“Werewoman” (1938) by C. L. Moore

To your boundless amazement I shall now take typewriter in hand and write you a letter. Still further to shock you, I am enclosing the story you so kindly inquired about, and also—did I or didn’t I send you WEREWOMAN? This burning question has haunted me all day, ever since I delved industriously into the stack of boxes and bales which I laughingly term my files and produced every story I ever wrote with the exception of the famous WW. I am probably being even more hen-brained than usual, but will enclos the carbon of WW which I have somewhere around, tho lurking in the back of my subconscious is a suspicion that I have already sent you the original. If so, pay no attention. Surely you have sufficient aplomb to withstand a sudden deluge of werewomen.
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft and R. H. Barlow, 20 Aug 1935, LCM 56

In the summer of 1935, H. P. Lovecraft was staying with R. H. Barlow and his family in DeLand, Florida. At Barlow’s urging, Lovecraft and C. L. Moore had begun their correspondence (Her Letters To Lovecraft: Catherine Lucille Moore), with Lovecraft full of praise for stories like “Shambleau” (1933) and “Black God’s Kiss” (1934). Barlow, as was typical, asked her for manuscripts and drawings…and in 1934 received an unusual reply:

I’m having rather a set-back in my attempts to illustrate my own stories. The one Mr. Wright liked so well was a drawing for the story, which, as you know, he returned. WERE-WOMAN. The drawing was pretty good, but the story, I must admit, rather terrible. It’s heartening to know that the more established writers get things back too, but I can’t pretend that the fault was anybody’s but my own in this case, and I really expected it back when I sent it. It was a grand idea, I still think, but somehow it just wouldn’t jell. Mr. Wright has inquired about it several times and has asked me to re-write it, but my mind is a perfect vacuum whenever I try.
—C. L. Moore to R. H. Barlow, 1 Jun 1934, MSS. John Hay Library

It isn’t clear when exactly Moore wrote “Werewoman” (sometimes spelled “Were-Woman”)—in later interviews, she claimed it was her second Northwest Smith story after “Shambleau,” and the first to be rejected by Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, but her memory issues later in life make such claims somewhat questionable; the 1934 date of this letter suggests “Werewoman” may have been written and submitted somewhat later. At some point, Moore sent the “Werewoman” typescript to Barlow, who presumably showed it to Lovecraft during his visit…along with another rejected story:

Well, have just received my first flat rejection from Wright. A harmless little tale about a sorcerer king of antediluvian time, his mysterious witch-queen and a time-traveler with a startling resemblance to a certain Mr. Smith whom I may have mentioned once or twice before, tho no names were named in the story. Ah well, life is full of disappointments.
—C. L. Moore to R. H. Barlow, 31 May 1935, MSS. John Hay Library

This story appears to be lost, but Moore apparently also sent this story to Barlow, who forwarded it to Lovecraft, who had finally taken his leave of Florida. We know this because of Lovecraft’s answering letter:

Well—anyhow, I’ve read the enclosed story, & think it distinctly good in places—though the rather conventional dialogue & general layout put it below “The Were Woman”. I presume the interepid [sic] & leather-clad time-traveller is none other than our old friend Northwest Smith. The other-wordly suggestion & description of vague, non-human forms are excellently managed—despite a slight sense of disappointment in the climax. It beats most recent Mooreiana, though scarcely attaining the “Shambleau”-”Black Thirst”-”Were-Woman” level. Most distinctly does it bear the impress of pulp influence. However—both stories are good, & I can unhesitatingly praise them in writing the author.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 24 Aug 1935, OFF 286

In another letter, we find out where and when Lovecraft must have read “Werewoman”: shortly after leaving the Barlows, in St. Augustine:

Aunt just forwarded “Werewoman”, for which abundant thanks. Glad you’re getting the decent text before the thing is pulpised. I recall reading it on a bench in San Agustin—in the Plaza de la Constitutción.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 2 Jan 1936, OFF 313

R. H. Barlow had convinced C. L. Moore to allow him to publish “Werewoman,” which he eventually did in his amateur journal Leaves #2 (Winter 1938). He also separately printed and bound a small edition, one copy of which is listed in The Book Sail 16th Anniversary Catalogue:

493. MOORE, C[athereine] L[ucille]. Werewoman. 1934. Privately prepared, typewritten ribbon copy on the rectors of [iii] 29 [ii] pages, 8 ½” x 11″. Inscribed by Moore and bound in half morocco and heavy paper-covered boards, with an additional inscription on an adhesive label affixed to the front fly. A notation appears on the final leaf, indicating that this is one of three copies.

