The Wolf Demon (1870) Spotlight
About the Novel
The Wolf Demon; or, the Queen of the Kanawha features a mysterious nocturnal creature with the body of a wolf and the face of a human. At the beginning of the story, this "wolf demon" has been murdering Shawnee warriors with a tomahawk and leaving a red arrow carved into their chests. Although the creature is later revealed to be a man in a costume suffering from mental illness, the story features elements of horror that were not especially common in adventure fiction of the time.
As with most dime novels, the labyrinthine plot contains kidnappings, rescues, love triangles, and too many characters to count. However, among the latter are Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton, who are investigating rumours of an impending Native American attack on the frontier settlement of Point Pleasant.
The Wolf Demon; or the Queen of the Kahawha was reprinted multiple times, sometimes under the alternate title Red Arrow, The Wolf Demon; or the Queen of the Kahawha. Its original release was as a serial in The Saturday Weekly Journal (vol. 1, nos. 35-49) between November 12, 1870 and February 18, 1871. It was reprinted (again, as a serial) in the New York Saturday Star Journal (vol. 4, nos. 190-205) between November 8, 1873, and February 14, 1874. The story first appeared in its entirity in Beadle’s New York Dime Library no. 49 on August 28, 1878, then again in Beadle & Adams' 20 Cent Novels no. 16 on August 5, 1876. The latter edition, pictured below, has a stencil-colored cover. Each published version includes a number of different illustrations, some of which are integral to the story. Given how often the novel was reprinted, and its frequent use in Beadle & Adam's advertising, it appears to have been one of the publisher's more popular novels, likely because of the eye-catching cover illustration of the werewolf.
- Vengeance and revenge are pervasive in The Wolf Demon. What are the causes and effects of retaliation throughout the novel?
- The Wolf Demon, as a character, comes into being because Chief Ke-Ne-Ha-Ha does not approve of the miscegenation of his daughter. In what ways do racial/cultural differences complicate the love stories in The Wolf Demon? What are the consequences of interracial love? Who "wins" and who "loses" in these love stories?
- What does a supernatural element like a demonic wolf add to the conflict between the white settlers and the Shawnee? Is Aiken attempting to be, or succeeding in being, sensitive by trying to portray the spiritual beliefs of the Shawnee?
- Daniel Boone’s legend is in many ways much larger than his actual life as a frontiersman. Despite being a well-known figure with a large role in The Wolf Demon, Aiken does not mention him in the title of the book. Why do you think Aiken included him as a character? Look at the serial version of the story and compare Daniel Boone's depiction to later versions. What changed?
- In what ways does the actual Daniel Boone differ from his characterization in The Wolf Demon? From his portrayal in the 1960s television series? Are these differences important to his legend? How do you think Daniel Boone’s "legend" came to be and how has it evolved over time?
- The Wolf Demon lends itself to a wide variety of comparative studies across genres, media, and literature. It would be interesting to compare depictions of Daniel Boone to each other: historical sketches, film and television, and more contemporary works, like dime novels. The novel's episodic nature seems to lend itself to incorporating audio-visual media in order to better understand the text as a comparative piece of literature.
- Daniel Boone is more legend than man. Classes could evaluate what contributes to legends about real people featured in dime novels. This story can be used to discuss legends/folklore and could be used comparatively for works like Le Morte d’Arthur, Beowulf, The Odyssey, or other legends/epics.
- The Wolf Demon, as a work of serial fiction originally, has a cinematic/episodic quality to it. The chapters jump quickly between different locales and different sets of characters. Storyboard a film adaptation of the story. Students can choose to follow one set of characters, maintain the point of view shifts, or rewrite the story entirely. Students could attempt to film a scene from their adaptations, and could try to tell the story from different points of view. How do these different points of view change what matters in the story? Whose perspective is most compelling to the students?
- Nickel, John. “Albert Aiken in Context: Science and the Races of the Americas.” Dime Novel Roundup, vol. 70, no. 3, June 2001, pp. 79-86.
A look at two of Aiken’s other works that can be used to look further into his writing style and content.
- Lawlor, Mary. “The Fictions of Daniel Boone.” Desert, Garden, Margin, Range: Literature on the American Frontier. Edited by Eric Heyne, Maxwell Macmillan, 1992, pp. 29-43.
A source for depictions of Daniel Boone in late 19th Century fiction.
- McCulloch, Judith A. “The Daniel Boone No One Ever Heard Of.” Southern Folklore Quarterly, vol. 39, 1975, pp. 263-269.
Discussion of how Daniel Boone rose in popularity compared to others of his contemporaries despite historically losing popularity