The Loup-Garou

 

“Loup Garou” from the “Dictionnaire infernal,” Louis Le Breton, 1863. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Part werewolf, part vampire, he goes by many names. The most common is the Loup-Garou, but others call him rougarou; in the Caribbean, a cousin – the Loogaroo – is a blood-sucking, shape-shifting old woman. A recurring character in French and Francophone folklore, the Loup-Garou story has been passed through many French-Canadian generations in Maine and elsewhere in New England, as a warning to naughty children, or simply a fireside tale among elders.

(In fact, the antiquity of the story of the Loup-Garou is evident in its name. Garou comes from an old Frankish word, warou, which shares the same Germanic origin as the English “werewolf.” At some point, the original meaning of garou was forgotten to the extent that the French loup, for “wolf” was added, despite being redundant).

The version below is taken from Rowland Evans Robinson’s Danvis Folk, an 1894 compilation of folk tales. Robinson claimed to have collected the tales from various people across Vermont “fifty or sixty” years earlier, including a story of the Loup-Garou, which he places in the mouth of a man named Antoine. Robinson tells the story, like all his others, in dialect (at least as he imagines it). I’ve provided a “translation” here:

 

“Now, wait till I tell you about the loup garou. Ah, that was a bad thing; it makes me scared to think of it, ever since I was a little boy and the old men and the old women told of it. Then would sit and squeeze around the fire and be scared to look behind us, to see the shadow creep, creep on the floor and jump on the wall, for fear it might be the loup garou.”

“What species of predatory animal are these loose garooses, Antoine? Do they have anything like the human nature of an ordinary wolf, or a lucifer, or a woolynig [a kind of wild cat], or what?”

“Ah, Solon, they were devils more than anything,” said the Canadian in an awestricken voice. “Devil, devil. Sometimes they were men just like anybody, and then they would be wolves, oh much worse than wolves. They catch dead men in graveyards and eat them; they catch live men and eat them. Oh, they were awful. I believe they haven’t got them any more in Canada, now, but in the old times they had them.

“One time, my great-grandmother, got so old she made up her mind she would die, and my grandfather was to go for the priest in the night, a long, long way through the woods, and he was driving along the tail, couldn’t hear any noise except the snow scrunch, scrunching under the running of the horse’s feet. Well, sir, my grandpere was driving along, and not thinking about much, except for “hurry fast.” He was going along a smooth road through the woods when his horse was begging him to slow down and he couldn’t make it go fast, for all he whipped it. The horse just pulled hard like he was drawing more than a two-ton load, and sweated so much he smoked like a steamboat, and melted the snow on the road with each drop of his sweat.

“By-and-by, my grandpere looked behind him and saw a great big, big black dog, maybe a wolf, and he didn’t whether it was or not, with its forefeet on the back end of the train, and he pulled back hard, harder than the devil.

“My grandpere was mad, even more scared than he was mad, and he stuck that thing with his whip, and that thing jumped right on the train and put his forefeet on my grandfather’s shoulder. It was so heavy, it almost squashed him. My grandfather felt for his knife to cut it, because if you draw the blood of the loup graou, he’ll turn back into a man right away, and run off.

“But he can’t find his knife, and he doesn’t know what he’ll do. The horse was scared and ran like a holy hurricane, since the loup garou had gotten his forefeet off the ground and can’t pull them back any more.

“My grandpere felt that hellish thing’s hot breath freeze his neck, and his hairs brush his face like needles, and he shut his eyes, so he couldn’t see that awful yellow eye close to his own, and he gave himself up for dead, just as his horse ran into the priest’s gate, and he hollered and the priest ran out and said some words quick and loud, and the loup garou became a man right away, quick as a wink, and ran off into the woods.

“My grandfather was so scared it took as much as half a pint of the priest’s whiskey to bring him to…

“And they say there was a man, a neighbor of my grandfather, who carried a whip mark on his face for a good many days after.”

 

Happy Halloween, and keep a watch for strange creatures in the night!

 

 

James Myall

About James Myall

While I currently work for an Augusta-based non-profit, I spent four years as the Coordinator of the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine. In 2015, I co-authored "The Franco-Americans of Lewiston-Auburn," a general history of that population from 1850 to the present. I was also a consultant for the State Legislative Task Force on Franco-Americans in 2012. I live in Topsham with my wife and two young daughters.