Against Silver Bullets

There’s no one answer for everything.

Movies do a lot of great things. In the course of two hours they paint a great and colorful landscape of action, scenery, and emotions. But still, only two hours. About the length of four anime episodes. And on top of that, when dealing with fantasy and science fiction, Hollywood has gone for the big, flashy, and showy. Especially when this lets them pit a lone Hero or few against the Dark Forces of… whatever. Which means they simplify things.

One of the classic examples of this being werewolves, and the silver bullet.

What’s interesting about that is it’s genuine werewolf lore, but it only goes back to about the late 1700s – Wikipedia speculates the Beast of Gévaudan as the source of the lore, and that would make sense, given the creature was supposed to be demonic, and silver has been considered holy for a very long time. (There’s also earlier bits on using silver against shape-shifters, not necessarily by way of bullets.)

Werewolf lore, however, goes way, way back, possibly as far back as Proto-Indo-European mythology and definitely as far as ancient Greece – see Lycaon,  but mind that story is gruesome. And while people back then may have had silver, they definitely didn’t have bullets.

…Not that they would have thought they needed even silver, most of the time. Up until the Beast, it was pretty much assumed that a werewolf was just as prone to normal injury as any wolf, and one of the ways to identify them was to find a human with the same injury as the wolf had taken. And a werewolf was not always a werewolf forever. Some people were cursed for a certain number of years; some cases could be cured by exhausting the afflicted individual. In fact, in some times and places, addressing a werewolf by its Christian name would not only stop it from attacking you, it’d cure the werewolf.

I suspect this is just not dramatic enough for Hollywood. Which is a darn shame. Can you imagine the possibilities for a tense thriller as a detective tries to deduce who the werewolf must be, so they can shout the name at the next attack and stop the whole monstrous plague in its tracks?

And yes, this goes along with the whole “tired of saving the world” post. Because honestly, Hollywood werewolves ought to have taken over the whole planet pre-bullets ever being invented. For werewolves to make sense, small-scale heroes have to be able to fight them!

39 thoughts on “Against Silver Bullets

      1. Just thought up an interesting explanation for why ‘all myths are true’ could work in an urban fantasy setting, even without humanity having been destroyed in prehistoric times. Human stories can act magically to permit creatures from other worlds to enter our world. LA is geomantically very bad juju where this effect is concerned. When evil men roam Hollywood as they do now, producing stories, the net effect of the stories is twisted malignly, working to bring ever more, ever more dangerous creatures. Looking at trends in world storytelling, we dare not speculate about the places to which we are being brought, lest we bring them faster.

        So, yeah, lots of fun things that could be done with that, including hollywood werewolf Achilles.

        But the default feel of it seems a sort of old norse, einherjar at valhalla sort of will to battle. I’m kinda sick of that at the moment. I miss the old American kill them, kill them fast, hard, and cheaply, and go home and get the real work done sort of will to battle.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It is a bad idea for storytellers and loremasters to blame stories and lore for monsters. Never explain the world in a way which prevents getting paid. 🙂

        There are systems which take storytelling on certain subjects as a bad idea, but most of those believed that there were safe times of year when it was obligatory to talk about bad spirits, or to tell ghost stories.

        LA is a blessed place. If it weren’t, think how much worse it would be.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It also runs the risks of solipsistic bullshittery. Which I tend to hate reading, especially combined with author psychiatric episodes and self inserts. So, serious strike against the concept for me.

        I am a contrarian jerk. Reflexively contrarian, and major jerk. The way I would handle things is: “All the stories Hollywood says you cannot tell anymore, that Hollywood says are bad? Are good and necessary. They stave off the works of the adversary that works through Hollywood.”

        So at least one of the cast needs to be an indy writer publishing through Amazon.

        Issue here is that not everything opposed to Hollywood is good. Of course, people do need to hear more about discernment when it comes to opposing an insidious evil cause, and going from merely opposing to achieving good.


      4. Oooh, how about something like stories form how the monsters express?

        They’ll always show up, because fears are like that– but if you have stories, you can form them.

        Roughly as Chesterton put it, they don’t tell you that dragons exist, because we all know they exist– they tell you that dragons can be defeated!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I never realized that little detail about silver bullets and werewolves… But yes, it doesn’t make sense. Maybe they used arrows with silver tips?
    Also, your idea about movie is more interesting only as idea, than whole werewolf movie (ala Hollywood) .

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This reminds me of how Butcher approaches werewolves in the Dresden Files. One type can be harmed by anything, if I remember right . . . while another can only be killed with silver. Using the silver as bullets is just a better strategy than close combat with something so big and nasty.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Actually, the bullet had been around for a long time, just not in the modern sense. What is commonly referred to as a bullet is actually the cartridge. The bullet part is just the lead. The cartridge holds the gunpowder and the primer ignited it. The term bullet has been in use, in one form or another, for about as long as we’ve been using slings.

    So anciently the concept of a silver bullet could just be a slug of silver thrown at someone. And a sling is utterly lethal in hands of an expert. I know someone who could put a rock through a stop sign at 100 paces, and admitted to sending one through both sides of the back of an empty sixteen wheeler truck. Whatever the non-cab part was called. So in that sense, silver bullets become much more interesting, if you could just use a sling to deliver, I dunno, a silver broach to the skull. Also opens up the possibility to use a bit of silver ore, no refining needed.

    … And also opens up some interesting ideas about ‘cold iron’ that could have deterred fey.

    But I do wish someone would use some of the old cures or banes.

