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  • Amy MacKinnon

What Do Werewolves and the Incredible Hulk have to do with Aristotle?

Updated: Jul 17, 2019


They’re in a lot of stories now, and authors do a lot of different things with their characters. They tend to be dramatic—with LOTS of special effects in the movie versions—in showing their changes from human to wolf or wolf-like creatures.

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Some of them even make becoming a werewolf appealing—you get to be stronger, healthier, and live longer (which is weird, because dogs and wolves don’t live as long as human beings do). You just get a temporary fur coat when the moon is full.

But what are they?

Traditionally, a werewolf is a human being (usually a man) who turns into a wolf at the full moon. New werewolves aren’t born, they’re created from human beings who have been bitten by another werewolf.

And then they wreak havoc. Growling, roaring, attacking, biting, scratching—just like a rabid dog.

Except that people are horrified because they don’t look like dogs, or wolves, or “normal” animals.

If someone is (un)lucky enough to see the man-to-werewolf or werewolf-to-man transition, they’re usually repulsed.

But why the reaction of horror?

Incredible Hulk

Mild-mannered (and really smart) Dr. Bruce Banner—aka Dr. David Bruce Banner—conducts an experiment that has an unexpected reaction: He turns into a raging, green, giant.

But not forever, and not all the time.

Only when he’s angry…and he warns people not to tick him off:

“You won’t like me when I’m angry”

Does this remind you of another doctor who had a similar reaction to an experiment?

Stan Lee said that part of his inspiration for the character of the Incredible Hulk was the story, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Photo by Matt Briney on Unsplash

Mr Hyde also horrified and terrified people, and when they saw him they were repulsed by him—even though they loved and respected Dr. Jekyll. And people who knew Dr. Jekyll, and then saw Mr. Hyde, didn’t recognize them as the same person.

So what do Mr. Hyde, the Hulk, and werewolves have to do with Aristotle?

What About Aristotle?

The body is the source of the passions, and the passions are the engines that drive us to take action. So they’re a good thing to have, or else we’d never even move.

Human beings aren’t just bodies: we have bodies and souls.

The soul has two powers: intellect and will.

The intellect pursues knowledge of the truth, the will chooses what is good.

So how do they all work together?

By jlorenz1 - jlorenz1, CC BY 2.5,

The passions are supposed to get us moving to take an action.

The intellect asks if it’s true…or are we deceiving ourselves?

And the will decides if it’s a good thing to do.

The will then makes the choice: do I act or not, and if I act then it’s because it’s true and good, and if I don’t act then it’s because it’s a deception, or it’s bad, or it’s both.

So how do we end up doing things that are wrong, or believing things that are wrong, or outright lies?

Or going into a blind rage where we can’t even think straight?

And what does this have to do with werewolves, or the Hulk?

I’ll bet you can already start to see the answer…

The passions are supposed to drive us to take action, but when they take charge and overwhelm the soul, trouble ensues!

This is what both werewolves and the Incredible Hulk do: they provide a visual image for us of the passions taking over, and overriding what we know we should do.

When that happens, and we give in to that strong emotional reaction instead of thinking it through first, we can go a little crazy.

This is why the characters that encounter werewolves or the Hulk are terrified. They’re encountering someone whose passions—and especially rage—have taken over and override the will’s ability to make good choices.

They’re metaphors, warning us of what can happen, by using symbols of what happens when we fail to have the body and soul work together the way that they’re supposed to, and instead allow the body to overrule the soul.

It’s not a good thing, because the passions have squashed the pursuit of the truth, and the need for wisdom in choosing what is truly good. The character is now reduced to being a rabid, vicious animal—not a friendly animal!—who is out to destroy everything in its path.

They’re also encountering someone who has become less than they should be, and is acting more like a rabid animal than a rational human being. And that is where the sense of horror comes in.

This is why these stories are cautionary tales: they warn us of the dangers of abandoning our humanity and becoming animalistic, so we can avoid falling into that state.

Click here for my free PDF on fairy tales, or click the image below:

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