‘Howl’ by Alan Durant: Short Story Analysis
‘Howl’ is one of my favorite werewolf stories. I read the story for the first time in the year 2009 when I was in the last year of degree college. The author of this interesting and heartfelt werewolf short story is Alan Durant, a famous British author who writes for children, preteens, and teenagers. ‘Howl’ is the story of Lucas who is probably between the age of 12 and 14 years when he narrates this story. Unknown to Lucas, his father is a werewolf. Apparently, during a wolf expedition to Alaska Lucas’ father was bitten by a rather terrible wolf. Since then, he had morphed into a werewolf and became a threat to whoever he loved. His wife unable to bear this ‘dark’ side to him committed suicide while Lucas was only a baby. Lucas goes on to narrate how the truth was ultimately revealed to him by his father, and how he ended up killing his father.
I love Alan Durant’s innovative storytelling skills in this short story titled ‘Howl’. Indeed, Lucas’ father’s pain is like the ‘howl’ of a wolf. However, it is more than just the howl of a wolf; it is the howl of a whole family who has been destroyed by the curse of the werewolf:
- Lucas’ mother committed suicide to get away from her werewolf husband.
- Lucas grew up without the love of a mother.
- Lucas yearned for his mother throughout his young life.
- His father saw that day by day he was becoming a threat to his son.
- Lucas’ father carried the burden of his wife’s death for the rest of his life.
- Lucas’ father in desperation beseeches Lucas to shoot him with the silver bullets he has crafted for the purpose.
- Lucas lands up killing his father during one of his transformations into a werewolf.
- Lucas was left an orphan, but his future was secured by the last will of his father and a dutiful family lawyer.
All these points are at play here in this heartfelt story. As a reader, it’s easy to guess that the father was a werewolf or the homicidal wolfman who was killing so many animals and humans in Wilderness Park called Monks Burn where Lucas and his father stayed. They lived an isolated existence and that is understandable because of the terrible full moon nights when Lucas’ father would transform into a werewolf. This story is handled very gently and with much dignity. There are a few gory details but the focus is on Lucas’ father and his mysterious obsession of keeping people away from the Monks Burn moorland wilderness. He first kills two Doberman in this attempt which belonged to travelers or gypsies. He then makes bigger mistakes like killing a creepy character called Tosh Freeman who was writing a book about unnatural creatures. Tosh is the person who was the first to think that the killing of the two Dobermans was the work of a werewolf. This is a bit farfetched but it lands Tosh with his throat ripped and his insides opened up.
The reason why Lucas’ father had to attack and kill the dogs and Tosh Freeman is left unclear. One can conjecture that whenever Lucas’ father turned violent or angry he would morph into a werewolf, and he would be keen to kill the creatures or person who would be most likely to bring his secret to the limelight. He, therefore, kills and he kills savagely. Lucas’ father is a genuinely nice man otherwise. He loves his son but is a gentleman who broods over the past. He is a man haunted by his past and his ‘other form’ which can do so much harm to the ones he loves. He is an introverted recluse by choice and not because he always wanted to live this way. There are many instances in the story where he warns people not to stay in the Wilderness at Monks Burn moorland. However, people don’t listen to him. He has no control over these people. He is otherwise a plain and simple man. Lucas mentions that his father would look like a regular guy at a pub in a town or city. Unfortunately, Lucas’ father was a werewolf or a wolfman. Creatures and people learn about it at the cost of their lives. Lucas is the last person to learn about this the day and moment when his father transforms before his very eyes.
The image of the werewolf looking at the gun in Lucas’ hands, beseeching his son with his eyes to shoot him can make any grown adult cry; it sure made me cry! The other tender parts in the story are:
- When Lucas is told the truth about his mother’s death. He always thought it was an accident, only to realize it was suicide. He then bemoans that all this while he thought he was robbed of a mother. The truth was that indeed, she robbed him of a mother instead.
- The beautiful trusting nature of Lucas where his father was concerned. He was an obedient lad who loved and respected his father even at that wretched moment when he should have hated him the most.
- The respect Lucas has for his father’s silver bullets knowing that they had served his father well by taking away his life through his son’s hands.
- The ending, when Lucas is left an orphan, and the howling tears he cries for the loss of the ones closest to his heart.
There is even a haunting possibility that Lucas may have turned into a werewolf himself. This is conjectured from the emphasis and placement of the term ‘howling’ at the end of the story. If that is so, then Alan Durant wants Lucas to continue his father’s legacy, the legacy of the werewolf that stalks at night by the full moon.
There are a few takeaway points in this story titled ‘Howl’ which are as follows:
- Werewolves are always killed by bullets that are made of pure silver.
- When the Doberman dogs were killed, people thought it was a big wild cat that killed them like a lynx or a puma. Then the blame is switched to a mad wild dog, then finally, thanks to Tosh Freeman, to the werewolf.
- Other similar mysteries of history are mentioned in the story like UFO sightings and the mention of the loch ness monster, allowing the reader to go one step ahead in believing that a supernatural creature was involved in the story.
- Lucas’ dad mentions that even beasts have a sense of honor which is indicative of why he was unable to kill Lucas who was so close to him.
- Although it was Tosh Freeman who mentions the werewolf theory, it was the traveler Vincent who claimed to have seen the beast.
- When Lucas’ father was trying to drive the travelers away, he first resorted to the law of trespassing, then threats about wild animals. It was only then after Vincent’s challenge that they had lived in wilder places before, that Lucas’ father kills the Doberman dogs to scare them away.
As I said, ‘Howl’ by Alan Durant is one of my all-time favorite werewolf stories and I was glad I was able to review it here on my blog. I read this story in 2009, the same year when I penned my first book of short stories when I was 20 years old. Those days were priceless. I still remember reading this story in between history lecture hours. Alan Durant is an amazing writer.
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