- For other uses, see Shapeshifting (disambiguation).
Shapeshifting, transformation , transmogrification or morphing is a change in the form or shape of a person, especially:
- a change from human form to animal form and vice versa
- a change in appearance from one person to another
Shapeshifting is not considered scientifically or medically possible, but it is a common theme in myth and legend and a popular theme in science fiction and fantasy stories. Some conspiracy theories claim that alien reptoids are capable of shape-shifting.
"Shapeshifting" often refers to characters who change form on their own, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, while "transformation" (TF) refers more commonly to externally imposed change of form, whether by magic or sufficiently advanced technology. There is no settled agreement on the terminology.
Shapeshifting in myth
Popular shapeshifting creatures in myths and legends are werewolves and vampires (mostly of European, Canadian, and Native American/early American origin), the kitsune or were-foxes of Japan, and the gods, goddesses, and demons of numerous mythologies, such as Loki from Norse mythology or Proteus from Greek mythology. It was also common for deities to transform mortals into animals and plants.
Although shapeshifting to the form of a wolf is specifically known as lycanthropy, and such creatures who undergo such change are called lycanthropes, those terms have also been used to describe any human-animal transformations and the creatures who undergo them. Therianthropy is the more general term for human-animal shifts, but it is rarely used in that capacity.
Almost every culture around the world has some type of shapeshifting myth, and almost every commonly found animal (and some not-so-common ones) probably has a shapeshifting myth attached to them. Usually, the animal involved in the transformation is indigenous to or prevalent in the area from which the story derives. It is worthy to note that while the popular idea of a shapeshifter is of a human being who turns into something else, there are numerous myths about animals that can transform themselves as well.
Examples of shapeshifting in classical literature include many examples in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Circe's transforming of Odysseus' men to pigs in Homer's The Odyssey, and Apuleius's becoming a donkey in The Golden Ass.
Notable mythological shapeshifters
- Bouda -- hyena-men of Africa
- Encantados -- according to stories from Brazil, they are "the enchanted ones," creatures from an underwater realm, usually dolphins with the ability to change into humans
- Kitsune -- werefoxes of Japan; werefox myths abound from other countries such as China, Korea, Vietnam, and even the United States, but "kitsune" refers specifically to the Japanese variety
- Loki -- Trickster god of the Norse pantheon
- Nahuales -- In Mexican lore, shamans that have shapeshifting abilities, usually turning into coyotes, wolves or jaguars
- Nagas -- snake-people of Asian countries, especially India & Nepal; may appear either as transforming between human and snake, or as a cross between the two (such as the upper torso being human and the lower torso being serpentine); some Nagas may also assume the form of dragons
- Manakeet -- a mythlogical creature that appears in the video game Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. Takes the form of a human who can transform into a dragon at will.
- Proteus -- a Greek sea god who was capable of changing his form to avoid being captured
- Runa-uturungu -- werejaguars from Argentina (regional name), also spelled runa-uturuncu
- Selkie -- Seal-maidens of Irish/Scottish myth.
- Thunderbirds -- huge birdlike creatures described in the lore of several Native American tribes; some thunderbirds turn into human beings
- Vampires -- corpses who can turn into wolves and/or bats
- Wendigo -- a shapeshifter from Canadian legend
- Werewolves -- humans who turn into wolves
- Yaguareté-abá -- werejaguars from Argentina (regional name)
- Zmei -- Romanian mythological creatures, similar to Ogres
- Zeus -- Head of the Greek pantheon, who routinely transformed into various animal forms and had sexual congress with human women to beget half-god mortals.
Shapeshifting in fiction
Shapeshifting can be a rich symbolical and narrative tool and shapeshifting fiction has been around at least since the days of ancient Greece. Today, the theme appears in many fantasy and science fiction stories. Both occasionally feature races of shapeshifters, and both magic and technology can be used to impose a change in form.
Notable shapeshifters in fiction
- Beorn in J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional universe of Middle-earth is a skin-changer, a man who could assume the appearance of a bear.
- Mavin Manyshaped and her son Peter in Sheri S. Tepper's True Game novels.
- Morph and Mystique in the Marvel Comics universe.
- Odo, one of the main characters of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
- Zam Wesell in Star Wars, appearing in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, from a race of shapeshifters called Clawdites.
- T-1000, an evil robot with shapeshifting abilities from Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
- Many types of shapeshifters occur in Laurell K. Hamilton's novels in the Anita Blake series, such as werewolves, werejaguars, wererats, and even a wereswan.
- In the Harry Potter series, trained Animagi can transform at will into one specific animal, and so far each example in the books has taken a different form. Metamorphmagi including Nymphadora Tonks possess shapeshifting abilities which have been only sketchily defined so far.
- D. M. Wind's novel The Others is about a group of shapeshifters from another dimension who can turn into any animal at will, though they usually take the form of either wolves or panthers.
- Many of Jack L. Chalker's novels involve one or more transformations; he wrote an essay on physical transformation as a metaphor for various psychological changes, included in his short story collection Dance Band on the Titanic. This theme is used several times in the Jerry Cornelius stories by Michael Moorcock, as well as in works by Robert Sheckley, Nina Kiriki Hoffman and others.
- The Animorphs series is about a group of five kids who are able to "morph" into any animal they have touched and purposely "acquired" its DNA. The Animorphs received their powers--rather, technology--from a scientifically advanced alien species called the Andalites.
- Martia from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
- Shang Tsung, an evil sorcerer who can copy the appearance and abilities of his opponents in the Mortal Kombat video game series. Also, fallen Elder God Shinnok of the same series, who posseses the ability to imitate any person down to the voice.
- The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, in which the main character wakes up to find himself transformed into a monstrous vermin.
- Beast Boy, Metamorpho, Plastic Man, and Amazing Man in the DC Universe.
- The vermicious knids from Roald Dahl's book Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator are able to stretch or compress themselves into any shape they want.
- Amelia Atwater-Rhodes's Kiesha'ra series features falcon, snake, and hawk shapeshiters.
- Dr. Jonathan Chase from the TV-Series Manimal is able to change into any animal.
Interest in TF isn't limited just to them, though; the concept captures some imaginations of all ages. The subject is rather obscure and there's no established term for those who are intrigued by transformations; the general expression is just "TF fans". Note that having a thing for shapeshifting is distinct from belonging to therians, otherkin or any other group that actually identifies with or wishes to become something else.
Combining this with sexuality results in a transformation fetish.
Websites and online communities about TF exist, both clean and otherwise, though for the low-grade non-purposeful fan a site dedicated for appreciating transformations might be entirely too much. The Transformation Stories Archive is a prominent example of its kind.
Two currently prominent webcomics feature transformations for the sake of it: El Goonish Shive is technology-based and more character-driven, while The Wotch is somewhat younger, magic-based and considerably more madcap. Both are PG-13, and the former is a Keenspot member.
- The Transformation Stories List (not updated recently)
- Metamorphose.org (regularly maintained)
- Transformation Stories Archive
- Specialized definition on WikiTherian
- TFCentral - A portal dedicated to transformation. Hosting, forums, image gallery, story archives, and chat.
- Portal of Transformation - Site with sections on the folklore behind a number of different shapeshifters from around the world.