Mood--this is what pulled me into Stephen King's Cycle of the Werewolf and kept me turning the pages. He has a way of setting up each chapter, each attack of the werewolf, with just the right description and tone for an ominous mood each time. Every chapter is like a story in and of itself. Unfortunately, since we don't discover who the werewolf is until the third to last chapter, we don't get into the monster's head quickly enough to make him more real and rounded. At least that was the case for me.
Every chapter is a new month, the full moon, when the werewolf attacks. The chapters are vignettes, a peek into the lives of the town of Tarker's Mills--and the first couple lives we visit are ended abruptly at the close of these chapters. I loved February, the Valentine's Day full moon, and Stella Randolph's death. King sets up this scene so beautifully. "The moonlight has been blocked out by a dark shape--amorphous but clearly masculine, and she thinks: I am dreaming...and in my dreams, I will let him come...in my dreams I will let myself come. They use the word dirty, but the word is clean, the word is right; love would be like coming" (21). And the punch at the end doesn't disappoint: "'Lover,' she whispers, and closes her eyes. It falls upon her. Love is like dying" (24).
It isn't until chapter six, June, where we discover that the werewolf is someone in Tarker's Mills that everyone may know, and then it's not until chapter ten, October, that we finally learn the werewolf is Reverend Lowe from the Grace Baptist Church. Once I found out who it was, I actually wanted to go back and re-read chapter five, May, since that chapter was in Reverend Lowe's viewpoint. The discovery puts that chapter into better perspective, but I think it did a disservice to his character to have such a gap.
The werewolf wasn't truly real to me until we end up back in Reverend Lowe's point of view in November, chapter eleven. This is where we find out he finally knows that he's the monster that's been slaughtering the townsfolk. Before this chapter, the werewolf was a two-dimensional figure, but when we see into Reverend Lowe's head and how he views his own transformations and subsequent murders, that's when the monster became three-dimensional to me. It's the human flaws that hook me into this monster, and I wish King would have instilled that humanity much sooner.
The thing is, Reverend Lowe isn't ashamed of what he does. Instead, he tries to rationalize and justify his transformations into a werewolf. "I am a man of God and I will not kill myself. I do good here, and if I sometimes do evil, why, men have done evil before me; evil also serves the will of God, or so the Book of Job teaches us; if I have been cursed from Outside, then God will bring me down in His time. All things serve the will of God..." (111). This was a great way to make the monster in this novel more human, in my opinion. True, you can't really empathize with him, but most people can't say they don't relate to this in some way. There is at least once in all of our lives where we justify our actions, where we feel the need to give reasons for what we did or are about to do. And it only makes sense that someone with strong roots in religion would use that religion to explain and justify why this is happening to him--it is God's will that he is afflicted with becoming a werewolf. Reverend Lowe's justifications are only backed up in his eyes when his next victim is a man who beats his wife. "He was not a good man. All things serve the Lord" (113).
Although I like how King humanized the monster, brought some depth to the werewolf, I felt that it came too late in the story. It was simply the mood and description that pulled me along chapter to chapter, not the monster itself. I guess this just reminds me that I like my monsters to be a little bit human for me to be drawn to them, and in Cycle of the Werewolf that humanity came too late for me.
King, Stephen. Cycle of the Werewolf. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1985.