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Falling through the cracks
on October 11, 2003
Overall impression: This is a book for specialists. It will not appeal to most werewolf fans.
Once again, I was driven by my compulsion to go out and buy this book, simply because it has something to do with werewolves. Even so, I had a sinking feeling from the beginning, because I knew this wasn't just another folklore collection. It was a book in the occult or paranormal category that happened to include folklore, which is a different sort of book altogether, and one that I often don't enjoy.
However, I have found some good legends or other redeeming qualities in books of this type before, so I tried to withhold my judgment until after I was done reading it. When I read reviews of books that trash the book simply because the reader doesn't agree with the author, it tends to make me angry, so I try not to do this myself.
It may be harder to keep an open mind on subjects such as these, but, when you get right down to it, there really isn't any difference between a Christian reviewer trashing a Jewish book because he doesn't believe in Judaism and a science-believing reviewer trashing a paranormal book simply because he doesn't believe in that stuff.
So, here goes the actual review:
As the title suggests, it does indeed have more to do with witches than werewolves. Only one chapter is devoted entirely to werewolves, though references to witches changing into other animals (mice, cats, flies, bears, weasels and so on) are scattered fairly evenly throughout the book. The included folklore is of the so-so variety. Although the author talks as if he has done some hefty research to dig up little-known folklore, most of it is fairly standard. The non-standard folklore is only presented in little bits that tend to frustrate rather than educate. Like many scholarly researchers, the author has the annoying habit of referring to some little detail from a legend to bolster his main argument, then just sliding past the rest of the legend while heartily congratulating himself on how he's such a great researcher to have even found that tale.
In fact, except for the author believing in werewolves, witches and fairies, this could easily pass as a highly scholarly work. I have not noticed any errors in it (as I usually do at least once with a nonfiction werewolf book) and it has the dry tone and constant lecturing of a scholarly work. In fact, after you read a bunch, you look back and realize that the author hasn't really said much, even though he filled a lot of pages.
For this reason, I think that this is the sort of book that will slip through the cracks. Scholarly researcher types will be turned off by the fact that the author believes in the paranormal, while the general public will be turned off by the dry, scholarly presentation. Thus, it will only appeal to certain specialists or to people (like me) who simply must read any nonfiction book with "werewolves" in the title.
I do have a few other points to make. The author takes a long time defining the concept of the "double" and talks as if he is doing a great master-work by proving that this concept, formerly little-known, is widespread in folklore and mythology. However, if you open up any decent encyclopedia of folklore, you'll find that the rest of the folklorists already know this. The "double" or "doppleganger" concept is both widespread and known to be widespread. It makes you wonder if he was trying to trick his readers into thinking he had broken some new ground, or whether he genuinely didn't know this fact.
However, if you are a heavy-duty researcher, you may still find items of value in this book. It contains short descriptions of quite a number of foreign-language books and articles about shapeshifters that I had run across the titles of before, but had never found any synopsis of before. This may help researchers who can read French, Russian, German, or other European languages. He also draws some parallels between French legends and Japanese legends that I had not seen made before, plus there are a few other points of value, such as the most extensive collection of records pertaining to the Theiss trial (a Livonian/Russian werewolf) that I have ever found. But most of these points will appeal to specialists rather than the general public.