From Where came the Were? – Alma Boykin

*I NORMALLY don’t run two guest posts, back to back.  However, I’m back on prednisone and trying to finish a novel.  the autoimmune was going crazy with the stress of the last week or so. So, cut me a little slack for one day.  And enjoy Alma’s great post. – SAH*

From Where came the Were? – Alma Boykin

 

Shape-shifting individuals, and animals that take on human form, seem to appear in almost every folk-lore around. They have become the mainstay of paranormal fantasy, in the process losing their negative connotation and taking on positive attributes. The idea of humans becoming predators is so common that I don’t think I’ve seen a werewolf costume at Halloween in decades. Why bother? They don’t seem to be mysterious or unusual anymore. And that in itself is an interesting twist on tradition.

Deities of all kinds shift into human or other form, and I’m going to separate out shape-shifting from were-creatures. If you look hard enough, almost every deity over the span of the human story shifts shape, or has a messenger or avatar that can conceal its true nature. I’m going to focus on things and people who are at most individuals with two or three forms—human, part-animal, full animal—and leave deities aside. Since I’m most familiar with European lore, I’m also putting more emphasis there.

No evidence exists to tell us how far back in human history the idea of were-creatures goes. There appears to be, perhaps, a shaman-like figure in the cave at Le Troi Frères, but anthropologists are no longer one-hundred-percent certain that the figure truly represents a human with animal attributes. It is thought that animist and shamanistic practices go very far back indeed, and very likely included the veneration of animal spirits, and the idea that a few trained, or cursed, individuals could be inhabited by those spirits, or take animal form while spirit travelling. From there it is not a great leap to someone not just putting on an animal hide to act as that animal during a dance or other ritual, but also changing shape into that animal, usually a predator or large herbivore. The Olmec in central America may have had werejaguars, if their carvings depict what we think they depict. The idea of humans becoming wolves also goes back a long way. Birds seem to have been were-creatures, but were-small mammals? None thus far, unless pure spirit forms count as weres.

Angry deities changed people into animals on a regular basis in Greek and Celtic lore. Athena and Artemis seem to have been especially prone to turn the arrogant into other things, such as Arachne becoming a spider, or Actaeon who was zapped into a stag and eaten by his own hunting hounds for spying on Artemis as she bathed. The Roman writer Apulias had a character turned into a donkey in The Golden Ass after messing around with witchcraft. He leads a miserable life until the goddess Isis takes pity on him and returns him to human form. In Celtic mythology, the Children of Lir are cursed by their stepmother, turning them into three swans who only return to their human forms at death. A druid cursed Fionn’s wife Sadbh, turning her and their son Oisín into deer. Certain Celtic deities also took on deer shapes, and woe betide someone who didn’t take care when they found a pure white deer or stag, especially if it had red eyes.

Werewolves could be venerated or despised and feared. A number of Central Asian peoples claimed ancestry from wolves, or held wolves in high esteem and assumed that wolves could shift into humans on occasion. The Chinese had weredogs, probably descended indirectly from the steppe tradition of werewolves, and dog-headed peoples appear in a number of Classical and Medieval writings, always a little farther on than the author’s sources had ever traveled. Europeans tended to see werewolves as evil, especially those humans who chose to take on wolf powers. Those unlucky enough to be cursed into being werewolves were to be pitied and freed if possible, but in general werewolves such as the French loup-garou meant nothing but trouble. In the Americas, especially North America, Coyote could become human, and was still a trickster and shape shifter. Louis L’Amour took advantage of this tradition in one of his short stories, where the protagonist uses an old den and a rather surprised coyote to convince the Apache that he is a were-coyote. They leave him alone after that, for good reason. Humans should never, ever cross Coyote.

European fascination with werewolves seems to have peaked in the 1500s-1600s, during a time of great social and environmental stress, and the rise of cheap, sensational printed literature. Everyone wanted to read werewolf tales, and stories about children literally raised by wolves also became popular. The interest faded away for a while, although Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book showed that it wasn’t entirely dead. In Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, the count takes the form of a great wolf at one point. Given the success of Dracula and vampire-based Victorian “penny-dreadfuls,” it is no surprise that werewolves became more common. The Twentieth Century brought on new interest in were-creatures in pop culture, starting with movies like Werewolf of London (1935) and of course The Wolf Man (1941). People began scrounging around for mythology to use in their movies and books. As time passed and people looked around more for material and ideas, other shape-shifters appeared in books, leading eventually to the explosion in the 1980s-90s through today of all sorts of were-creatures, including were-squirrels.

