“Strut on a line, it’s discord and rhyme…”

Halloween approacheth, and if your family is anything like mine, you’ll observe the holiday amid sentiment and song as you gather ’round the giant plastic animatronic mummy. But when the cackling stops and the sobbing of toddlers subsides, why not turn to a little seasonal reading—for example, a medieval werewolf romance?

Thanks to Google Books, you can, if you’re so inclined, partake of the Middle English romance “William of Palerne” without having to visit the library. I’ll let W.R.J. Barron summarize the plot:

William, Prince of Apulia, is stolen in infancy by a werewolf who, to protect him from the murderous designs of his uncle, carries him from Sicily to a wood near Rome where he is brought up by a cowherd until the Emperor, struck by the lad’s promising appearance, appoints him page to his daughter Melior who inevitably falls in love with him.

There’s more; there’s always more in medieval romance. The poets who wrote these works were, thank goodness, only dimly acquainted with the merits of parsimony. Why serve fillet mignon when you can pile on the folklore motifs, stock situations, and encounters with wild animals and grill up the literary equivalent of a Hardee’s Monster Thickburger instead?

If you want to learn what becomes of young William, you’ll have to check out the book, which was edited in 1867 by the indefatigable W.W. Skeat, and wade through more than 5,000 lines of crisis and universal brouhaha—plus a neat five-page scholarly digression on medieval werewolf lore.

Fortunately, things end on a high note, especially for the werewolf, whose name turns out to be Alphonse, and whose subsequent wedding requires him to ponder the most challenging demande d’amour of all: chicken or beef?

UPDATE: Halloween werewolves have also been spotted at Per Omnia Saecula and Unlocked Wordhoard.

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