The literary afterlife of “Werewoman” after its initial printing is a messy affair; pulp scholar Sam Moskowitz had noted that the story was in the public domain and republished it without seeking Moore’s permission, which rather soured Moore on Moskowitz (and in turn, Moskowitz on Moore) in a dispute that went on for decades, with Moskowitz getting the final word after Moore’s death. Dave Goudsward tracks the accusations and animosity in his article “A Tale of Two Stories” in Pulp Adventures #36 (2020), which also reprints “Werewoman.”

Lovecraft never wrote anything more about the story; he might have written about it to Moore and his letter lost, but as the story had not seen print during his lifetime he could scarcely write about it to anyone else. Despite Moore’s own low opinion of the tale, he ranked it among her better ones…and while “Werewoman” might not be the best of the Northwest Smith tales, it is undoubtedly among the weirdest.

C. L. Moore never spoke of the inspiration for this story; though the term “were-woman” or “werewoman” had cropped up rarely in Weird Tales before then, notably in Robert E. Howard’s “Worms of the Earth” (WT Nov 1932), and the werewoman inviting Northwest Smith as her mate recalls the interaction Bêlit and Conan in “The Queen of the Black Coast” (WT May 1934). It eschews any direct connection to the other Northwest Smith stories, and is hard to place in any kind of chronology. Ironically, that probably made it easier when Roy Thomas adapted the story for Conan the Barbarian in Savage Sword of Conan #221 (1994).

While space opera had few absolute conventions in the early 1930s, “Werewoman” defies most of them: on an unknown planet, Northwest Smith encounters werewolves and ancient alien sorcery. It wouldn’t be the first or last time that Moore mixed superscience with the supernatural, but there is absolutely no hesitancy or winking at the audience. The division between fantasy and science fiction as distinct sub-genres was already beginning to be established, but weird tales could and did mix and mingle both.

Lovecraft no doubt loved the rich description, the absolute weirdness of the conception and execution of the story. If a reader can suspend their disbelief about the incongruence of settings, there is much to enjoy in the story. Once again, outer space outlaw Northwest Smith has stumbled into an ancient mystery, one that involves a beautiful woman and a danger to body and soul alike. In terms of tone, the presentation of Smith as an “adventurer,” the story is closer to the kind of sword & sorcery tales of Robert E. Howard or Fritz Leiber, Jr. than the space operas of E. E. “Doc” Smith or Edmond Hamilton.

Moore’s werewoman is different than that of most of the other werewolves Lovecraft had encountered written by women. She is not solitary, but the leader of a pack; more than a killer, she shows admiration and acceptance for Northwest Smith. Like White Fell in The Were-Wolf (1896) by Clemence Housman, she seems to embrace her nature, but rather than defy gender roles she seems to embrace and embody her position as the leader of the pack. No wailing or gnashing of teeth over her fate, no men fighting over her: she likes being a wolf, and chooses whom to love. The result is a sympathetic portrayal of a strong woman that goes for what she wants—not unlike Moore’s heroine Jirel of Joiry.

“Werewoman” has been reprinted many times over the decades, but the confusion about its copyright status appears to have largely prevented the text from being widely available online. The text in Pulp Adventures #36 is a true and accurate copy of the original 1938 printing from Leaves. Being a mimeographed publication, Leaves does not scan well, but anyone that wants to strain their eyes can attempt to make their way through this scan. A full reprint of Leaves and Barlow’s other amateur journal The Dragon-Fly was published by S. T. Joshi and can be found here.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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