Alas for writers, people have begun to ask questions like “If a dragon takes on human form, and the dragon weighs six hundred pounds, where does the additional mass go?” or “Do you have to be bitten to become a were-[creature]?”  This probably explains why most weres are into creatures that are more-or-less human sized to begin with. And let’s face it, most people are going to have a hard time at first taking a were-chipmunk seriously. In general, writers have risen to the occasion, although I rolled my eyes at a scene when serious handwavium was applied and the mass sent to a pocket dimension for later retrieval, as the draconic shape-shifter explained in the text. In other cases, writers turn to pure magic, transmission via disease, genetic manipulation, cursed totems that transform their users into creatures, a ticked off deity who turned people into werewolves, mental problems such as schizophrenia that led to the sufferer willing herself into the form of a werebear, and other things.

The idea of taking on the attributes of a more powerful creature goes back very far into human mythology and memory. In Africa you find stories of were-hyenas, were-leopards, and other predators. Chinese tales describe were-dogs and spirits who take on human form, while Japan has the kitsune and the Ainu shaman who take on bear form. Transformations into deer, bears, wolves, and bison happen in North America, while were-jaguars appear in South America. The modern fascination with shape shifting has deep, deep roots, and will likely continue for quite a while.

Shameless plugs: For more shape-changing, try Sarah’s Shifters series, [the first edition of the first book, with the horrible cover is free.  No it’s not horror, and the main character is not a zombie with an udder fetish -SAH] or my (Alma’s) Cat Among Dragons series.

222 responses to “From Where came the Were? – Alma Boykin

  1. c4c

      • NOO! Someone save her from the black hole that is the DMV!!! We need an intervention, STAT!

        • Thank you. In our country it is viewed as so bad an institution that no one thinks twice at jokes about it.

          BTW: They are human, and not all Patty and Selma Bouvier. I have had the experience of finding very nice and helpful people at our local office — and even laughed with joy with them — when, for my most recent driver’s licence photo, I took off my head covering in public for the first time post chemo.

          • I’ve had experience with the Motor Vehicles people in two states, New Jersey and Ohio. Dealing with New Jersey DMV was very much a trying, grueling experience for myself and everybody I knew. The people working there ranged from indifferent to hostile.

            Dealing with Ohio BMV has been a breeze by comparison, with the workers ranging from neutral to cheerful, and uniformly helpful. The only time I’ve spend more than 15 minutes in an Ohio BMV has been when they were very busy, or the one time they had to fax some paperwork to the capital and I was waiting for the response. Except when a new license is needed every few years I can even do the annual renewals via mail if I want, if I remember to do so before expiration is too close.

          • The only places I’ve seen issues are those where they can dehumanize the folks they’re dealing with.

            Then we become the enemy.

          • *chuckle* I’ve been there a couple of times for reasons I can’t remember – accompanying relatives, I think. All I remember is that it takes a LOT of time for stuff to happen, and long lines.

            I, having experienced the lines that were in East Berlin, thought nothing of it, but I’ve heard various complaints about the slooooowness of the place, and I’m told the sloths moving very slowly in Zootopia were an accurate poke-fun.

  2. I hadn’t quite realized how widespread the idea was. Is Judaeo-Christianity one of the rare old religions without shapechanging? Or just my ignorance of religion in general showing?

    • To my knowledge, yes. Being made in the image of God has a number of far reaching implications.
      That said, the God of the Old Testament did work his will through the use of animals on a number off occasions. (Which is distinct from becoming the animal, but may not have much difference for observers.)
      And in the New Testament, the Holy Ghost took the form of a white dove.
      There are also stories like that of Sampson, in which his strength being located in his hair easily serves as a metaphor.

      • Samson was a Nazirite, who was expected to abide by certain restrictions for the duration of the vow. One of them was that a razor was not to touch the hair. Samson had already broken other aspects of the vow, and it would be hard to argue that he didn’t know he’d end up with a haircut after telling this to Delilah. That implies he considered the vow of a Nazirite a light or worthless thing; especially after breaking other aspects of the vow. And though Judges 16 tells Samson’s hair began to grow out, his strength returned only after a prayer to G_d.

      • How about the ram who appeared just in time so that Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice Isaac?

        • Probably not a shapeshifter–the traditional Christian explanation (I think) is that it prefigures Christ.

          • The idea is that it was a literal ram. Without checking, I think that squares with Judaism as well. It was a substitutionary death in the place off Isaac. Again, without checking, that squares with the sacrifice under the Mosaic Law. The Christian take is that both were looking toward the substitutionary death of Christ.

