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'The Last Werewolf' Reinvents A Hairy Myth

Jake Marlowe is a man you'd want to sit next to at a dinner party. He's cultured and debonair; he savors fine literature, food and female companionship; he quotes Vladimir Nabokav, D.H. Lawrence and Starsky and Hutch.

In his 200 years, Marlowe — the world's last werewolf — has learned a lot about the finer things in life.

Glen Duncan tells Marlowe's story in his new, best-selling novel The Last Werewolf. Duncan is also the author of I, Lucifer, a novel in which the title character isn't just a devil, but the devil. He tells NPR's Scott Simon how, like so many others, he found himself drawn to werewolves.

"Like all the myths that endure, they last because they express something very fundamental in the human psyche — either a desire or a fear," he says. "In this case both; it's the fear of a beast that's in all of us, and the desire to be liberated into it."

Those very contradictions play themselves out in Marlowe, a reflective, intellectual and meditative character who, nonetheless, has to kill to survive.

Werewolf Vs. Vampire

But Marlowe isn't the only one who has to kill. After all, where there are werewolves, there are often also vampires — and Duncan's book is no exception. In the world of The Last Werewolf, as in so many other fantasy worlds, werewolves and vampires are each other's worst enemies.

"It just sort of seemed like the right thing to do," Duncan says. "In my sort of scheme of things they have a visceral antipathy. They actually can't bear the way each other smell. And it comes in very handy when you need to construct a novel with conflict and plot."

Some reviewers have even suggested that with Duncan's book, werewolves are finally getting their due in today's vampire-infested literary landscape.

Duncan doesn't deny his favoritism. He says there are two things he doesn't buy about the whole vampire mythos. The first is that they have to sleep during the day ("All you have to do is sneak up on one of them during the day. How are they managing?") and the second is that vampires never seem to have sex.

"The bite was presented as a sexual surrogate act, and that seems no fun at all," he says. "One of the things that seems absolutely clear to me about werewolves — with their canine makeup — is that they would be dogs, as it were."

Glen Duncan is a British author currently living in London. He is the author of eight novels, including <em>I, Lucifer</em>.
/ Courtesy of Knopf
Courtesy of Knopf
Glen Duncan is a British author currently living in London. He is the author of eight novels, including I, Lucifer.

The Man Behind The Werewolf

The specifics of that canine makeup were all discovered through a seemingly simple principle of Duncan's: putting himself in his character's shoes. He says he starts every novel that way — even if it means trying to imagine the life of a werewolf.

"It's a creature with a potential 400-year life span who every month, in order to stay alive, has to kill and eat a human being," he says. "Now, of course, that's a larger-than-life moral predicament but once you take seriously the idea that he's not going to kill himself — I mean, those are the options, you either kill yourself or reconcile yourself somehow to what you have to do — once you take that situation seriously, it becomes potentially a novel of real moral inquiry, which was the real appeal."

By the time we meet Marlowe, he's becoming tired of life. He's lived 200 years, read just about everything and is simply exhausted.

"He has forbidden himself to fall in love," Duncan says. "That is the kind of deal that he makes with the universe in recompense for the atrocities he has to commit. And the reason that when the novel opens, he's ready for death, is because that's what he can't take anymore — wandering the world without love."

And then, as if he weren't lonely enough, his life suddenly becomes the last of its kind. To him, it may seem like the end, but for us it's only the beginning.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.