Book Series Borders, Boundaries, Landscapes, vol. 3

Werewolves in Old Norse-Icelandic Literature

Between the Monster and the Man

Minjie Su

  • Pages: 227 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:13 b/w
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2023

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59600-6
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59601-3
  • E-book
  • Available


“Minjie Su’s presents a compelling argument about the nature and role of werewolves in Norse-Icelandic literature and sagas. Su collects and examines the surviving Norse-Icelandic werewolf narratives and approaches them through a number of interesting and varied lenses, leading to a unique and comprehensive analysis.” (Chris White, in Parergon, 40/2, 2023, p. 240)

“This book is essential reading for any student or scholar interested in wolf transformations in Old Norse-Icelandic literature, but also for those more generally interested in romances, the permeability and insecurity of the body and its humanity, and the roles of stories in communities and intergenerational knowledge exchange. It demonstrates the value of exploring into, around and beyond the wolf in transformation narratives (…) The value of this work lies in its open-mindedness: both in its willingness to approach the werewolf figure with a range of theoretical models, and to consider both the body and the place of the body in its discussions of identity, becoming and belonging.” (Harriet J. Evans Tang, in SAGA-BOOK, XLVII, 2023, p. 53)


Minjie Su has recently completed her DPhil (English) from the University of Oxford; her research focuses on the Old Norse-Icelandic werewolf literary tradition and, more broadly, the supernatural in the legendary and the romance genres.


At the heart of any story of metamorphosis lies the issue of identity, and the tales of the werwulf (lit. ‘man-wolf’) are just as much about the wolf as about the man. What are the constituents of the human in general? What symbolic significance do they hold? How do they differ for different types of human? How would it affect the individual if one or more of these elements were to be subtracted?

Focusing on a group of Old Norse-Icelandic werewolf narratives, many of which have hitherto been little studied, this insightful book sets out to answer these questions by exploring how these texts understood and conceptualized what it means to be human. At the heart of this investigation are five factors key to the werewolf existence —skin, clothing, food, landscape, and purpose — and these are innovatively examined through a cross-disciplinary approach that carefully teases apart the interaction between two polarizations: the external and social, and the interior and psychological. Through this approach, the volume presents a comprehensive new look at the werewolf not only as a supernatural creature and a literary motif, but also as a metaphor that bears on the relationship between human and non-human, between Self and Other, and that is able to situate the Old-Norse texts into a broader intellectual discourse that extends beyond medieval Iceland and Norway.


     Werewolves in Old Norse-Icelandic Literature
     Werewolves in the Franco-Latin Tradition
     Texts in Focus
     Goals and Structure

Chapter 1: Þeir fóru í hamina
The Werewolf’s Skin
     The Skin’s Position in Werewolf Literature
     The Skin’s Position in the Appearance-Essence Binary
     The Skin of the Old Norse-Icelandic Werewolves
     Ála flekks saga: A Case Study
     From lupus to leprosus

Chapter 2: Klæddr eða Nokkuiðr
The Werewolf’s Clothing and the She-Wolf
     The Clothes–Body Dynamics: The Man-Wolf
     The Clothes–Body Dynamics: The Metaphorical She-Wolf
     Dress: Definition, Classification, Function
     From Naked to Clothed: The Knight
     From Clothed to Naked: The Lady

Chapter 3: Et ek þeirra hold
The Werewolf’s Food and Food Taboo
     What and How Does a Wolf Eat?
     Food and Taboo: What Werewolf Does or Does not Eat
     Tabooed Food and Tabooed Sex: The She-Wolf’s Appetite
     The Scale of the Werewolf’s (Possible) Food: The Acceptable
     The Point of No Return: Human and Horse Flesh

Chapter 4: Á skóg með hryggðum
The Werewolf’s Landscape and Mindscape
     Theories and Tools: The Foundation
     Mapping the Werewolf’s Mindscape: An Overview
     Úlfhams rímur: A Tale of Generations
     Úlfhams rímur: Dark Land, Dark Mind

Chapter 5: From Monstratus to Monstrare
The Werewolf’s Purpose
     Classification of the Characters
     (Were)wolf as Learner: monstratus
     The Disguised Hero as Learner/monstratus, or the Werewolf’s Pupil
     Wolf as Teacher: monstrare
     The Konungs skuggsjá Werewolves: The Foundations
     The Konungs skuggsjá Werewolves: Teaching (of) the Wolf

What Can We Learn from the Wolf?

Works Cited