The year is 1767. The place is the Gévaudan province of France. For three bloody years an unidentified man-eating beast terrorized the southern French countryside and was know simply as The Beast of Gévaudan.
Tragic and horrific? Yes! But something I considered to be the perfect backdrop for my YA, SCARLETTE as it is a dark retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. And what better than the Beast to make a perfect wolf for the story?
However, as I researched La Bete, I was a bit puzzled, as the famous Beast's species is still somewhat of a mystery and considered to be a cryptozoologist's field day. The top two theories I've heard regarding the beast's origin: 1) a hybrid wolf or 2) a sub species of hyena that was possibly trained to murder by a local serial killer.
|Louis XIV's menagerie at Versailles|
However, a hyena is definitely not one animal I would want prancing in my chateaux. They are intelligent and powerful creatures. And their bite registers at 1000 pounds per square inch. Compare that with a lion's that weighs in at 691 psi and a great white shark at 669.
Their jaws can snap human bones and crush them into powder, and they love to disembowel their pray. Interestingly, many peasant victims were found disemboweled and missing limbs with their bones cracked.
There are two more inaccurate mainstream theories worth mentioning. First, the peasant's theory. It was thought at the time that La Bete was a werewolf. In fact, some peasants would grind up wolfsbane and sprinkle it over raw meat to try to kill the beast.
Second theory: the French aristocrat the Marquis de Sade, who we derive the terms sadist from, was posing as the Beast. Need I say more. ;)
To make matters worse, the local Bishop of Mende blamed the peasants for the attacks. He reasoned that La Bete was a post apocalyptic beast that was sent by God to punish them for their sins.
The peasants tried to protect themselves from the random attacks, but French law prohibited peasants from bearing arms. The French aristocracy did not want unruly peasants to have weapons at their disposal. Who knows what they might do with them? They might shoot off the aristo's wigs and then where would we be? So, many peasants made crude bayonets out of staffs, attaching blades at the ends. In the end, this was still not enough to protect themselves. Over one hundred people died, most of them women and children.
So where did the Beast go? Just like the giant government warehouse filled with countless crates in Indiana Jones, there is a rumor that the beast's remains can be traced to the Paris Museum of Natural History's underground secured storage.
I am buying my brown fedora, whip, and airline ticket right now. ;)