Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf is a novel that I first came across in the forth grade. I’m not sure where I got a hold of it, but it was the first King book that I read. As a child, I was drawn to the artwork of Berni Wrightson, something that still stands out as a key attraction. The illustrations, along with the shortness of the chapters make this an ideal horror book for children. It’s a book that’s meant to scare, not to inspire deep emotional reflections.
And that’s perfectly fine. On some level, this is a raw example of horror, meaning that I can pick up this book and get images of death over and over, something that I think a lot of horror readers are looking for. The snippets of horror in the first half of the book remind me of Clive Barker's Rawhead Rex in that we never really get to know anyone long enough to form any kind of emotional investment.
Then, at the halfway point, we meet Marty, a handicapped boy who is the only one that manages to thwart the werewolf’s attack. Instantly, our sympathies are drawn to Marty, and King, being a master storyteller, knows he’s got to hook us to Marty and fast. King does this through the not-so-nurturing home life of Marty and compounds it by taking away Marty’s one desire: to see the fireworks. By the end of the chapter I didn’t blame Marty for going outside at night because, well... he deserved a little happiness!
Another nice touch was the use of the town itself as a character. We get to put our finger on the pulse of the community and see how each month, each chapter, wears everyone down bit by bit. If anything, I wish we could have focused more on this because like Stephen Dobyn’s The Church of the Dead Girls, a town put on the brink by an unknown killer is a tense place with a wealth of story.
One thing that should have bugged me was the withholding of the killer’s identity when it was clear that it was known. Normally, this would bother me, but because of the nature of both the setting and the omniscient narration it seems unavoidable. And this sort of lent it the charm it needed to keep the playful tone with the audience. I think this is also one of the key reasons that this feels so much like a children’s book. In fairy tales and other tongue and cheek narrations the teller of the story has one job: entertain (and maybe educate through that entertainment). If this style of storytelling had been used in a novel written for adults then I don’t think I would have been so forgiving, but as it stands this is a terrific little bite of horror.