Legends Of Urban Fantasy: The Lycans

While the Vampire seems to be the most popular creature in the pantheon of urban fantasy, the Lycans mythology seems to be the oldest.


A lycan in the wild.

The first mention of lycanthropy, or werewolves, dates back to mid-First Century Greece. The phenomenon traveled across Europe and North America down through the centuries.

But unlike the vampires, werewolves have not ventured through time alone. Almost every werewolf legend or story includes the presence of witches or gypsies nearby.

That part of the folklore has carried over into literature and cinema.

Lycans In Literature

Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, the lycans had no big debut novel that became a classic urban fantasy tale. In fact, it was J.R.R. Tolkien who is credited with the first werewolf character. But even that wasn’t a standalone work. Tolkien included a lycan in his legendarium. This collection served as the background writings he used to put together his Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit masterpieces. Those writings began around 1916 and continued on for decades and were only published after his death.

Remus Lupin was a lycan in the Harry Potter book/film series.

In recent years there has been an uptick in primarily lycan stories. But certainly nothing like we see in the vampire realm. J.K. Rowling included two notable lycans in her Harry Potter series. The much feared, Fenrir Greyback, and the friend of Harry’s parents, Remus Lupin. And of course there are the lycans in the Twilight series.

But as far as a definitive novel about the first werewolf and its origins, it doesn’t seem to have been written yet. Fortunately, Hollywood stepped in to fill the void on the big screen.

Lycans On The Big Screen

Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolfman in 1941.

The first official werewolf movie hit the screens in 1935. Werewolf of London was Universal’s first lycan-based film and fared well. But it wasn’t until six years later that The Wolfman found his stride.

In 1941 we were introduced to Lawrence Talbot. Larry was the prodigal son returning to Talbot Hall following the death of his brother. But Talbot’s homecoming is not a happy one. He is bitten while killing a wolf and becomes The Wolfman. The movie, starring Lon Chaney Jr., sparked several sequels. It even led to encounters between Talbot, the Frankenstein monster and Dracula.

Of course, Hammer got in on the creature during its run of horror films, including a solid turn by Oliver Reed. The Howling and An American Werewolf in London were interesting takes on the creature. Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfieffer and James Spader’s performances made Wolf a solid addition. And the Underworld series of films has done the best job of exploring the origins of both species.

Anthony Hopkins was not Dad of the Year material in the 2010 film, The Wolfman.

But perhaps the best wolfman movie of them all was the 2010 entry, The Wolfman, with Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Tolot and Anthony Hopkins as his father. As I have mentioned here before, Anthony Hopkins alone makes any film watchable.

Television series got in on the act as well, starting with Quentin Collins, played by David Selby, in the late 1960s classic gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Being Human also included lycans.

So they may not receive the attention of their brethren creatures, but the lycan world is being explored. What new, dark corners of the lycans remain to be discovered remain, with eager anticipation, to be seen.

About the author

Richard Paolinelli