    • I think it is, if not unique, one of very few. The only semi-official Christian story I can think of with apparent shape shifting involves St. Patrick and his followers. The Lord caused their opponents to see only a deer with fawns, rather than the missionaries, and so the warriors went away.

    • The only story I can think of that involves shapeshifting (maybe) is King Nebuchadnezzer (or Nebuchadrezzer) who is told by Daniel he will be changed and cast out for 7 years. The story could either be seen as him going completely mad and just surviving in the wild like a wild beast, or actually turning in to a wild beast until the seven years are up.

    • There was a punishment where God caused a king (Nebuchadnezzer in the book of Daniel) who thought himself equal with God to act and behave LIKE an animal, but humans always stay human.

    • A lot of it is not really religious.

      I have noticed that, on the whole, in Europe, if you can become human, you were human originally, whereas in the Far East, animals can actually become human.

      There is one European Aesop’s fable about a cat being turned into a human by Venus — and back again when she revealed, by chasing a mouse, that she was still a cat at heart.

  3. I think The Little Ice Age might have had a rather large impact on the European fascination with werewolves in the 16th and 17th centuries.
    When wolf attacks on your peasantry become common, it’s reasonable to suspect a malign influence.

  4. I’ve often thought that if there were still other orders of hominid alive in the last few thousand years then if they were living wild and unclothed they would appear like human-animal hybrids, most specifically bears and wolves (especially in countries where monkeys and apes were rare). I’ve run into a couple of people over the years who have slipped into a more feral and animalistic mode of existence and it doesn’t take much imagination to see such people as were-creatures – how much more real this were-hood would seem if we came upon ones from an older branch of homo-whatever to begin with.

    • Reading this, I was thinking also about the selties of Scotland, Ireland and points northwards – seals in the water, who can shed their skins and be human on the land.
      http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/selkiefolk/

      • sabrinachase

        There’s something about wolves and seals, like seeing someone in a crowd who looks like an old friend. The wolf-dog thing perhaps is a part of that, subconsciously knowing if a dog is a humanized wolf a human could become wolflike too. Seals, now… when we would cook out on the beach in Maine there was one seal that liked to come and watch our doings, and sometimes bring a friend. Sometimes got quite close. Definitely a wild seal, but still–something called to him.

      • You made me think of the case a while back of the Leopard Seal that tried to teach the National Geographic photographer how to be a proper seal and catch penguins. The photographer was that hopeless as a seal that it wouldn’t have surprised me if eventually the seal had dragged him out onto land and changed into human form just to teach him what was what!

      • There are a lot of bird-maidens like that, too. I’ve run across mentions that the Inuit have fox-shapeshifters likewise dependent on skins.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      I have heard one theory that links werewolf legends to the berserker cult of the Germanic peoples. I’m thinking there’s a story there.

      • That would be a grimfell (wording?), a guy wearing a wolfskin to turn wolfish in battle. A berserk wore a bear sark, a bear shirt. I think there were fox battle guys too, but I cannot remember where I read that.

        The catskin gloves of Freya’ s priestesses or northern witches are sometimes associated with shapeshifting.

  5. …although I rolled my eyes at a scene when serious handwavium was applied and the mass sent to a pocket dimension for later retrieval, as the draconic shape-shifter explained in the text.

    ‘I saw it. I still don’t believe it,’ she said. ‘Where does most of you go.’

    He sighed, ‘Can you tell me what electricity is, exactly how it works?’

    ‘All I know is that when I turn on the switch my light comes on.’

    ‘Well, it’s kind of like that.’

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Sheri Tepper “established” that her shifters (True Game Series) could vary their body mass.

      There was a limit to how small they could get (one young shifter tried to become a cat but failed). Oh he survived the attempt.

      On the other hand when he wanted to get very large he had to use outside material.

      IE He became a smaller version of a “rock eating” critter and ate more rock to become a full sized “rock eating” critter.

      He became large enough that his enemies thought they were entering a tunnel when they were actually entering his throat.

      Oh, yes he did eat them. 👿

      • Poul Anderson’s Operation Chaos have weres that can’t shed or gain weight. Most therefore change to nearly human.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Nod, one were-tiger was a very big human and vastly over-weight as a human.

    • Terry Sanders

      Hammerspace. If you want the tvtropes link, find it for yourself…

      • Read a bit… seems misnamed, ought to be anvilspace. Typical naming misconvention.

        • Anvilspace, of course, is a product of Anvilania.

        • Patrick Chester

          It’s probably from anime. Lots of hammers being drawn from some pocket dimension to whack people on the head.

