Fantastic wolf. The photo’s by Bernard Landgraf, from Wikimedia. It captures the wolf’s alert intelligence. I can understand why shapeshifting has existed as a notion throughout human history. Shamans have long claimed the ability to assume animal shapes. Other stories mention curses or monstrous births. But this new upsurge in interest in shapeshifting stories, even having heroes that blend animal and human aspects makes me wonder if it’s part of our tangled relationship with the natural world. Nature fascinates and frustrates us as we try to control it and at other times stand in awe within it. And of course, shapeshifting allows a character to be more than human.
It’s interesting how shapeshifters have moved from evil monsters to heroes. It seems they now come in all sizes, species and motivations. But what do you have to consider when creating a shapeshifting character?
I think that like all magic, the shapeshifting has to have limits and inherent conflict. It can’t solve more problems than it creates. In fact, probably the most effective shapeshifter characters reveal aspects of the human condition. We see ourselves clearly when we see ourselves differently.
But shapeshifting can be a numinous element in a story. It is an encounter with otherness.