The research I’ve been looking at recently reveals some surprising wolf mythology, a link, perhaps, to the popularity of werewolves in the Francophile lore.
Just today I found that the place I write about in my current novel, a village straddling Northwest Provence/Southwest Savoy, was home in the 18th cent. to a killing spree — by wolves. The loup garou,werewolf in French, had quite a following in the town of Gevaudan, in the region of Savoie. As it happens, I have named my story’s resident noble “Count Gevaudan,” so this story really hits the mark for me. The French wolf tale was more than mythology. Numerous newspapers identified the village of Gevaudan as a place of real danger, especially to shepherds, as it was upon hillsides where a crazed beast set upon its victims. Indeed, as many as 300 villagers perished in woods and fields in the region from vicious bites, especially to the throat.
Though prize money of a year’s salary went on offer, none of the mercenary killers who searched for the beast could capture it. What was this evasive creature? A pack of dogs, roaming wolves, a trained predator hound? Sick of waiting to be rescued, a group of local teenagers took up arms in 1764. They were led by peasant Marie-Jeanne Valet.
This young woman and her hunters searched three years for the beast, and finally caught up to it on a bridge. The outcome of the story now departs into legend. It varies as to how the wolf was dispatched. In some accounts, Marie-Jeanne wounds the animal badly with a bayonet, and it runs away never to return. In another version, the beast turns out to be Marie-Jeanne’s own brother, transformed into a loup garoup. She kills it with a poison-tipped blade in that account. Whichever version is correct, a statue remains to this day in the village of Auvers. You can see it just beyond the church.