          (Or maybe that was just City Hunter….)

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Looking it up, it comes from old animation films where the characters apparently “pull out of nowhere” objects (including hammers) when said objects are needed.

            “Hammerspace” was a fan-created idea to explain where these objects are coming from.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammerspace

          • Yeah, I saw the anime derivation. Anime fans do not like my take on it, pronouncing the word not as they do but as “a-neem” as in ‘anemic’ which is how I consider the animation and character design of most of the examples I’ve seen. The design utterly breaks my suspension of disbelief and the flicker of “shot on threes” (or worse) gives me a headache. I’ve heard there are counter-examples out there, but by now I’ve no interest. Give me a right, proper cartoon.

            • Oooh, ooooh, try Fairy Tail! If you like Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, you’ll ike it.

              • Sorry — Fairy Tale is probably just one of those title translation things but that sure sounds like Gay Hentai.

                • Even better– it’s an example of Gratuitous English that is also a pun.

                  We don’t know if there are fairies, so we don’t know if they have tails; the name of the guild that’s the focus is “Fairy Tail.”

                • Although there are a couple of very likely to be gay guys in it. I have no idea what the guild leader of… Pink Unicorn?… the large dude in a pink tutu… is.

              • We should have an “anime & webcomic recommendations” day sometime i the comments. Everyone post favorite animes and webcomics, and why you think they’re good (since tastes differ widely). I feel like several of us would discover a few awesome shows / comics that way.

          • I was once watching an action TV series with my Dad & brothers where the hero climbed up a rope ladder into a helicopter and pulled out a gun from somewhere. (No holster in sight) “Where did he get the gun?” one of us asked. Dad said “It was in the script”.

    • Now I want to see someone write a fantasy story where a dragon can shapeshift, but when it manifests the form of a human there’s still a huge, bulky dragon trying to crouch down behind the shrubbery or hiding around the corner working their “human” guise like a puppet.

      Or alternately if slightly less comedically, if you encounter a disguised dragon the guise isn’t so much a human as it is a human in a small cottage where you can’t move any of the furniture or pick up any of the knicknacks on the shelves.

    • Now I am imagining that with an electrical engineer or physicist starting to give a detailed answer.

    • Actual explanation I’m working into a scifi thing:
      “How on earth would I know how it works? I’m a medic! I know how to USE them, not how to design them!”

  6. They used that mass into dimension explanation in the Animorphs series, but its sci fi and they’d already established the exits of a hyperspace dimension. I thought it was fairly clever.

    • This was a bit out-of-the blue in a fantasy story. The author usually wrote sci-fi, so I suspect there was a bit of genre leakage.

      • And if it’s the one I’m thinking of, the society wasn’t of a mind to really bother about such things. (It would be one thing in an Urban Fantasy where the physicist sees a dragon the size of an elephant shifting into a house cat.) The Physicist has the mind to go. ‘Wrong… Never mind dragons those could theoretically happen! Conservation of matter has been violated! I think… If I ask it how it did that will it eat me?”

        • Agreed, but as a reader I staggered and blinked. It was sort of a “that’s all you could come up with?” moment.

        • There are clever ways to do that in a fantasy universe and make it stick: just don’t let the characters use ‘modern’ or technical language to describe the phenomenon, but have them express the process using language appropriate to the setting and culture.

          • Or you just give the Lensman Ted Smith explanation: You never see what all of a Palanian looks like because part of it is permanently in hyperspace.

        • The unbelievable so breaks the mind that the minor things are what confuse people. So the dragon sitting there is one thing. But where did the mass go? The physicist can wrap his head around the last one.

          • Though I could see someone with a different mental focus going “You’re worried about the MASS? We just saw a friggin’ dragon!” “Yes… and?”

            • Ya. It’s how I read the mental flexibility that you see referred to in Larry’s books. Recognize the unexpected and unbelievable but still treat them as if they were real. The difference comes with the difference between getting buried in minutia and rolling with punches.

          • This reminds me of the furor over one minor aspect of Farscape a number of years ago. Living space ships people had no trouble with, nor with a myriad of alien races, nor with translator microbes that allow people to understand (almost) anything spoken in another language, nor with FTL or a bunch of other sci-fi elements. But people in some circles lost it about Rygel farting helium, claiming that the biology for such a thing would be impossible.

            • It’s how I’ve always viewed sci-fi. I’ve always been much more annoyed by the little mistakes than the big ones. In Star Trek, for example, I’ve got no problem with the warp drive: you need it to make the story work. I’ve got few problems with the transporter: I understand why they felt the need to include it, even though I personally think it creates more problems for the story than it solves. But a planet whose surface temperature is less than 273 degrees Centigrade? Sweeping the ship to remove all baryon particles? A crack in the event horizon? You don’t need any of that to make your premise work; you’re just being ignorant and lazy.

