'The Last Werewolf' Reinvents A Hairy Myth Jake Marlowe is cultured, dashing and full of quotable insights. And at 200 years old, he's just discovered he's the last of his kind — werewolf, that is. Glen Duncan imagines a race on the brink of extinction in The Last Werewolf.
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'The Last Werewolf' Reinvents A Hairy Myth

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'The Last Werewolf' Reinvents A Hairy Myth

'The Last Werewolf' Reinvents A Hairy Myth

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SCOTT SIMON, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Jake Marlowe is the man you'd want to sit next to at a dinner party. He's cultured, debonair, truly the most interesting man in the world. He savors fine literature, wines, food and female companionship. He quotes Nabokov, Lawrence, and "Starsky & Hutch." He tosses off quotable insights, like, "Wales is a stack of vowel-starved hills." Well, you can learn a lot about the finer things in life when you're 200 years old.

And, to add to his attractiveness, Jake Marlowe is an endangered species. He is the last werewolf in the world. "The Last Werewolf" is the title of Glen Duncan's new bestselling novel. Mr. Duncan also wrote "I, Lucifer," in which the title character isn't just a devil, but the man himself.

Glen Duncan joins us from member station KUSP in Santa Cruz, California.

Thanks so much for being with us.

GLEN DUNCAN: Hi, thanks for having me on.

SIMON: And why werewolves so seductive?

DUNCAN: I mean like all the myths that endure, they last because they express something very fundamental in the human psyche, either a desire or a fear. In this case I think both. It's the fear of a beast within all of us, and the desire to be liberated into it.

SIMON: Liberated into it in that we don't have to make any explanation for our feelings. They just overtake us and we act?

DUNCAN: Yeah, there's something in that act of surrender to a really powerful drive that I think we're all very ambivalent about. You know, one of the reasons that natural history programs - animal documentaries - are so popular, we love watching animals because they don't have this existential burden of choice; they just do what they do.

SIMON: Yes, he thinks. He deliberates. He is even sensitive. But he...


SIMON: He despairs because he says humans are moving into the demonstrative age. Help us understand that. Is that like people weeping on "Dr. Phil?"

DUNCAN: From his perspective, having been around for 200 years and watched many of the sort of literary and psychological and therapeutic movements come and go, what he actually says is that, you know, if the analysand on the Manhattan couch, who opens his mouth and begins: I feel - and then if he had any decency, would close his mouth again because...


DUNCAN: ...such an element of bankruptcy and self-deception involved in that kind of self-analysis. But at the same time, he's stuck with it. He is a reflective, intellectual, meditative, self-analytical character. So it's another aspect of the curse.

SIMON: Why can't werewolves and vampires get along?

DUNCAN: There is no answer to that except it just seemed like the right thing to do. In my sort of scheme of things they have a visceral antipathy. I mean it's they actually can't bear the way each other smells. And it comes in very handy when you need to construct a novel with conflict and plot. So...

SIMON: Well, reviews of suggested that you finally give the werewolves their due over vampires, at least in the debonair sweepstakes.

DUNCAN: Yeah, I mean there is this collective idea of the vampire as elegant, and the lovely clothes, and the fine art, and the sort of the ability to bring under their sway the nearest heaving bosom. So I think, you know, they've been objects of great envy. But the thing that's always struck me about vampires, one, is that they've got this absurd disability, which is they have to sleep during the day. This just seems incredible to me that vampires...


DUNCAN: ...you know, that this is part of the mythology and somehow they manage. I mean, you know, basically all you got to do is sneak up on one of them during the day.

SIMON: Why didn't that occur to more people, of course?


DUNCAN: You know, how are they managing? The other thing of course is that, to my mind, vampires never seem to have sex. The bite was presented as a sexual surrogate act. That seems like no kind of fun at all. 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.

SIMON: Let me get you to read a section, if we could, where you describe what - the impulses, the desires that overtake a werewolf in full flight.

DUNCAN: OK, here we go.

SIMON: It's quite a stunning section.

DUNCAN: (Reading) You don't just get the body, you get the life. Take a life into yourself. The deepest nourishment, something like love, you'll see. The space between you swells with untenable potential. Her little breasts the size of apples and her thin-skinned throat with its pounding jugular were already in my hands, between my teeth; taut and turgid, ripe for rupture. I stood outside. I saw how it would be. Nothing but my brother's grip on the rein kept me back, not her. He let the thought stand alone, unembellished. Not her.


SIMON: Woo. Pardon me. Let me fan myself a little bit after that.

DUNCAN: Strong stuff this early in the morning.

SIMON: Yeah, absolutely it is. But he's exhausted.

DUNCAN: He's had a...

SIMON: I wasn't expecting that. Yeah.

DUNCAN: You know, I always perceived in writing a novel on exactly the same principle, whether it's about a werewolf or whether it's about a middle-aged housewife in Lincolnshire. Try and imagine what it would be like to be in that person's situation. So granted, this is a pretty bizarre situation, you know, it's a creature with a potential 400-year lifespan who every month in order to stay alive has to kill and eat a human being.

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 you reconcile yourself somehow to what you have to do. Once you take that situation seriously it becomes potentially a novel of genuine moral inquiry, which was the real appeal.

SIMON: And help us understand what makes Jake so tired. I mean he has been around 200 years.

DUNCAN: He's been around 200 years and he's read everything. That's pretty exhausting.

SIMON: Yeah.

DUNCAN: It's difficult to answer that fully without giving away a plot point but...

SIMON: Yeah.

DUNCAN: But basically he has forbidden himself to fall in love. 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.

SIMON: I suppose I have to ask, have you heard from any werewolves since this book has come out?


DUNCAN: What I've been surprised about I suppose so far is that I haven't had any letters of complaints from self-appointed werewolf experts.

SIMON: Yeah.

DUNCAN: I'm interested that you haven't asked this question actually, because the question that almost every interviewer has asked so far is, did you do a lot of research? And I'm...


SIMON: I'm capable of asking all kinds of silly questions but that one didn't occur to me, yeah.

DUNCAN: I'm kind of stumped by that. You know, the answer that I want to give is to say yes, I did six months at the Institute of Werewolf Studies in Alaska and, you know, I have...


DUNCAN: ...diploma in lycanthropy, but sadly, no such place exists and there was no research for this book. It was just a case of consulting my own imagination.

SIMON: Glen Duncan, his new novel, "The Last Werewolf." Well, Mr. Duncan, a pleasure. Thanks so much.

DUNCAN: My pleasure.

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