Anne Rice’s The Wolf Gift conveys the impression that the author is establishing a new series, comparable to her Vampire Chronicles or Mayfair Witch books. When Rice’s lycanthrope protagonist Reuben Golding is transformed into a werewolf, he must come to terms with his new condition. In this regard, he is similar to the protagonist of her novel The Vampire Lestat. Both Lestat and Reuben are turned into supernatural creatures against their wills and are left to learn about their new condition without benefit of a mentor. Alas, Reuben is no Lestat, and The Wolf Gift is no The Vampire Lestat. The plot is all too predictable for those familiar with the author’s work, though someone reading Anne Rice for the first time would also be annoyed by The Wolf Gift as it is full of extraneous story elements that have nothing to do with the novel’s supernatural subject matter. However, I do give Rice credit for creating werewolves that are not lazy imitations of contemporary iterations but are instead grounded in earlier representations of lycanthropy.
The first problem with The Wolf Gift is that many of the events of its plot are wildly improbable. For example, in the first few chapters we learn that Reuben is a twenty-something cub reporter for The San Francisco Observer, who has travelled about four hours outside the city to write a story about a grand old mansion located in the middle of a redwood forest. Almost immediately, Reuben makes up his mind to purchase the property. Luckily for Reuben, he doesn’t have to rely on his meager salary as a print journalist because his parents are wealthy and can finance his whims. But then, a streak of good luck intervenes, and Reuben does not have to buy the house after all. Reuben meets the house’s most recent owner, the lovely, middle-aged Marchant Nidek, who has just inherited the property from her Uncle Felix now that he has finally been declared legally dead after disappearing twenty years earlier. After a few hours of conversation and dinner, Reuben and Marchant spend the night together. As Reuben slumbers, Marchant impulsively updates her will to leave the estate to him. Moments later, Marchant’s angry younger brothers break into the house and murder her for not giving them more money to indulge their drug addictions. Reuben is also attacked by the brothers, but they are unable to murder him as planned because a werewolf suddenly arrives and kills them instead. Before leaving, the werewolf bites Reuben, which turns him into a werewolf shortly thereafter.
The rest of the novel follows Reuben attempting to adjust to his lycanthropy, or what he calls “the wolf gift.” He has no one to mentor him about his awakening abilities or hungers, but he does occasionally find clues in his new home from documents left behind by Uncle Felix. Rice’s depiction of Reuben as a werewolf is unusual since he doesn’t follow the contemporary paradigm for this creature. While Reuben does transform into a hirsute beast who goes on killing sprees, he is not an out-of-control savage such as the one most famously portrayed by Lon Chaney, Jr. in the 1941 film The Wolf Man. Instead, Rice’s werewolf draws upon much earlier representations of the creature as more sinned against than sinning. Reuben is similar to the werewolf described in the 12th century by Marie de France in her “Bisclavret” in that he too only attacks evil-doers, a characteristic t...read more