              • I’ve got few problems with the transporter
                This brings to mind the one-liner floating around usenet about 30 years ago:

                Very funny Scotty. Now beam down my clothes.

          • This. As a kid I could deal with all the strange items in The Flintstones (small mammoth/elephant vacuum cleaner, bird phonograph, names tweaked for rock/stone inclusion) except one. That rear axle would have fallen out.

      • I have a similar explanation but not pocket dimension. Eh. I also think in Sci Fi more.

    • existence of a hyperspace dimension

    • Has there ever been one where were what we perceive are three-dimensional sections of fourth dimensional or higher bodies, and that by varying the section presented in the third dimension, a being not only could change shape, but also the amount of mass in the third dimension?

  7. “the mass sent to a pocket dimension for later retrieval”

    Maybe it is the same kind of physics used by the Gallifreyans when they build a TARDIS? :-p

    • A Relative Dimensional Stabilizer would be very useful (so much space) but then the space travel/teleport part really needs to also be there or moving gets potentially much more complicated. Oh, yeah, it could go a trailer or such, I suppose. It’s amazing how little the TARDIS (appears to) weight, really.

      The ‘pocket dimension’ or universe is a neat idea and avoids a sort of virtual particle/real particle shift back and forth. The Universe doesn’t like to deal with IOU’s. I once pondered some wild speculation on that, thinking about the issue of time travel: http://vakkotaur.livejournal.com/69005.html

      • In canon, the TARDIS weighs several million tons, presumably including the power source, machine shop, cabins, and of course the swimming pool and dungeon.

        • Terry Sanders

          But from the outside it weighs whatever it wants to.

          In my youth I played with a Dr. Who/Star Trek crossover. The tractor beam controller almost lost its duotronic mind…

          • Professor Badness

            You do know that they did a Doctor Who/Star Trek TNG comic book, didn’t you? The Cybermen join up with the borg. Scary stuff.

            • Terry Sanders

              Mine assumed two different universes, with different physical laws. The TARDIS really got lost that time…

          • “Hello, Agent Scully. I hear you’re looking for aliens. You can call me The Doctor.”

        • Except for all those times it was moved with a standard forklift or such… then… continuity? Riiight.

          • It’s bigger on the inside than on the outside. Presumably it weighs more on the inside than the outside, too.

            • A lot of the gravity is controlled by the black hole sitting in the drive.

              Once you have tame black holes, you can handwave whatever you want.

            • Inside, outside; it’s all a matter of perspective.
              “I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.”

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          Dungeon? Kinky.

  8. I’ll ask Lachesis and Atropos to put a whole bunch of slack in your thread as before cutting it.

  9. “””*I NORMALLY don’t run two guest posts, back to back. However, I’m back on prednisone and trying to finish a novel. the autoimmune was going crazy with the stress of the last week or so. So, cut me a little slack for one day. And enjoy Alma’s great post. – SAH*”””

    I would have to confess that I read your blog far more than I read your works. This is mostly because of time issues (combined with a recognized need for greater sleep) but it’s also, to a certain extent, financial.

    But confound it, Sarah, your first priority should be taking care of your health, and your second should be the writing that produces income! You shouldn’t apologize for things like back-to-back guest posts, if it helps you with your first two priorities!

    Also, a few blog-posts ago, you mentioned that you don’t like to post guest posts late, because you want them to have as much exposure as possible. I’ve been meaning to let you know that you could post my posts at any time, because I don’t send you my posts for the exposure. I send them to you so that you have things to draw on, when you can’t write. Unfortunately, I still have blog posts bouncing around in my head that need to be put onto electrons — but when I *do* do that, I would encourage you to put them up whenever you need a guest post, if you see fit to do so.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Racist. By which I mean that I can offer no criticism on substantive grounds.

    • Seconded. Health first, then money, then blog somewhere down the list after cleaning the bathroom.

    • I meant to add that yes, technically I also send blog posts to you because I don’t have time to run my own blog, so yes, technically I’m doing it for *some* exposure…but one major reason I send posts when I do, is because I figure that if I don’t have time to write for a blog, I might as well send what few blog posts I *can* write, to help with someone who has a blog, but needs more time.

  10. I NORMALLY…

    As if “normal” mattered much to any of us.

