Cycle of the Werewolf: A Better Rawhead Rex

Cycle of the Werewolf is a novella by Stephen King that was published in 1983. While it is not “traditionally” King-like, it still holds many of the tell-tales of this style and tone, while still being distinctly different from his other works.

Cycle of the Werewolf is written in the third person limited present tense, a very unique choice for a story. In the market of 2015, most books are either written in Third person limited past tense or first person past/present. The different tone of a third person present narrator threw me for a bit of a loop; by the end of the novella I felt like I was finally getting used to it. Because of this fact, the book was hard for me to get in to. I stumbled over many of the sentences because I kept expecting them to say something different. However, this may be a good thing, as it kept the reader from skimming and missing key points and information.

In comparison to Rawhead Rex, however, the writing falls a bit short. While the different styles kept me on my toes, I thought that Barker did a little bit better job of making distinct characters and really getting at their core issues in the short time that we spend with them. In fact, in my opinion, Rawhead was much better stylistically. It flowed better in my head. That’s not to say that King didn’t have some great lines. The fireworks scene was particularly good, as was the last scene. Those were the two places where King needed to shine, however. This story read a lot like a conglomeration of flash fiction (any maybe my flash fiction friends can back me up). Each chapter (save for a few) was a very short snapshot of a character’s life, ending with their 220px-1985cyclewerewolfdeath, and also ending in a poetic sort of way:

“Lover,” she whispers, and closes her eyes. It falls upon her. Love is like dying.

The Beast leaps on him again. Moonlight is the last thing Alfie sees.

Interestingly enough, we never actually see the deaths, just hear mild poetics about them: something that was much different from Rawhead. Personally, as the intense blood, gore, and bodily fluids of Barker’s story just didn’t do it for me, I found it as an improvement. In Cycle, we get more of the human-turned-monster. King is famous for this. In Rawhead, the monster is simply evil. Something disgusting and inhuman. The Werewolf in Cycle was relatable, the reader is really able to see his thought process, see how the reverend falls from being a holy Baptist preacher to a monster.

So in a way, Barker and King wrote the same story in opposite ways. Both follow a cast of many characters. Both offer intimate snapshots into those character’s lives. While Barker does technically do this a little better, I found myself caring for King’s characters more, despite the halting prose and present tense. Is this a testament to King’s talent or personal preference? Maybe a little of both.

Both stories also end with the monster dying, though in Cycle, I felt much more attached to the character that actually does the triumph. Marty is likable and humanized. He is presented with a problem and he overcomes it because he is smart, not because his kid was just murdered and everyone else has done the work for him already. (Looking at you, Clive). As a story, I would argue that King’s works better for me than Barker’s, simply because the violence wasn’t senseless, there was actually a story (and not just a bunch of random murders that end with someone beating a demon with a statue) and I honestly liked the main character better. Marty is the sort of character that people love: he’s weak, yet strong internally. He’s smart and he uses those smarts to achieve his goal and fix his problem. I give this story a 5/5 for characters, 3/5 for style + prose for a total score of 4/5.


2 thoughts on “Cycle of the Werewolf: A Better Rawhead Rex

  1. You mention that we never actually see the deaths. While I disagree with that, I do think it’s interesting that, in most cases, we don’t see the deaths. That seems to emphasize the deaths we do see.

    I think there’s some gray area in what counts as “seeing the death,” but in my opinion, we see at least two: Constable Neary (“It swipes at him with one clawed hand—yes, he can see it is a hand, however hideously misshapen, a hand, the boy was right—and lays his throat wide open.”) and Milt Sturmfuller (“…the one-eyed Beast leaps on him from the roof of a snow-shrouded Peterbilt ten-wheeler and takes his head off with one gigantic swipe.”). (There’s mention of blood sprays in both of these deaths, but I think I’ve quoted enough to at least make my position seem tenable.)

    Interestingly, I think these deaths are different from the others not only because the actual death part is shown, but also because these are arguably the most offensive victims. Milt is offensive for obvious reasons—he abuses his wife. Neary is offensive in the sense that he doubts the story’s hero, Marty, and disregards Marty’s version of events in part due to Marty’s being in a wheelchair.

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