Estonia? Where is it? Who has even heard of it?! Why set a story there, of all the places that you might possibly set a story?
It just so happens that Estonia, although little known to non-Estonians, has a fascinating although difficult-to-trace heritage of folklore and legends that set it apart from not only its Baltic neighbors (Latvia, Lithuania, Russia) but from almost everywhere else; traditional beliefs and practices survived in Estonia for much longer than in other regions of Europe. These traditional Estonian legends and folklore were primarily handed down via oral tradition until very recently; there were occasional references to Estonian beliefs and stories but no systematic attempt to write collect these and write them down until the 19th century. (The Brothers Grimm made their collection of stories, etc. almost 100 years before that.)
I picked up a book one day about folklore as I was researching another project and found a brief reference to the Estonian version of werewolf folklore: in Estonia, werewolves could fly and would drive away the storms that would otherwise devastate the farms and destroy the crops, resulting in starvation when winter came. They killed storm clouds and ate weather devils, not their neighbors. Because of this, werewolves were heroes, not monsters. I was shocked: Werewolves were the Good Guys?!
Because they were heroes, everyone in a village or district knew who the local werewolf was. It was an honored position. (The only other place that had an even slightly similar version of werewolf folklore is a small Italian region northeast of Venice where the werewolves are called “good walkers” and drive away witches that attempt to destroy the crops.) Estonian werewolves were so unlike their more commonly known cousins in other parts of Europe that it almost seems a shame to characterize them all with the same moniker as “werewolves.”
This distinctly Estonian version of flying heroic werewolf folklore set off fireworks in my imagination! Werewolves as heroes? In a traditional pre-modern, non-ironic culture?! This was too good an opportunity to pass by! I grabbed it and Alexei, my werewolf in 1880s Estonia, was born.
Read more about Alexei’s adventures as a werewolf in Estonia in Storm Wolf.