  11. Shouldn’t the title have been “From whence came the Were”?

  12. In one of my early attempts at novel writing I tried the inversion of the werewolf story: instead of a man turning into a wolf, I had a wolf turning into a man, specifically an evil witch does it to create a more useful minion, and the wolf’s ‘beast’ mind expands, both in intellect and in understanding right and wrong (as opposed to the man-to-wolf story, where intellect and morality are subsumed into the beast self), to the point where when he commits murder at the witch’s command at the beginning of the book, he immediately knows it was wrong and spends the rest of the book trying to turn it around and redress his crime.

    That was also the writing attempt that taught me the limits of pantsing, and that if I tried making it up as I went along, the story would eventually collapse in on itself.

    • Rule Number One of the story was: no telepathy! When in wolf form, the character CANNOT speak. Rule was made in response to seeing how overused it was in the fantasy fiction I’d read at the time.

      • Yes. Only rudimentary sounds, maybe symbols or paw signals.

      • When its in wolf form, its a wolf, right? It can’t imagine or remember non-wolf things. So you have to bend the story around actual wolf behavior. Which is, when humans are around they make themselves very scarce indeed.

        • No: I kept his intellect the same throughout. It made the situation more interesting when he’s in human form and aware that this isn’t his base or default state. There were some fun details I worked out: like having him compulsively exercising his hands because he wants his grip strength to be a match for his wolf jaws, and always keeping in mind what to do about clothes, how to get out of his clothes quickly, carrying a set of clothes in a pack in his mouth, burying it to come back to it later retrieval. What personal items (a sheathed dagger, etc) can be easily strapped to his person while in wolf mode, with him able to adjust the strap post-shift to make do after the change in size, etc.

        • Which is, when humans are around they make themselves very scarce indeed.

          Only if humans are a big enough threat.

          We had paw prints at the back door a few weeks back. It ain’t dogs.

    • I love this idea! This is so exactly backwards to the Grey Goo, it glows with possibility.

      Get to work!!!

    • ummm… 🙂 I do it pantsing.. but then sometimes I have to stop and decide on a direction to take… then off to take off the pants (oops)

      • There’s that, and then there’s not knowing which direction to go, and suddenly realizing that there are some significant holes in the political and magical system, and then going back, trying to rewrite sections and insert sub-plots, all the while diverging further and further from the central idea that motivated you in the first place, and then saying to yourself: no one could ever want read this anyway!

        • It’s funny– but I think I have holes and find out the holes are usually descriptions or how I phrased something. The story integrity is there. It might be because I have been reading voraciously since I was five and internalized the structure. — (No one will want to read this anyway)… well, that is just crazy self-talk. You need to get over it. When you get that thought tell yourself that it isn’t yours… and continue.

        • I would read the story you have described.

    • Dave Freer had a sorcerer turn a cat into a human apprentice (Tom). It worked out badly for the sorcerer. Harry Turtledove had a scene where a congergation of full moons turned everyone with even a little were blood into their other self, including a bear into a man (Werenight).

      • Must look into the Freer one, but I could never get into Turtledove. Admittedly I’d only tried a couple of his books and he’s written quite a few.

        • I’ve read one (count it, one) Turtledove story (Case of the Toxic Spell Dump) which was evidently written before he had to put kids through college or such. $HOUSEMATE sums it up as, roughly, “He’s paid by the word and has to pay tuition. It shows. Badly. And many, many chapter later some obscure character you’ve forgotten suddenly becomes important. Repeat.”

      • Terry Sanders

        The weres in Niven’s THE MAGIC GOES AWAY stories work that way. Only they didn’t know it until the mana level started dropping. Eastern Europe had werewolves till recently because the weres *ran the wizards out and kept them out!* They liked being sapient…

  13. Shape-changing is fun. Random guy gets turned into a 500lb troll by eeevile alien nanotechnology accident. What’s the very first thing that happens to him? He gets arrested, obviously.

    How does one keep a 500lb nanotech troll in jail? Well, you can’t. He gets bored and walks out.

    What does he do when he walks out? He goes out for Indian food. Obviously. ~:D

  14. Lycanthropy is always a fun topic, at least for me. The question of where the beast begins and human ends gives so many options for conflict. Is the wolf its own person, and if so do the two entities tolerate each other, revel in each other or detest each other.

    One story I remember that wasn’t brought up was Peter Stumpf. Serial killing blamed on Werewolf. It is an interesting idea as to how crime and punishment would be held in sway by the superstitious.

    Aaaaand now you got me needing to get back to editing Two Worlds…Guess should thank you.

    • And if it’s human-human, oh, right Jekyll & Hyde.

