involvement in Arthur's early life seems to be a deliberate orchestration to mimic as closely as possible Merlin's own childhood experience. With Arthur's ascendancy to the throne Merlin steps into another role which also echoes his own earlier experience. As a fatherless boy, he stood before the adult Vortigern as a wise counsellor. Now the adult Merlin stands before the fatherless 15-year old Arthur as mentor and advisor so that the fatherless man can now act as a father to the boy he made fatherless. But if the patterns of Merlin's paternal lineage repeat themselves in his story, his maternal line's identity reiterates itself as well in his life. Not only does Merlin arrange the supernaturally-aided rape of a good woman as happened to his own mother, but Merlin himself eventually suffers the same fate as that endured by women in his family - forcible enclosure in a living tomb. Indeed, as his unfortunate end suggests, there are significant gendered issues around Merlin. In the end, the trickster son of a demon is undone by the feminine shadow of himself that he fostered and created - and who turns out all too truly perhaps to be the demon in disguise medieval texts on women suggested they were. Texts discussed in the paper are Arthour and Merlin, The Prose Merlin, and Malory's Le Morte D’Arthur. The methodology is that of close reading.

Paper -b:
The paper deals with the issue of fairy taboo in Robert Henryson's Orpheus and Eurydice in the context of the lay of Sir Orfeo and Chaucer's Merchant's Tale. The main argument of the presentation is that while Henryson was probably familiar with the lay of Sir Orfeo, he rejects its author's reformulation of the fairy taboo and adopts an approach that aligns him with Chaucer. The focus on Henryson's indebtedness to the romance tradition with regard to fairies will also serve to raise a number of other interpretive issues concerning his poem, such as the troubling relation between its narrative part and the subsequent Moralitas section.

Paper -c:
In my lecture, I would like to discuss two stories dealing with cannibal humanoid creatures in medieval Jewish Tales. 1. 'Adney HaSadeh' - A cannibal humanoid creature that is mentioned in the book Or Zarua, written by Isaac ben Moses of Vienna (1200-1270). Isaac ben Moses of Vienna was one of the greatest rabbis of the Middle Ages. He attained his fame in Vienna and his major work, the halachic guide known as the Or Zarua. According to his book, 'Adney HaSadeh' is 'a sort of human being who are connected to the earth by an umbilical cord.' His umbilical cord is rooted in the earth so he cannot move from the place in which he was born. If one cuts off his umbilical cord, he dies. 'Adney HaSadeh' are considered as dangerous creatures who devour and kill whoever comes near them. Other Jewish interpreters explain that this creature is a sort of either a werewolf or a chatterer human being that lives in the jungle. 2. Werewolf - One of the stories included in the book Mayse Buch (Book of Stories) that was published in Yiddish in Bazel (1602) is called 'The Rabbi Whose Wife Turned Him into a Werewolf'. The book includes stories transmitted in the oral tradition from the 13th century. It seems that the story has a clear genetic connection to Marie de France's story 'The Lay of the Were-Wolf' from the 12th century.