January 02, 2011

The Loup-Garou!

English Puritans and their descendants were the main cultural force in New England for centuries, but there have always been other ethnic groups here with their own folklore. Here's a great wintry story about the loup-garou, the French Canadian werewolf. It's from from Rowland Robinson's 1894 book Danvis Folks, which included folk stories the author heard in Vermont.

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Loup-garou image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Many years ago on a dark snowy night a man left his warm house and hitched the horse to his sleigh. His wife was ill, and maybe close to death, so he was going to get the local Catholic priest.

As he rode down the forest road, all he heard was the hiss of the sleigh's runners and the thudding of the horse's hooves. The snow was good for sleighing and soon he was near the church.

Suddenly, the horse slowed down and the sleigh barely moved forward. The man whipped the horse, but to no avail. It was as if the sleigh was suddenly burdened with a two ton load.

Looking back, the man saw a large black wolf with its front paws on the rear of the sleigh. Its hind legs stood in the snow, and was stopping the sleigh from moving forward. The wolf's yellow eyes burned bright in the darkness.

Fear gripped the man's heart. No ordinary wolf was strong enough to stop a sleigh. This was something far worse! It was a loup-garou, a man who had sold himself to the Devil who could turn into a wolf. Sometimes the loup-garous just ate corpses, but sometimes they liked their dinner to be fresher.

The creature jumped fully onto the sleigh, and the sleigh shot forward as the horse pulled harder than ever. The loup-garou stalked to the front of the sleigh and put its front paws on the driver's shoulders. The weight was so heavy the man thought he would be crushed.

In a panic he searched his pockets for his knife. If he could cut the loup-garou its devilish magic would be dispelled and it would turn back into a human. But in the dark night, distracted by the monster's hot breath on his face, he couldn't find it.

By this point the sleigh reached the churchyard and the priest opened the front door. Seeing what was happening, he said a brief prayer. Instantly the monstrous wolf turned back into a man, who fled into the forest.

Luckily the priest had a good supply of whiskey to calm the man's nerves. Even luckier, his wife recovered from her illness and didn't die.

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Rowland Robinson apparently wrote fourteen fictional books which incorporated real folkore from New England. Unfortunately, he wrote most of his dialogue in dialect so it's hard for a modern reader to understand. For example, here's a direct quote from the loup-garou story, which is told by a Vermonter of French-Canadian descent. Robinson is trying to capture the storyteller's Quebecois accent:

"De hoss was scare an' run lak hol' hurricanes, 'cause de loup garou gat hees behin' foots off de graound an' can' pull back som more."

My guess at a translation: "The horse was scared and ran like old (?) hurricanes because the loup garou got his behind feet off the ground and can't pull back some more."

If you don't mind a lot of crazy dialect writing, you can find the entire text of Danvis Folks on Google Books for free.

3 comments:

Andrew said...

First and foremost, I absolutely love your blog. As a New Englander I think one of our greatest treasures are the folk tales you are working so hard to preserve.

A note on your translation. Having lived in Vermont along the Quebec border and coming from French Canadian ancestry, I believe the translation for "hol' hurricane" is in fact "holy hurricane". One of the eccentricities of Quebecois French is the use of Catholic words and concepts as explicatives (for example "tabernac"/"tabernacle"). While I've never heard the term "holy hurricane" I suspect that the use of holy as an adjective was most likely to emphasize the speed of the horse (in the same way that we may say faster than an f-ing hurricane).

Peter M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter M. said...

Holy mackerel, I think you're right!

I'm glad to hear you like the blog!