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Le Meneur de loups

The Wolf Leader

roman/novel, pub:1857

A "gripping tale of diablerie based on a peasant legend" set in Villers-Cotterêts, Dumas' home town.



Images (voyez tous/view all)
    A young girl suddenly emerged from the underwood
    An immense wolf entered the room, walking on its hind legs
    The baron's horse shied, throwing the rider over its head


From Reviews (ADR) by Arthur D. Rypinski:
     Le Meneur de Loups is a supernatural novel about a pact with the devil, set in Dumas' home town of Villers-Cotterêts, circa 1780. It might be viewed as a the evil twin to Conscience L'Innocent, written several years before, in which Dumas depicted the life of a saintly hero in Villers-Cotterêts. Le Meneur de Loups is, however, a strikingly original work, full of unexpected twists, mixing scenes of deft comedy with sudden horror, and showcasing Dumas' profound but not-quite-orthodox religious beliefs.
     Dumas recounts that, as a teenager, he was taken wolf-hunting by his father's former gardener, Mocquet. The hunters flushed an immense old wolf, who escaped unscathed through a fusillade of gunfire. Dumas was told: "That was Thibault's wolf." So, Mocquet tells Dumas the story of Thibault's wolf. Thibault was a young shoemaker. After he obstructed the hunting of the Lord of Vez, he is severely beaten by the Lord's gamekeeper. He is then approached by an immense wolf, walking on its hind legs and capable of human speech. The wolf offers Thibault a pact, Thibault has but to wish someone harm, and the victim will be instantly harmed. In exchange, the wolf requires a single hair from Thibault's head for each evil wish. In token of this pact, the Thibault and the wolf exchange rings. Thibault promptly wishes the gamekeeper dead, and the Lord of Vez injured.
     Thibault derives little advantage and much harm from his powers. Each wish converts a hair on his head into a blood-red strand, long and stiff like a horse's mane, impossible to remove or cut, and his appearance becomes increasingly bizarre. He courts, in turn, a local maiden, the widow of a mill-owner, and the wife of a magistrate. In each case, though his wishes are granted, the women spurn him and laugh at him, and men hate him. He finds himself the master of the local wolves, who understand and obey his commands.
     Thibault learns that a local aristocrat, Raoul, Lord of Vauparfond, is carrying on an affair with the delicious wife of the Count de Mont-Gobert. He idly wishes that the Count will catch Raoul in his adultery. Later, Thibault encounters Raoul in the forest, and Raoul strikes Thibault with his whip. Thibault wishes that he could be Raoul for just 24 hours. Raoul is thrown from his horse, and Thibault finds himself inhabiting Raoul's body, staring down at his own unconscious body, occupied, he presumes, by Raoul's soul. As Raoul, Thibault goes to meet the Countess, only to be trapped by the Count and mortally wounded. Thibault desperately tries to remain alive for 24 hours, so that he can return to his (comparatively) undamaged body. Thibault awakens in his own bed (and in his own body) to the smell of smoke. The locals have decided Thibault is werewolf and are burning down his house.
     Thibault is reduced to living in the forests, eating the game the wolves catch for him. The Lord of Vez mounts a campaign of extermination against the wolves, while Thibault and the wolves hunt the hunters. Only one hair on Thibault's head remains his own.
     The conclusion is just as unexpected as much of the rest of the book, and illustrates Dumas' belief in the infinite mercy and wisdom of God, and the redeeming power of love and repentance, and links this work to Conscience L'Innocent.

From A Bibliography of Alexandre Dumas père by Frank Wild Reed:
     One of Dumas' most attractive minor works. He commences with some fine descriptive passages and reminiscences of his youth at Villers-Cotterets; then, apparently, picks up a popular legend or a tale which had probably been told him in those early days in the forest township. This he elaborates into a long and delightful story. It possesses a supernatural flavour, being a were-wolf tale, differing considerably from the usual style of such. Period 1780.
     Original edition : Paris, Cadot, 3 vols., 8vo., 1857.
     It was reprinted in "Le Monte-Cristo," January 26th to April 12th, 1860.
     It now forms one volume in the standard Calmann-Lévy edition, and one in the "Musée Littéraire."
     In Le Vasseur's "Alexandre Dumas Illustré" it is in Vol. XIV.

         References :—
     Glinel: "Alexandre Dumas et Son Œuvre," page 440.
     Parran : "Bibliographie d'Alex. Dumas," page 65.

         English Translation :—
     "The Wolf Leader;" London, Methuen, sewed, 1904. Also an illustrated edition, with coloured plates, 1904, same firm, cloth. Reprinted, same firm, 18mo., 1921.

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