D.L. King is a YA and picture book author, currently querying literary agencies for representation. Her first YA novel, Scarlette Hood, is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in 18th France, against the backdrop of the Beast of Gévaudan 'werewolf' attacks of 1764-67. While retellings of fairy tales (including Little Red Riding Hood) are big box-office business at the moment, I was intrigued by King's project, and the influence of French 'werewolf' history on her work. I caught up with her recently to find out a bit more.
She-Wolf: So, tell me a little bit about your book...
D.L. King: Scarlette Hood is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in 18th-century France against the historical Beast of Gévaudan 'werewolf' attacks. Laced with horror, romance and Gothic undertones, this novel explores the dark side of the fairy tale, yet is grounded in historical reality. It answers the question: what if Little Red Riding Hood had been a real person.
SW: What made you decide to rewrite the story of Little Red Riding Hood?
DL: Back in January 2010, I was looking for some hip cross-stitch patterns. After doing some research, I found a really cool design by the Japanese designer Gera, which was a scene from Little Red Riding Hood.
SW: Fantastic! And the idea grew from there?
DL: As I was stitching away, some questions pulsed through my brain: what if LRRH was a real person? Where would she have lived? And if she was real, wouldn't that make an awesome YA premise? My fingers walked over to the keyboard, and before I knew it, I came up with a rough outline and notes for Scarlette Hood.
SW: A few retellings of Little Red Riding Hood have replaced the Big Bad Wolf with a werewolf (I'm thinking particularly of Angela Carter and Catherine Hardwicke's new film). What interests me about your work, though, is that it is based on a historical case of werewolf attack. Tell me more about the Beast of Gévaudan.
DL: A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away - well, June 30th, 1764, in the Gévaudan province of France, to be exact! - a fourteen-year-old girl named Jeanne Boulet was tending her flock near the town of Langogne. It seemed like any other day, until Jeanne encountered a strange animal. Little did she know she was about to become the first victim in a series of killings committed by an unidentified animal known as La Bete, the Beast of Gévaudan. The Beast was responsible for brutally killing almost one hundred people between 1764-1767, in the Gévaudan province (now the department of Lozère and part of the Haute-Loire department), but oddly enough this monster only attacked humans, never the livestock attended by peasants.
SW: This must have caused quite a panic! What did the Gévaudan people do?
DL: Many hunters, locals and soldiers tried to kill it, but the beast was too elusive. Finally, the case gained national attention when King Louis XV put up a reward of 6000 livres and sent his royal Gun-Bearer and soliders to the province to slay the animal.
SW: And did they?
DL: As the story goes, the King's Gun-Bearer M. François Antoine did indeed shoot a large wolf and brought it back to Versailles, claiming it as the monster and collecting his reward. But as the peasants were about to find out, this wasn't the end of their nightmare. More people were found dead and further sightings of the Beast surfaced. And like every great story of old, a hero was needed...
SW: And who was the hero of this particular tale?
DL: As local legend tells, a roughnecked native named Jean Chastel supposedly shot the Beast through the heart with a single silver bullet, putting an end to the monster's bloody three-year reign. And, allegedly, this was where the Hollywood idea of the silver bullet came from. Anyhow, after Chastel shot the animal, an autopsy was conducted. Inside the carcass, the surgeons claimed to have found part of a child's femur bone. This was enough evidence for the peasants to dub this monster as the Beast.
SW: And what did they do with the body after the autopsy?
DL: The animal was stuffed with straw and brought to Versailles by Chastel. However, King Louis basically laughed him out of the court, saying that the Beast had already been killed. Dejected, Chastel went home and left the carcass. It was then that it began to reek and was thrown out like last night's chamber pot contents.
SW: So, where did the Beast go?
DL: Just like the giant top secret government warehouse filled with countless crates in the Indiana Jones films, there is a rumour that the Beast's remains can be traced to the Paris Museum of Natural History's underground secured storage. However, no-one can be sure, and the Beast continues to be a cryptozoologist's dream - and one of the greatest werewolf mysteries of all time.
