Lycanthropy – Disease or Genetics?

When it comes to paranormal world building there are two major philosophies on how a character can have lycanthropy. Both, depending on the author, have some connection with the moon.

The first theory is that it can be caught. This makes it a disease. Catching lycanthropy is usually caused from a bite of a were-creature. Disease based lycanthropy is tied strictly to the moon. It will cause them to turn into the animal and they can’t stop it.

The second theory goes with the idea that it is a part of who they are from the beginning. This makes it genetics and some people can become a were-creature and some cannot. The genetic lycanthropes most likely have control over their shifting and can do so by a combination of willpower and control.

The most prevalent were-creature is of course the werewolf; though some authors have gone on to include other animal types, including predator and prey species.

Here’s a quick breakdown of some major players dealing with lycanthropy:

Disease –

  • Anita Blake, Laurel K. Hamilton
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon
  • Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling
  • Catching Midnight, Emma Holly

Genetics –

  • Shiver & Linger, Maggie Stiefvater
  • Twilight Saga, Stephenie Meyer
  • Awaiting Series, Donna Lea Simpson
  • Westfield Brothers Series, Lydia Dare

Both –

  • Werewolf Series, Terry Spear

What other series or authors can you add and where do they fall in the break down?

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Photo credits: Jörg Dickmann

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  1. I like both… but if I have to choose it will be genetics… in the Sookie Stackhouse series (True Blood) Lycanthropy is genetics so is the Patricia Briggs, Mercy Thompson’s series and the Alpha & Omega Series. 🙂

  2. I have to admit that I prefer the genetics set-up. This is probably because I encounter werewolfs as heroes/heroines in paranormals, and I don’t particularly think of my h/h’s as having something wrong with them like a disease. Being were is just part of who they are.

  3. Thanks Dalal for the added breakdown of some more major players. I haven’t read them myself so I didn’t know. 🙂 I would agree with you too – when it comes to lycanthropy I like both but forced to choose it’s genetics.

    Lynn – but were they bitten or catch it from a bad vaccine? The leads might not think anything wrong with them either but Richard from ABVH is so upset to be one even though he’s the alpha ruler of the pack. (Though in the latest book he seems to be making progress 🙂 )

  4. I prefer genetics, too. Calling it a disease makes it sound like the black plague-no one wants it and everyone pities those who get it. Still, I suppose there’s something to be said for being able to turn someone, just never against their will. 🙂

    • Okay you definitely have a point about the word choice. So I guess the question becomes how come vampires get away with attacking/turning people and it’s not called a disease but lycanthropes/shifters don’t? Must be a dead vs living thing. It’s the only thing I can come up with right now. lol 🙂

  5. I like the genetics angle better myself. I tend to stay away from those that use the disease approach, just like i do with the vampires that are “dead” during the day and cannot see their reflections. Just plain too weird and out there for my imagination. I don’t like to read horro, rather PNR. ^.^

  6. Otherworld Series by Kelley Armstrong: Oh yes, her werewolves books are some of the best of the genre. Bitten, Stolen, Broken and Frostbitten so far. In her books, it’s both (mostly genetic and on rare occasion, transmitted).

    Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris. Only genetics will make a full werewolf; mixed blood or infection leads to weaker manifestation.

    As for my preference, none, as long as the author makes it good!

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