Forgotten Fiction | Satan’s Bondage

Matthew Tansek
May 7 · 7 min read

Right now, as you are reading this there are thousands of works of fiction sitting on dusty shelves waiting for our adventurous minds to seek them out. It is the goal of this little effort of mine to seek out these shuttered tales and see how well they hold up. Are they hidden gems full of contemporary meaning? Or are they clunky relics of the past who’s time has long slipped through the hourglass? Let us find out.

Today’s Forgotten Fiction:

Satan’s Bondage by Manly Bannister

Who’s ready for a werewolf western? I am! Or so I thought going into this piece. The cover story of Weird Tales volume 36 number 07 is none other than Satan’s Bondage by Manly Bannister. Two things right off the bat here: Firstly, the title of this werewolf western is “Satan’s Bondage”? What a lame name. So lame in fact that I almost chose something different. I was hoping for something more like- “Dances With Werewolves”, “A Fistful of Silver Bullets”, or perhaps “The Good, The Bad and the Wolfey”. But oh well, here we are. Secondly, the author’s name is Manly Bannister, and yes that is his actual name. Sounds pretty macho, but let’s stop judging this thing by the cover and the author’s name and get into it.

Side note, I could only find an article about the author on the German Wikipedia… not sure what that’s about but here you go.

The story opens with our narrator and protagonist driving through the intense heat and landscape of what I presume is an American dessert. The whole thing is just chock full of description, and after the first page of it, you want to shout at the pages to stop. Predictably the car breaks down, and we get introduced to Joan. Joan is an attractive young blond woman who both the narrator and I thought had no business “hiking” around out in the middle of this unforgiving landscape.

She seems suspicious and it’s refreshing that the narrator thinks so too. He agrees to give her a lift down the road, and after adding water to the radiator and letting it cool the two are motoring along. We find out here that the young woman is heading in the same direction as the narrator to, wait for iiiit, “Wereville”. That’s right fellow readers the narrator of this werewolf story is headed a place called Wereville. Oof. I couldn’t help but feel that our chances for a great story were narrowing.

There is a weird reaction from a cowboy that they pass, further confirming that she’s bad news, and then something funny happens.

The narrator and the girl come up to a blocked road guarded by a bunch of yokels. They tell our narrator to turn around and that outsiders are not welcome in their town. But our man is so insistent that he belongs there, that he must go there that I started to think that maybe we were in for a twist and that HE was the actual monster. We find out that his parents were from the town, a fact confirmed by the oldest and most curmudgeonly of the yokels, and the posse lets them pass.

Was this really a whole town of werewolves? It’s a bit heavy-handed, the mountain behind the town is described as wolf-like, the people are wolf-like, we get it. Even still, I was back on board.

Our narrator gets into town and convinces the locals that he is indeed the son of his parents, who were once members of the community. We are introduced to Joan’s father Jordan, and we learn a bit more about the local ranchers in the surrounding area mobilizing against those in Wereville. Apparently, some bible thumping priest has brought them together, and it was here that I was starting to see the making of a shootout between the townies and the ranchers. The narrator is brought to his old family home which has been kept up and vacant.

Inside his old family dwelling, we get confirmation that our narrator, Kenneth Mulvaney, has the characteristics of the townies. He has the same empty stare to his eyes, and just before he turns in for the night we learn that he casts no shadow in the lamplight. Now normally I think of casting no shadow as being more of a vampire trait, but I can get behind it. He is confirmed supernatural and guaranteed to be hated by the angry ranchers.

The next section is seen through the eyes of Sam Carver, a big man and the defacto leader of the ranchers. He’s talking to the new Priest in town Father d’Arcy. We learn that as the legend of the Beast of Gévaudan these wolves are only really vulnerable to silver bullets and that they kill cattle in droves every full moon. This time the ranchers have been supplied with werewolf killing bullets, and despite their suspicions that the priest’s suggestions are a load of bunk, they gear up. I liked this section. You get the feeling that the ranchers are acting from a believable standpoint, skeptical but willing to try anything, and you get the motivation of the catalyst. Father d’Arcy has dedicated his life to “stamping out evil” and clearly knows how to combat werewolves. The tension has been cranked up, let’s see where we go.

Finally, we get the transformation scene. Joan comes to the narrator in the middle of the night, naked. Always in these old pulps, there are naked women. Anyway, she leads our man to a nearby creek and the transformation happens in the water. She explains a bit about being a werewolf, and the two trot to the mass meeting of the werewolves that is happening that night.

Manly’s werewolves are a bit different than the standard:

  1. Were-people only transform in the valley
  2. Cast no shadow during the night of the full moon
  3. Vulnerable to silver
  4. Transformation occurs in water
  5. Sunlight is deadly in wolf form
  6. They must drink fresh blood on the night of the full moon
  7. Silvered mirrors show their true form

We learn that the leader of the werewolves is an evil black wolf, a character named Bock who made a small appearance when Mulvaney first got to town. Bock insists that the wolves hunt as a group, and that instead of going after regular game animals like deer, that they go after cattle and humans. The narrator sees Bock as truly evil, and as a younger stronger beast, he threatens to topple the old alpha. Werewolf fight!

They fought as wolves fight- fang to fang and claw to claw. Rage and murderous hate flamed in Mulvaney’s wolf-brain. His man-brain looked askance, observed what he did, and approved.

The night was made fearful with their hate. Their snarling rage struck silence and terror to the tiny denizens of the field. The moon and the stars looked on impassively.

Mulvaney sought with murderous fangs the throbbing jugular of his enemy.

Mulvaney prevails, yay! But then something strange happens. Instead of blood Bock seems to have bled glowing sulfur, and rising up there is a demonic form cloaked in mist and purple lightning. We learn that a demon was possessing Bock, and seeks at some point to possess our narrator. It seems the demon has collected all of the old descendants of the witch folk of eld (the werewolves) for some greater purpose to collect souls and battle against humanity for supremacy.

Corny super-villain alert. Let’s be real here for a moment, the demon has assembled 65 people in a remote town where they can barely eke out an existence. It seems to me that there is really no threat here. And let’s add to that the fact that while he possesses somebody, besides perhaps making them want to do evil things they gain no power. Bock died no problem. I don’t know, it just feels like this contrived demonic figure really is all bark and no bite (duh-dum, tiss).

Mulvaney leads the pack to the cattle, where he is attacked by a rancher with holy water. The blessed fluid burns him and sends him and the rest of the back fleeing. Mulvaney has a moment of clarity because of this, and figures that he will just lead the group back to the creek where they will transform back into people and be done for the night. But wait! The ranchers have mobilized along the creek and are ready to attack.

Half of the wolves die in the first assault, Joan among them. The rest fled back up into the hills and howl with all their sorrow and frustration. Mulvaney knows that they are monsters, that they have been beaten and are doomed. Dawn is fast approaching, and so they rush the waterline once more and are slain.

Final Thoughts

An entertaining story that lets you empathize with the werewolves instead of making them into the default monsters of the piece. I liked that there were no good guys and bad guys save for the priest and the demon who were both evil in my mind, but rather a bloody conflict born out of a bad situation. Solidly entertaining and only stumbled a couple of times I think.

Score: 07/10


Originally published at https://www.matthewtansek.com on May 7, 2019
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Matthew Tansek

Matthew Tansek

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Speculative fiction and horror writer, tabletop gamer, and librarian, in no particular order. My creative works can be found at matthewtansek.com

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