No such thing as an Alpha

My Mrs Hudson werewolf story is coming to its hairy conclusion over on my Patreon. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with the werewolf tropes as well as slipping in a lot of Sherlock Holmes references, and massively enjoying writing so many cool paranormal women: Audrey Hudson, NIck Murray, Myca Holmes and Irene Adler.

Even though a general werewolf mythology is widely known – the victims turn into a wolflike monster at the full moon, they tend to kill a lot of innocent bystanders, a bite or scratch from one will pass the curse on to survivors – I still like to throw in some of my own interpretations and the occasional curve ball.

In writing The She Wolf of Baker Street, I wanted to do a few different things with a 63-year-old woman who is a part time wolf and pack leader who begins this story packless.

I also wanted to explore some ideas around the violence of humans versus the violence of nature; about violence as it pertains to grief, to anger, to cruelty and to self control; and about the affect of the moon on a post-menopausal werewolf.

Or, as Audrey Hudson likes to say, “I am not the moon’s bitch,”

Naturally, in my pursuit of understanding a bit more about wolves in the wild, I found beautiful animals who are not much related to the slavering, often mindless cursed beasts of werewolf lore.

Sure, they’re wild animals. They are predators. They hunt for food, they defend their territory. The older studies showed that the pack mentality demands a strong, usual male, leader, who will fight to gain and maintain his position of authority in the pack.

Only, thanks to a serendipitous viewing of an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, I learned recently that this is 95% bunkum.

In fact, the most famous descriptions of wolf behaviour using the “Alpha” terminology comes from the 1970 Dave Mech book The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,

The thing is, Dave Mech is kind of annoyed about that now. His massively popular book is still in print after 50 years, despite what he calls “numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it”.

Because it turns out that most wolf packs are made of up a small group of related wolves. That is, they’re a family unit. What looked like an Alpha Male was…. a father. Or a breeding male, if you want to be clinical about it. His breeding partner, the Alpha female, is pretty much just a wolfy mum.

Mech doesn’t mention werewolves at all, which is a bit of a shame, but I’ll assume he means it can apply across the divide.

Or does it? Human use of the term doesn’t stop at wolves; it’s also applied to some groups of monkeys and has been co-opted to describe human behaviour. As Adam Conover mentions in the Alpha Male sketch, many people inaccurately apply the terminology to much more complex human relationships. I know that some kinds of romance novels refer to male protagonists as ‘Alpha’ or ‘Beta’, presumably as an aid for readers who prefer once type of male protagonist over another (I almost invariably find cocky, aggressive ‘Alpha’ heroes really annoying and off-putting; I definitely prefer the more the more socially and emotionally aware so-called “Betas”, or for the more taciturn leads to evolve in that direction.)

In any case, werewolves are only part wolf, and only some of the time, so there’s still plenty of story-room to explore the nature inherent in being a wolf, and in being a human, and in being a combination of the two.