      • Yep. But much more fun with teeth, claws and ripping throats out. 😛

      • I kinda want to read a reverse J&H story now where the doctor is a supervillain looking for an elixir of ultimate power, but he ends up morphing into someone who does random good deeds and can never remember them when he reverts back, and keeps wondering who’s hacking his bank account and giving money to charities and so forth.

        • Megamind?

          • Megamind is a different story altogether. He’s completely conscious of his becoming the hero (and it’s a fun story of what happens when a villain has no hero to thwart his plans). I was thinking more of a villain who is his own nemesis and doesn’t realize it. When he takes the potion, he sets all his captives free, donates the solar-condensing death ray to an energy-starved desert, and gives millions to charity, then when he reverts to himself, he doesn’t know who this crafty hero is who stole his stuff. I’m not a fiction writer, so I wouldn’t even try to take it on, but I would enjoy reading it if someone wrote it.

        • Associate Professor Evil/Lieutenant Colonel Virtue?

  15. This brings to mind two Uncle Remus stories. Found one here:

    http://uncleremus.com/plantationwitch.html

    Here are small were mammals – rabbit and cat – ascribed to witches. The lucky rabbit’s foot is technically the left hind foot of a rabbit killed in a cemetery, and that implies the left foot of a witch in rabbit form.

    • Witches turn into hares all over Europe. Cats are more of a Scandinavian Freya thing.

      • Harris compiled stories of blacks and put them in a narrative wrapper of Uncle Remus or other character relating them to a boy. In the preface of one book, maybe the first, Harris notes some similarities between some of the stories and those found among tribes in the Amazon. The most likely explanation was that both came from Africa through slaves, but it was pointed out that some tribes along the Amazon who never had contact with the slaves had the same stories.

        There was some mix with Indian stories, and with European, but where the division might be . . . shrug.

        Did find the other story, in a book I bought the kids. Its called A Witch is Caught. It, too, involved shape shifting, this time into the form of a cat.

        • Funny, I always thought Bre’er Rabbit was Anaszi in an American skin. *shrug*
          Then what do I know these days?

          • This doesn’t *quite* apply to Anasazi, because they disappeared centuries ago, but there’s something funny about “cultural appropriation”: everyone does it. It more likely happens when one encounters a story from another culture that resonates with one’s own — one absorbs it, applies the lessons to one’s own life, and then share it with others around them.

            And what’s even more overlooked is that while often we think of “culture” as a group experience, it’s really an individual one — to the extent that it’s a “group” experience, it’s because individuals share what they like with each other. But nonetheless, culture always boils down to what each individual does.

            Indeed, there are things about my own culture that even the closest people around me — my wife and my children, my siblings and my parents, and even my friends and my coworkers — would find bizarre…but I find completely normal, simply because it’s my preference.

          • There’s a lot of overlap between trickster figures like Anansi, Bre’er Rabbit, Coyote, and others. A very, very hot (as in fraught with controversy) topic in African-American, Southern, and colonial history is how much different African peoples remembered and kept once they came to the Americas and how much disappeared completely.

      • Oh, there are witch/cats. too. Grandfather Tales by Richard Chase has two such tales.

        • In one of Peter Capstick’s big game books, he encountered a legend that there were no actual hyenas in one African district; they were ALL were-hyenas cursed by the local witch / warlock crew, who hired them out for, among other things, revenge murders. As he put it, “Witching and warlocking must be a pretty lucrative proposition, because this area has one Hell of a lot of hyenas.”

  16. I cannot really recall ever having much interest in shifters — a fleeting interest in Werewolf movies while younger than bourbon, a reading of Endor’s Werewolf of Paris sometime later on, but shifting as such just never held my attention.

    I find being wallaby quite satisfactory, it seems.

    • Have some interest.. but not the usual (were)wolf bit. Pondered unicorn, also centaur. Centaur advantages would be all those fingers, and easy speech. Disadvantage is that this a world (in alleged civilization) designed for bipeds. Tailless bipeds, I must add. Most chairs are not made with a tail in mind.

      • Most?

        I hope I live long enough for genetic engineering to give me a tail, ideally prehensile. It should be possible, although the physical therapy to develop the brain/tail coordination might be difficult. And the first time I slammed it in a car door, I’d probably regret my decision 😉

        • I presume furries include a few folks making chairs they can use comfortably while dressed cross-species.

        • Genetic engineering? I think cybernetic prosthetics might be closer to the mark on that. Imagine a third arm/hand for mothers of infants/toddlers, one which could be detached for a evening out.

  17. Professor Badness

    “I NORMALLY don’t run two guest posts, back to back.”

