Sabine Baring-Gould (1834–1924) was an English folklorist, archeologist, historian, parson, and novelist, best known for his work The Book of Were-Wolves, published in 1865. The Book of Werewolves was a source consulted by Bram Stoker in his research for Dracula (1897).
Sabine Baring-Gould was a prolific writer, authoring about 30 novels and 100 other books on various nonfiction subjects. Among his works is a 16-volume set on Lives of the Saints. He also was a collector of British folk songs, and he wrote one of the most popular Christian hymns, “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
Baring-Gould’s work on werewolves is the first comprehensive book on the subject to be published in English, and it remains a classic, authoritative source. The book was inspired by an incident he experienced as a young man while staying in the French countryside. Baring-Gould had gone to a Druidic cromlech, the Pierre labie at La Rondelle, near Champigni.
It took longer to reach the cromlech than he anticipated—the hike was 10 miles from where he was staying—and he did not arrive until near sunset. He used the remaining sunlight to draw sketches. He then had to make the long trek home, complicated by an injury he had done to his leg while exploring the stones. Baring-Gould walked to the nearby hamlet of Vienne, where he hoped he could hire a trap to take him the rest of the way. It was not as simple a matter as he expected.
The villagers were horrified and tried to persuade him to stay the night. The priest at Vienne offered him lodging, but Baring-Gould declined, explaining that his family wished to depart early in the morning and so he had to return that night. The mayor told him that he could not travel back across the flats because of the danger of LOUPS-GAROUX. The villagers discussed their options. One of them could accompany Baring-Gould, but would then face the treacherous journey back across the flats alone.
Two could go, so that they would have each other on the return trip. The villagers were still afraid, however, for they said a werewolf as big as a calf and with glaring eyes had been seen in a buckwheat field recently one evening at sunset. They discussed at length the grave dangers of encountering the wolf-fiend. Finally Baring-Gould said he would make the journey alone. He vowed that if he were attacked by the werewolf, he would crop the beast’s ears and tail and send the trophies to the mayor.
The villagers were relieved not to have to go with him. Baring-Gould set out alone on the road across the desolate landscape, which was eerily illumined by a sliver of new moon. The landscape was spooky and meeting wolves actually was not out of the question. He armed himself with a stick in case an animal should attack. Nothing dangerous happened, but Baring-Gould’s interest in werewolves was piqued, and he decided to investigate the subject.
He researched the legal records from the Middle Ages on court cases involving Lycanthropy, and also European folklore. His own conclusion was that lycanthropy was primarily a mental disorder rather than a supernatural phenomenon. For Dracula, Stoker derived the name BERSICKER for his wolf from the Berserkir discussed in The Book of Were- Wolves.
Baring-Gould’s descriptions of werewolves also inspired Stoker’s descriptions of Count Dracula’s wolfish appearance: his broad and squat fingers, hairy palms, sharp and pointed nails, sharp teeth that protrude over the lower lip, and heavy eyebrows that meet.
- Baring-Gould, Sabine. The Book of Were-Wolves. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1865.
- Frayling, Christopher. Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula. London: Faber and Faber, 1991.
- Miller, Elizabeth. Dracula: Sense and Nonsense. Westcliff-on- Sea, England: Desert Island Books, 2000.
Last updated: May 16, 2015 at 23:33 pm
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