Friday, 21 November 2008

The Wolfen and the Visitors

In Transformation, Strieber's second abduction memoir, the author casts an eye over his earlier work for anything that might illuminate his present- highly unusual- circumstances. Common to several of the fantasy novels that preceded Communion is the same underlying theme: of 'an enormous, hidden, and frightful reality', and Strieber's attempts, through his characters, to cope with it. The first, published in 1978, was The Wolfen, in which this predatory force appears as a race of mutated, highly intelligent wolves. Set in contemporary New York, the novel introduces many ideas now familiar to fans of the later work, including the natural synergy between hunter and prey; and the plausible weave of fact and fiction which is Strieber's hallmark. (Discours de la Lycanthropie, ou de la transmutation des hommes en loups, a sixteenth-century text found in the New York Public Library by Carl Ferguson, is a real work- though its purported contents are subject to Strieber's considerable artistic licence.)

And from a Ufological perspective, it is of great note that The Wolfen anticipates the attention paid in recent years to the role of non-human intelligence in earthly relationships. Published in 2000, one of the first books to address this previously occluded subject was Eve Lorgen's The Love Bite, which- judging from the plot of his novel The Grays- Strieber has almost certainly read. Suggesting that the concept was familar to the writer many years before, the unusual chemistry between the detectives Wilson and Neff- after whom Strieber named his publishing company- manifests for the first time after a close encounter with the mysteriously advanced beasts. "You acted hypnotized," says the gruff, older Wilson, before taking his partner in his arms. It is a theme rendered even more explicit in his next novel, The Hunger, in which the vampire Miriam Blaylock forces a bond with her lover Sarah by manipulating her dreams.

Precognitive strands like these are a fascinating constant in Strieber's work. In common with many writers of speculative fiction, every year lends more reality to even the most outlandish fictional conceit. In The Wolfen, the detectives are dismayed to learn that even a bloodhound- with a nose approximately one hundred million times more sensitive than that of a man- can trace and track an individual human scent anywhere in Manhattan. Contemporary events prove that humanity- or its controllers- are working to close this gap, as technologies for 'odourprinting'- which the CIA was researching over forty years ago- are now beginning to be realised; a process which, if perfected, will present surveillance opportunities far excess of anything presently possessed in nature. The 'Unique Signature Detection Projection' is currently underway at DARPA; and according to a recent report from Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia, such technologies could soon have a military- and later, a domestic- application. (Click here and here.)

Even the Wolfen's mutated claw, of such interest to the naturalist Carl Ferguson, is arguably no longer fictitious. Analysing a composite constructed from casts of the creatures' prints, Ferguson says: "These long, jointed toes can grasp, I think, quite well. And the claw retracts"- a description bearing comparison to the unusual features of the Sphynx Cat, the hairless, somewhat alien-looking breed developed forty years ago in Canada. (Click here.)

So far as the majority of Strieber's readership are concerned, however, the abiding value of The Wolfen is likely to lie in its relationship to the author's encounters with 'The Visitors.' And as his reference in Transformation makes clear, there is much here to interest the attentive Ufologist. For his own part, Strieber observes that 'The Wolfen were gray, hid in the cracks of life, and used their immense intelligence to hunt down human beings as their natural and proper prey.' Indeed, Ferguson could easily be describing the Visitors when he muses that, despite our advancing technology, mankind 'has never faced an alien intelligence before, have never faced a species with its own built-in technology far superior to our own.' And this parallel is sustained when, as their comprehension of the enemy grows, Wilson and Neff begin displaying the sort of hyper-alert, even paranoid, attitudes of anyone who has sought to avoid 'abduction': sleeping as little as possible, preferring the comfort of crowds. A poster for The Wolfen movie- titled simply Wolfen, and bearing little resemblance to Strieber's novel- even poses the question: 'Dieu ou Diable', restating a condundrum often asked of the aliens themselves; whilst superimposing wolfen eyes over the skyline of Manhattan, in classic Communion style. (Click here.)

The most important correspondence, however, lies in the relation of both Wolfen and Visitors to mankind: being on one hand, its prey... and on the other, its lover: matters very close to Whitley Strieber's heart, and a theme developed at length in his vampire trilogy. He ensures dreadful respect- and no little sympathy- for his wolves by writing parts of the story from their perspective, at pains to emphasise, as Miriam Blaylock states, they too 'are a part of the justice of the earth.' The depths of pleasure described in 'ripping' the throats of their victims anticipates the dark eroticism of The Hunger, and also the strange seductive quality ever-present in his encounters with The Visitors, whose proffered 'communion' is not without its fleshy, carnal aspect. (A quality aptly described by the authors of the three-volume research manual, The Universal Seduction.) Neither Wolfen nor vampire, in Strieber's imagination, takes more than it requires; and always is there a sense of compact between feeder and food... however dimly apprehended. Wilson, reflecting on this grave but immutable synergy, recalls a hunting trip embarked upon with his father in his youth. With words which could have come straight out of Communion, Strieber asks:

'When he closed his eyes he saw them, their steady, eager eyes, the cruel beauty of their faces... and he remembered the moose and the wolves. What did the spent old moose feel for the ravening timber wolf- was it love, or fear so great it mimicked love?'


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