    Seeing as how the guest posts are of such good quality, I don’t think anyone has any place from which to be complaining about it.

    By the way, loved the post! When writing about characters that can shift mass, I generally restrict it to the magical/accursed type of were.

    • Thanks! I was revising something, and happened to relocate (as in, found again) an Austrian book I had about the mystery-animal scare in Austria in the late 1910s. One of the speculations when livestock started disappearing was a werewolf, possibly a soldier who had been bitten while fighting the Serbs, and the essay just went from there.

      Spoiler alert: it was the last confirmed wolf in the wild in Austria.

  18. my resident manga reader informs me that Japanese lore has shapeshifting (to human) fleas. I asked if they were human sized when human shaped but the answer isn’t clear.

    I like the dragon/cottage idea.

    And someone needs to mention Dave Freer’s TOM iwth the cat turned into a human.

  19. Years back I did some reading on lycanthropy and developed a theory that there were 3 types of weres: the cursed Were (ala the Wolfman movies), the Were by choice (what my research revealed – usually a skin or amulet) and the line or genetic Were (ala “The Complete Werewolf”) Made use of two of the three in a short story.

  20. Oh, and your standard Celtic fairy critter has a white hide and red EARS, not eyes.

    Your standard Celtic fairy drunk has red eyes.

    • The hounds of Anwn are sometimes described as having red eyes as well as ears. Granted, that could be a later addition/interpretation.

    • so, Havelock IS a pooka? An unusually large white animal who takes you on an unexpected journey. (Yes, I know it’s way more than that and bad, but hey.)

      • Or a Cait Sidhe, or a Palug. Or maybe the King of the Cats!

        There is some historical basis to think — white red-eared critters were desirable as sacrifices, so Celts seem to have bred for it. This seems to have led to some breed/color losses after paganism went away.

        Well, when you get into ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggity beasties, sometimes you do get into glowing eyes. But your old sources are stuff like eyes the size of dinner plates or shields or with Balor-type destructive rays coming out of them. The new sources copy Things English People Find Scary. (Possibly including Special Effects For Poachers And Smugglers Avoiding Arrest.)

        One of our whitish gray Irish wolfhounds had a very striking red undercoat on her ears, if you “stripped” them of outercoat hair. (Which we usually did not, because usually there is no point. But it is a thing that looks very good in photos, and gets done by people who show wolfhounds and deerhounds.)

      • well if you call drowning an adventure 🙂

  21. Oh where, oh where
    Has my little were gone?
    Oh where, oh where can he be?

  22. Rich Rostrom

    I think it’s interesting that AFAIK, there is no traditional myth of shape-shifting in which the condition is contagious and spread by bites drawing blood… But in modern horror fiction (especially movies), that quality is assumed automatically. It shows the power of the germ theory of disease.

    “Humans should never, ever cross Coyote.” OTOH, maybe Coyote should be careful about who he crosses, too.

    “… other shape-shifters appeared in books…” One of the regulars at Gavagan’s Bar (as reported by De Camp and Pratt) was Mrs. Vacarescu, whose husband was a weredachshund.

    • I once bought a collection of Native American Folk Tales, with the intention of letting Boy Scouts page through it. Then I came across one talking about Coyote’s Bad Dream (standard joke setup, describing the dream to Wolf, who keeps asking “what’s so bad about that?”) It… involved a naked lady and an extendable member. Not precisely what we wanted for 11-year-olds. So I just photocopied a few of the more innocuous ones…

  23. A few years ago, in a discussion elsewhere about the origin of weres, I came up with the as-far-as-I-know-original idea that the germ of the idea dates back to the domestication of wolves as dogs. Some hypotheses about the wolf-to-dog transition suggest that it was not the result of any conscious act by men, and that it took place in only a few canine generations — in other words, within a single human lifetime. How would your average ignorant-of-science Late Paleolithic man react to seeing wolves turn into protodogs that fast? The idea that they acquired some mental traits of humanity – and that what they acquired mentally could also be acquired physically – doesn’t seem all that farfetched, does it?

    The other interesting thing I noticed about werewolves is that the 1800s European/Western idea of the werewolf is not all that different from the vampire: a nightmare given shape, a Ravager, a super-predator, Nature unbound and nearly immune to every weapon that Man can bring to bear against it. And that this version of the werewolf seems to turn up most often in cultures where predators were seen as an enemy to be defeated, and/or a super-warrior to be emulated in combat. In cultures that valued animals for other reasons, were-creatures tend to be less violent, more ‘human’… and more voluntary.