Thursday, February 23, 2017

BOOM. Shape-shifters.

via Jason Devaun on Flickr
I presume that if you are reading this, you are doing so with a body. (If not, warmest greetings to the ghosts and/or bots perusing my blog. Please do not repossess my soul.)

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 clone 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.

Six shape-shifters! Maybe not quite so dramatic as Mystique or the Doctor, but still, interesting folks, all. They leave me with questions more than anything else. Souls? Bodies? Change? WHAT IS ALL THIS? And will we ever know?

Who are some of your favorite fictional shape-shifters?


  1. Hmmm, I had never thought of Tally being a shapeshifter. I suppose she really is, especially (despite?) her personality changing with each operation, even though she's obviously the same person.

    I guess you could make the argument that we're all shapeshifters, like you did in the intro a little. We're always changing, biologically and emotionally and our personalities and etc. etc. and can chose how we change and what we change into, to a certain extent. It's all in the choices we make everyday, which form habits and change us. I don't know. It's cool.

    1. Or is she the same person? o.O I mean, that is the question. Once you change shape, can you ever truly be the same person?

      Exactly. WE MAY HAVE NO COHERENT IDENTITIES. It is a mystery. But it is also interesting to talk about, eh?

  2. Oh I love Iko!! I love how sassy she is and how her personality can transfer from anything to a ship to a robot. :') I also love werewolf shapeshifters, especially in Shiver!! And anything that kind of turns into a monster...I may have a soft spot for tragic monster shifters. :')

    1. She is great, right? She is also a remarkably good sport about all that, because I am sure it is hard to feel beautiful when you are a cargo ship. And yes! I thought about including some werewolves, but they didn't make the final cut. I'm glad you brought them up, because they are indeed awesome!

  3. I loved Solembum! Might be the only character from that series that I have a super clear memory of. I hadn't thought of Artemis Fowl counting as a shapeshifter by the end of the series, but you're right--he does. Cool post!

    1. He was certainly weird. And yeah, it only just occurred to me about that one. *nods* But still, he does count, but that is one case where I'm glad there should be some consistency of identity.

  4. I used to think invisibility was the best superpower. But with shape shifting you can do anything! Wanda was pretty interesting when I was watching The Host and I want to give the book a try, too. I like how Tally's on there - because if she's a new person as her physical appearance changes, then it sort of is shape shifting isn't it?

    1. Yes! It certainly is a creative power, to say the least. And yeah, I would totally give The Host a try, if you haven't! And yeah, that is exactly my reasoning for Tally. ;)


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