The name of Alexandre Dumas is universally associated with his most famous works, like The Three Musketeers or The Count of Montecristo: less known is his The Wolf Leader, a booklet placing him with the first authors to draw the figure of the werewolf in modern literature.
This short novel, much like Polidori’s The Vampyre, contributed greatly to the creation of the archetype of the mythical figure of reference. The werewolf in the contemporary imagination is a primal force of nature, violent in its fury, yet not entirely separated from natural principles of justice.
Accordingly, Dumas’ The Wolf Leader is the tale of the ill-fated pact between the shoe-maker Thibault and the devil, who promises the young man physical and social payback towards the local lord, guilty of having beaten and humiliated Thibault because of an interference during a hunt. As violent and malignant as it may be, the metamorphosis of the man in wild beast occurs as a consequence of a provocation and a reaction to an abuse of power repeated in time: for this reason for the werewolf there is a hope of redemption that is not available for the vampire.
Just like the werewolf represents the natural and violent fury of the uprising of the farmers and anticipates the concept of class conflict that Marx was soon to express (The Wolf Leader was published in 1857, The Capital in 1867), Polidori’s vampire portrayed the predatory and arrogant behavior of the aristocracy towards the lower classes, with the addition of immotivated cruelty beyond possibility of redemption.
The figure of the werewolf Thibault is so fascinating exactly as a consequence of this underlying ambivalence: the jealousy and hatred driving the beast are comprehensible, no matter how morally unacceptable the deriving actions. Also, beyond the socially-oriented analysis, in Dumas we can really feel the love for the forest and the immediacy of the relationship with nature: and the admiration for the natural balance, strength and grace of the symbol of the wolf.