Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Undertaker’s Moon (Moon of the Werewolf) by Ronald Kelly (1991), Part 1

Greetings, werewolf fans! The full moon is in the sky and, unfortunately, I do not have a werewolf movie review for you yet, but I’ve prepared something else for now that is a representative of a section of Werewolf Theory that is, sadly, a little under-appreciated. It’s time for some written werewolf fiction!

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As I wrote earlier on Werewolf Theorys Twitter account (@werewolftheory), I’ve been reading a lot of werewolf novels recently thanks to Amazon’s Kindle app (and the fact that Kindle versions of said novels are much, much cheaper than physical ones). The novel I’d like to talk about today is one of those novels that I discovered by browsing the Kindle e-store. This will be one of those long articles, which is why I decided to break it up into two parts.

Moon of the Werewolf is the original title of Ronald Kelly’s novel, first released in 1991. In 2011 it was re-released as Undertaker’s Moon together with a novella, The Spawn of Arget Bethir that serves as a prequel to the events of the novel. It is currently available for purchase on Amazon in the form of a Kindle e-book (there didn’t seem to be a paperback version, at least at the time I bought it). If you’d like to get your own copy either before or after reading the following article, simply click on the image of the book’s cover that should be to the side, which will take you straight to Amazon, where you’ll be able to buy and download the novel to your Kindle device.

Speaking of Kindle editions, this would probably be the place where I would start my e-book rant, but instead I’ll just say that for the lower price than that of a paperback I am able to overlook the amount of typos in the text. But seriously… does anyone even proof read e-books? Because there are a lot more mistakes than you usually see in paperback editions, which still makes me frown on digital copies of books. And no, putting an acknowledgement at the end of the novel that the readers can notify the publisher of any mistakes in the text doesn’t make me happier. Why? Because it’s located at the end of the book, so by the time I see it, I’ll most probably already be done reading it. It would be so much better if this message was located before the text… That way I could have actually marked mistakes as I was reading and then I’d have been able to write a constructive e-mail to the address provided. Instead, I was left feeling disappointed, because I remembered some of the typos, but I wasn’t able to pin-point them in the text. And I didn’t feel like re-reading the novel from the start just to find them again – Kindle should have their own people to do that before a book is released, right? …Right?

But that’s enough of complaining from me – without any further ado, let us dive into the contents of the novel at hand. Oh, and before we start, the following article contains spoilers, because writing a post  where I’m trying to analyse the novel in the context of werewolfism and at the same time trying to not reveal anything plot-related would be like writing with my hands tied behind my back. I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum so that it’s still an enjoyable read for those of you who decide to give it a shot, but there are some aspects of the story that can’t be interpreted without knowing a thing or two.

General Plot Overview

An Irish family arrives one day in the small town of Old Hickory, Tennessee, USA to take over the undertaking business after the previous mortician retires. They are warmly welcomed into the local community, but things start going downhill after the first full moon of their stay. A teenage boy is killed and devoured by a bipedal monster, while his friend is severely injured, but survives. Although he saw his friend’s death with his own eyes, nobody believes in his account of a werewolf running around the town. Sometime afterwards, the new undertaker’s son reveals to the boy that it was he who murdered his friend and admits that his whole family are werewolves that feast on the flesh of the town’s newly-departed every full moon. As time goes by, the events in Old Hickory begin spiralling out of control and a small group of its inhabitants band together and formulate a plan to put an end to the werewolf family once and for all.


Patrick O’Shea is an ordinary Irishman living in a small town near Cork, Ireland. He works as the town’s only undertaker, has a wife and two children: a son and a daughter. One autumn night, as he is returning home from the local pub, he finds his family brutally murdered. As he investigates the house, he encounters his family’s killer – a werewolf. The great beast attacks him and rips his throat out, killing him.

However, it turns out Patrick isn’t as dead as he thought he was. He wakes up some time later at the local graveyard, where he is accompanied not only by an elderly-looking stranger, but also his wife and children, who also seem to have risen from the dead. Confused, he is then forced to dig up a freshly-buried corpse by the stranger, after which Patrick, along with the others, undergo a terrifying transformation and feast on the deceased’s flesh, the full moon hanging in the sky above them.

Fast forward sixteen years to the sleepy town of Old Hickory in Tennessee, USA. After the local undertaker retires, an Irish family moves into town to take over the business. Of course, the family is none other than the O’Sheas accompanied by the elderly gentleman-werewolf by the name of Squire Crom McManus. They make a good impression on the locals and proceed to lead a secretive, but otherwise uneventful, life among the townsfolk.

Throughout the novel, most werewolf characters (excluding Patrick and Mary O’Shea, since they seem to be the least fleshed out in this regard) develop various relationships with the locals. McManus starts seeing the divorced owner of the local newspaper; Rosie – Patrick’s daughter – falls in love with a neighbour; and Devin establishes himself as a patron and the de facto leader of the local gang.

As it is gradually revealed over the course of the novel, the reason why McManus – nearly a thousand-year-old werewolf once known as Arget Bethir, “the Silver Beast” – chose the O’Sheas is not mere coincidence. It is part of a strategy that the old werewolf had developed in order to ensure his own survival and, at the same time, keep his existence a secret. The O’Sheas are just one of numerous undertaker families he had bound to his will through the centuries. The reason for this is the burning hunger for human flesh the werewolves experience, which peaks during and around the full moon. In order to sate this hunger, McManus and the O’Sheas bury the newly-deceased without embalming, so they can eat their remains during the nearest full moon.