    Also, I wish people would stop hyping up all senses of werewolves. Dogs can see about three feet in front of themselves. Just once, I’d like to see a way to find a werewolf be a person suddenly becoming nearsighted.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Dogs, maybe. Sighthounds are farsighted.

      For example, our snowbound spotted a diseased raccoon under a low-branched evergreen in the next yard over, and it took me ages to even spot what was worrying her when I could see her staring at it.

      But on open ground, with something of interest, any old sighthound can see for miles. Not just things that are moving, either, although it helps.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. And when you consider some of the more exotic sling bullets in history, like the Assyrian dual-alloy lead sling bullets, heated in a fire til the inner part was molten, while the coating layer had a higher melting point so was still solid… until impact sent it splattering molten lead everywhere. Add that sort of stuff to the idea of silver sling bullets.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Good point . . . there is also the factor that silver, being a valuable metal, wasn’t exactly readily available for your average person.

    Yes, some places had silver coins but the silver was often a thin jacket over less expensive metals . . . and a lot of places would increase the amount non-silver to silver (or other precious metal) in their coins which causes some problems (because they were devaluing the currency).

    Also silver might limit the range that said ballet can be fired accurately. Silver is a lot harder metal than lead . . . the rifling on the barrel wouldn’t have the same impact . . . and the rifling giving spin gives bullets a lot of their target accuracy . . . you can still hit things without it but usually you have to be closer . . . just saying there is a reason that shotguns aren’t used by snipers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. One of the solutions to that is using polygonal rifling, it’s more expensive has been used to either increase accuracy or use harder ammo

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Silver being more expensive might actually be the point of using it. If it takes a great deal of effort to acquire even a small amount of silver, then using it as a weapon is an act of sacrifice on your own part. Especially given that any silver in the family is probably in the form of a family heirloom of some kind. There’s power in giving up something of intense personal value, traditionally. Add in the fact that being a werewolf is supposed to be a curse, and sacrificial magic being needed to over-ride it makes sense.

      …now I want an urban fantasy where silver doesn’t work, because it’s too easy to get your hands on and thus no longer carries sufficient self-sacrificial oomph to overcome the curse. (…Werewolves can only be killed with the smashed shards of an iPhone?)

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Silver has never been super hard to get, if you lived somewhere with silver. And it is comparatively soft and workable. The magical thingie is being shiny and a noble metal, but also changeable. Like the moon. Wolves, moon, sympathetic and astrological magic, blah blah.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Heck, just getting some variety in their werewolves!

    I’m trying desperately to make a story (I suck at plotline) for exactly that– just a bunch of different kinds of weres, and I’ve even got a fox-family in there. (Grandfather was interred in California during WWII as a young man, joined the US military from there….that kind of stuff.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. One webcomic I read (it has basically ended) had some variety in their shapeshifters. Both in what sort of creature they shifted to (lion and wolf, that I remember off-hand), and in what myths were relevant (one character spent time in china, so his first reaction is “huli-jing”, followed by relief that it doesn’t have the right traits). Tho note that it’s both bloody and shows at least partial nudity in some scenes (the transformation scene is impressive for not going the normal route of “just have intermediate appearance states”, instead it actually goes for “what would be the anatomical intermediate points”, lots of research).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I saw it a ways back, around the time I first heard of Amanda Green’s were cop books. It does look like it has developed some since I last saw it.

        Pluses and minuses.


      2. It went on hiatus for a while (the author hurt his wrist or something), and I forgot about it until recently, when I was going through old links and saw it again. I’m not sure if it’s actually finished, or on another hiatus, tho at least this time it’s actually at a valid stopping point (the “ok, this is a good place to stop… but I really want to know what happens next” sort). And apparently during the time he was finishing it up, the author also touched up/redid some of the earlier sections that weren’t up to the higher quality he managed later.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I just kind of wish that they would bring back the connections between bad magic and werewolves, not that they cursed people(though of course they did), but in that it was usually considered a thing that they did(I’m thinking skinwalkers, myself)

    Though I just realized that Manly Wade Wellman did a werewolf story you’d probably love. (Actually, if you haven’t read him, there’s a ton of his stories where this sort of thing works! There’s a ton of folk magic in his stories, in both directions. And not just in the John the Balladeer stories) *looks it up* Where the Hairy Ones Dance, most recently reprinted in Fearful Rock and other stories.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. *Rimshot*

      Michael Longcor’s “Silver Bullet Blues”.

      “I don’t mind all the hunters, even though they’ve shot me some,
      “But this new guy’s got a black mask, and a faithful Indian chum
      “And it looks like the jig’s up, Kemo Sabe!
      “It looks like I’m-a through….”

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I remember a fanfiction a while back where the whole reason silver affected werewolves was because they spread the rumour because it was such a poor metal for making weapons and eventually so many people began to believe it that made true through the power of combined belief causing magic to make werewolves weak to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What I’ve wondered about silver bullets is do they need to be solid silver or could the simply be silver plated? Does the purity of the silver matter?
    And, if you don’t need much silver, could you simply use a shard of broken mirror?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is related to my realization that most modern story “magic” is actually science.

      We relate to it as a dosing test; magically, it’s symbols. A broken mirror, even one that isn’t actually silvered, would probably work– although it’s also a symbol of bad luck, so maybe extra useful against something with an association with fortune.

      Sort of like how a vampire has no reflection in a mirror, even if it’s not of silver or pure water- those are both symbols of purity, so the shiny plastic mirror is a symbol of purity at one remove and would work like silver.

      Liked by 1 person

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