SW: It's a fascinating story. What is it about this tale that interests you in particular?
DL: I would say the actual mystery of what the Beast was is one of the most fascinating aspects of the legend. The local peasants thought it was a werewolf, but I've heard theories ranging from the Beast being a sub-species of hyena that escaped from a French menagerie, or some type of animal that escaped from a travelling circus, a pack of wolves that became accustomed to human flesh after scavenging battle fields, to an animal trained by a serial killer to do the murderer's dirty work - Jean Chastel has been accused of the crime.
SW: What's the strangest theory you've heard?
DL: The most outlandish idea I've heard was that the Beast was the infamous French author and aristocrat, the Marquis de Sade! After discovering this, I couldn't resist adding the Marquis in as a character in Scarlette Hood.
SW: What made you decide to combine the story of the Beast with Little Red Riding Hood?
DL: After reading Charles Perrault's version of LRRH, I was shocked to find that his original tale was much darker than the common story we all grew up with. Told as a cautionary tale warning young women of men's wolfish sexual appetites, this early version was very moralistic and resulted in a tragic ending for the heroine: the wolf 'devours' her.
SW: So this was the inspiration for your own telling of the tale?
DL: Even though I borrowed from all versions of LRRH, I knew I wanted to make my story dark like Perrault's and set it in France. But I also thought the novel would be more interesting if the wolf in the fairy tale was a werewolf. Lo and behold, as I was reading all the different versions of the tale, I found another French translation entitled The Grandmother where the wolf was in fact a bzou - a werewolf. [ed: 'bzou' is an Old French word for werewolf, and appears in some medieval French versions of the Little Red Riding Hood tale] So, I had my werewolf, knew I wanted to use a dark angle, and set the story in France, but I still wanted to pin down a real setting to use as a backdrop. After a little more digging, I got lucky. I found out about the Beast of Gévaudan after researching werewolf history and mythology. So I dressed up the wolf in the original fairy tale as the Beast, and wrote Scarlette Hood as if Little Red Riding Hood might have really happened.
SW: The Beast of Gévaudan is not a widely-known story - where did your interest in this period of French history begin?
DL: I've always been interested in history, but in college I had a roommate who loved the movie version of The Scarlet Pimpernel with Jane Seymour. Based on the novel and play by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, it a secret agent tale about a man who tries to save French aristocrats from the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. We watched it together, and I loved it. That was probably the start of the real love affair with French history. I also read Germinalby Emile Zola for a college class (it tells the tale of a coalminers' strike in northern France in the 1860s), and this further fed the fire. And finally, I read Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and watched The Count of Monte Cristo and Les Miserables around the same time, and I was hooked for life.
SW: What about your interest in 'real' werewolf attacks?
DL: I've always liked werewolves, vampires, etc., but really my interest in 'real' werewolf attacks evolved out of this project. I really wanted to place Little Red Riding Hood in a historical setting and use a werewolf instead of a wolf in my novel. So I rose to the occasion and, by researching, I learned of the Beast of Gévaudan attacks.
SW: You must have had a lot of research to do.
DL: Oh man, I did a ton! In addition to reading as many versions of Little Red Riding Hood that I could find, I read a bunch more books including: A History of Everyday Things by Daniel Roche, The Great Cat Massacre by Robert Darnton, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked by Catherine Orenstein, Wolf-Hunting in France in the Reign of Louis XV by Richard H. Thompson, and watched the History Channel's documentary on the Beast entitled The Real Wolfman.
SW: You're writing for a teen audience, but do you think this story would appeal to adult readers as well?
DL: As I tell people about it, I notice there's a lot of adult interest as well.
SW: Is this the genre of novel you like reading yourself?
DL: I will read anything as long as it's a good story. It doesn't matter the genre. Although, I do tend to lean more towards the supernatural.
SW: Of course! So, I guess the obligatory question is... werewolves or vampires?
DL: As far as paranormal, really, anything goes!
SW: Couldn't agree more. Thanks for talking to me. And best of luck with the book.
D.L. King is currently querying agents for representation. For more information about King, and about Scarlette Hood, please visit her website.