|via Jason Devaun on Flickr|
Bodies are interesting—they are the interface through which you experience the world, the physical space we associate with “you.” And they give the illusion of a constant identity where there may be none. You are not reading this with the body you were born in. In fact, if you’re over fourteen, it’s an entirely different one: all your cells have been replaced at least once. You are different than you were as a baby, and different than you will be at age 80. And that goes for both your physical body and your identity. They are inconstant, for better or worse.
But even if you reside in an impermanent, changeable body, it’s still a body you must stay in if you want to continue your existence. The same is not true for shape-shifters. In fiction we meet people who can change their form quickly and unnaturally and yet maintain a consistent (?) identity. We read them as the same character, even though they might have a completely different brain! Bizarre, no?
Here are six of my favorites.
1. Solembum (Inheritance Cycle) | As a werecat, Solembum can take a more humanoid form if he so chooses. This is a pretty unsettling experience! In a way, though, it’s an honest portrayal. Shape-shifting is completely foreign to human experience, and we’d react as such. (Also, werecats can just be creepy.)
2. Wanderer (The Host) | Wanda is a parasite who has possessed various creatures throughout the galaxy. She describes the unique, even weird, experiences each host has provided her with. (Sounds obvious, but being seaweed is different than being human.) But Wanda has a malevolent power, too—she can kill other beings by staying inside them too long.
3. Orma (Seraphina) | Seraphina notices that her uncle is more harsh and bloodthirsty in his native dragon form. Possessing a human body changes Orma—he becomes more emotional by nature of its biological functions. Seraphina actually has a conversation suggesting that dragons are different people in human form. From this perspective, identity is tied to biological form and something is lost by shifting.
4. Tally Youngblood (Uglies) | Each book in this series follows the progression of Tally’s identity as it correlates to her physical form. From an intimidated Ugly to a complicit Pretty to a subversive Special, Tally’s body reflects her place in the world. I like this shape-shifting because it’s more clinical than fantastical and ties in with political and psychological questions. It’s interesting.
5. Artemis Fowl (The Last Guardian) | I was FURIOUS when I first finished TLG because I thought they’d cloned Artemis’s body, explain his life story to him, and then tote around a sad Artemis puppet until it died. After a second glance, I realized Artemis’s new body does not represent a new identity because he contains his memories and experiences within his soul. That soul will allow him to be his old self again! (Also, he could be immortal if he wanted?)
6. Iko (The Lunar Chronicles) | Unlike the other folks on this list, Iko is a droid. In fact, she is a personality chip. She’s just as much herself whether she inhabits a spaceship or an escort droid—but Iko makes the choice to keep a permanent body, like her friends. It’s interesting, because Iko envies her friends’ “permanent” bodies because they are human, but we might have something to envy in Iko, too. Iko’s personality chip contains her “soul,” giving her a self more constant than a body could ever be. I’m glad she has that.