The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

"Lokis" (1869)

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

“Lokis” was written by Prosper Mérimée and first appeared as “Le Manuscrit du Professeur Wittembach” (Revue des Deux Mondes, Sept. 15, 1869). Mérimée (1803-1870) was one of the best nineteenth century French writers of short stories, but he also wrote novels, plays, and archaeological studies. Today he is primarily known for the short novel Carmen (1845), which was later made into the 1875 Georges Bizet opera. “Lokis” is one of Mérimée’s better known and more controversial horror stories.

As a young man Professor Wittembach went on a scholarly expedition to Lithuania, trying to find information and records on the Low Lithuanian language. Before the trip he gained a letter of introduction to Count Michael Szémioth, who is said to own a copy of a fabulously rare manuscript. Wittembach travels to the Count’s castle, but when he first arrives there the Count is suffering from a migraine. While changing into his dinner suit Wittembach sees an old, white-haired woman whose “large, wide-opened eyes were vacant in expression. She looked like a waxen figure.”1 She is forcibly carried into the castle by the Count’s servants. At dinner the Professor strikes up a conversation with the Count’s doctor, who describes the years-long insanity of the Count’s mother, the elderly woman Wittembach saw. Two or three days after marrying the Count’s father the Count’s mother was separate from a hunting party and was attacked by a bear. When the others found her she was being dragged away by the bear, and after they killed the bear they found that, in addition to her physical wounds, she was insane. Not long after that they discovered that she was pregnant. After the child, the Count, was born, she shrieked, “Kill it! Kill the beast!”2 and tried to kill the baby. Since then she has been insane. The Count had also, not too long ago, been attacked by a she-bear, but the bear had only given him a lick and then left him alone. The day after the dinner the Professor finally meets the Count. The two hit it off and go hunting together. They meet an old peasant woman who, in response to a question about a mythical, local community of animals that live “independent of man’s rule,”tells the Count that he should go be their king. From there Wittembach and the Count go to visit Julia, the woman the Count is seeing; Julia is a coquette, but a charming one, and Wittembach and the Count have a fine time visiting her. That night the Count talks in his sleep, and when Wittembach tells the Count’s doctor that the Count is unwell the doctor talks about the Count’s lack of interest in women. Wittembach moves on and visits the rest of Lithuania and then, some months later, receives an invitation to the Count’s wedding. During the ceremony the Count’s mother appears and shrieks, “Look at the bear!...look at the bear!...Get your guns!...He has carried off a woman! Kill him! Fire! Fire!”4 The next morning the bride does not appear, and when the others go looking for her they find her “stretched dead on her bed, her face horribly torn, her throat cut open, and covered in blood.”5 The Count has disappeared and is never seen again. Wittembach finishes telling the story by explaining that “lokis” is the Lithuanian word for “bear.”

Most critics do not view “Lokis” as Mérimée’s best story, instead choosing “Venus of Ille” or Carmen. “Lokis” is certainly entertaining, although most readers will not find it frightening or moving. Mérimée uses a great deal of local color and Lithuanian folklore, albeit inaccurately, and the story feels like an extended section out of one man’s life, rather than a complete narrative. There is some extraneous material, but it only adds to the feel of the story as a period of Wittembach’s life. “Lokis” reads like a folktale—and, indeed, is a variation on the old folktale about the man who is the child of a bear and a woman—but with more characterization, more psychological insight, and a more ironic narrative style.

Although Mérimée does not maintain the same indecisiveness in this ending as in La Vénus d’Ille, the conclusion of Lokis can be even more disturbing. The story’s explicit ruminations on human psychology serve to turn the reader away from what is already an outrageous supernatural explanation; but to discount the supernatural is to opt for a troubling psychological interpretation, thus acknowledging a fundamental duplicity of human nature, the delicate balance of which can be easily upset.6

“Lokis” is controversial, as a standard modern interpretation of the story sees it as misogynistic—a problem common to many of Mérimée’s stories. The two female characters in “Lokis,” the Count’s mother and Julia, are both victims, but neither is shown to be deserving of their victimization. Both are raped and killed by monsters, in the first case by a bear and in the second case by a man/bear. Neither character is shown to be wicked, and Mérimée never hints that they deserved what happened to them. Unlike the women in many Mérimée stories, the women in “Lokis” are not femmes fatale (see: The Fatal Woman) or in any way active evil agents. So “Lokis” is actually less misogynistic then much of the rest of Mérimée’s work.

Recommended Edition

Print: Prosper Mérimée, The Works of Prosper Mérimée, volume 5. New York: Croscup & Holby, 1905.

Online: (volume 5).


1 Prosper Mérimée, “Lokis,” The Writings of Prosper Mérimée, volume 5 (New York: Croscup & Holby, 1905), 7.

2 Mérimée, “Lokis,” 13.

3 Mérimée, “Lokis,” 36.

4 Mérimée, “Lokis,” 67.

5 Mérimée, “Lokis,” 72.

6 Scott D. Carpenter, ”Prosper Mérimée (28 September 1803-23 September 1870),” in Catharine Savage Brosman, ed., Nineteenth Century French Fiction Writers: Romanticism and Realism, 1800-1860 (Detroit, MI: Gale, 1992), 204.