Fortunately for McManus and the O’Sheas, a local woman falls down the stairs of her own house, breaking her neck in the process. She is then buried and soon becomes the family’s first meal in their new place of residence. That night, the werewolves’ transformation and the subsequent desecration of human remains is witnessed by a former custodian who used to work at the mortuary, now taken over by the O’Sheas. The man runs away and dismisses what he saw as alcohol-induced hallucination, but the seeds of doubt begin sprouting in his mind.

During that night’s feast, however, the family becomes divided. The young Devin – Patrick’s son – refuses to eat dead meat and runs off to hunt on his own. Disregarding McManus’s order not to kill humans, Devin murders and devours a local teenager who’s out camping with his best friend by the river. The latter is spared, but is severely injured by the werewolf.

The news of the murder spreads like wildfire through the county and the sheriff’s office launches an investigation into the matter. However, the sole witness’s account of a bipedal wolf monster killing his friend is outright dismissed as lunacy. Instead, the officers begin tracking a wild animal that they think is responsible. The investigation into the murder of the teenager increasingly baffles the sheriff’s office, as more and more new evidence that corroborates the surviving boy’s statement comes to light.

Soon after, Patrick’s son, Devin, embarks on his personal crusade to create a werewolf pack of his own. He strikes a deal with two brothers running the underworld of Old Hickory and turns them into werewolves, thus making them his lackeys. In his thirst for blood, Devin orders them to supply him with living humans every full moon – this being the only condition in their arrangement. Additionally, he reveals to Jake – the boy whose friend Devin murdered – that he is the werewolf that attacked him and his friend while they were camping on the riverbank. He also tells him that he’s not the only werewolf living in the town, since his whole family is cursed. Using his superhuman powers, he starts harassing Jake into silence about the true nature of the undertaker’s family. He does the same to the boy his sister, Rosie, begins going out with, trying to force him to stop seeing her.

However, as time passes, as a result of Devin’s reckless actions, a few inhabitants begin connecting the dots and launch their own inquiry into the nature of the O’Shea family. With the help of an Irish drifter, who seems to know more about the matter than he at first lets on, the two boys threatened by Devin, and the widower of the woman who became the werewolves’ first meal hatch a plan to put an end to the O’Sheas (as well as the two werewolf brothers in Devin’s service) once and for all. The widower, who runs the local gun shop, prepares silver bullets for the weapons they are planning to use during their raid and they decide to carry out the deed before the next full moon.

First, they head to the farm where the brothers live. After a fight, they kill the two werewolves and free a man captured to be served to Devin during the nearest full moon. Afterwards, the group splits up, each person assigned to take care of a different member of the O’Shea family. Regardless of their feelings towards each of the O’Sheas, they all go through with their plan.

Aware of what’s coming, McManus flees the residence, leaving his fake family to die at the hands of the humans, certain that he can find a new group of people to enslave in the future, but nonetheless furious at the turn of events. During his escape, he comes across Jake’s mother and decides to kidnap her in order to vent his anger on her and thus make her an example for her son to see for crossing the legendary Silver Beast. However, he is chased down by the Irish drifter – who turns out to be his arch nemesis, as well as his worst nightmare. The man is revealed to be the sole survivor of an order of monks whose monastery McManus and his pack attacked and destroyed in the 8th century. Accidentally turned into a werewolf during his confrontation with McManus at the time, the man vowed to avenge all the people that the Silver Beast had murdered and had been hunting down the lycanthrope throughout the centuries.

As a final showdown to settle the matter in one way or another, the two engage in an all-out werewolf battle. Although at first it seems like the monk has the upper hand, McManus still manages to inflict a fatal wound on him in the end. His victory is short-lived, however, as he is immediately stabbed in the back with a silver carving knife by Jake’s mother – her desperate move ending the legend of the Silver Beast.

Life in Old Hickory soon returns to its previous flow. The O’Sheas are thought to have died in their sleep due to a gas leak, while McManus and Devin are considered missing (since their bodies have been thrown into the river by our human protagonists). The novel ends with a cliff-hanger, though, as a dog that used to belong to one of Devin’s victims is found by a man and his son. Thinking they ran it over, they decide to take it home until they can get it to a veterinarian. But it is not to be so, because the full moon triggers a transformation in the dog – which was bitten by one of the werewolves during a struggle when its owner was captured – and the hulking werewolf-dog (yes, you read it right) runs off with a pig the father and son were transporting. Fortunately, no-one but the pig is hurt, but the matter of the werewolf-dog is left unresolved.

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And so, now that we know what’s what (I’ve really been trying to leave out as many details of the plot as possible to not spoil the book completely), I thought this would be a good place to end Part I of the article on Undertaker’s Moon. In Part II, which I plan to submit within the next few days, because it’s nearly finished, I will be taking a look at the characteristics of the werewolves in Ronald Kelly’s novel, as well as the characters’ attitudes towards their own lycanthropy and lycanthropy in general. I will also write my impressions of the novel at the end of Part II, so please stay tuned! I hope I’ve sparked your interest at least a little bit in this piece of werewolf fiction and I’ll see you next time, when I post the second part of the article. Until then!

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