Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lions and Tigers and Weres! Oh MY!

Shapeshifters. Were creatures. They’re everywhere. They turn up in contemporary crime stories, in sweet coming of age books, even the old west and medieval Briton. But what makes a great shifter? And who writes the best ones? (correct answer: Why you do, of course, Xara) </shameless heavy ego petting>  And why do we love them so much?

Trying to figure that out would be an exercise in futility. Everyone has their own idea of what a shifter should look like, how they should behave, and what kind of emotions they should let show. One comment I see often is “That’s not how my shifters would behave.” So, in the end, all I can talk about is what I think they represent.

Most of the shapeshifters you’ll run across are predators. And most often, a mammal. We can’t seem to get enough of the big, bad wolf. He represents that piece of ourselves that we like to keep buried, hidden from polite society. On the surface, we’re all human, with our own feelings, reactions, and preconceptions. We know how we’re supposed to behave, and what face we’re supposed to give the world. Usually we do a pretty good job of keeping up pretenses.

But deep down, under all the “pleases” and “thank yous”, under the “you’re rights” and “yes, sirs”, there’s an animal. Snarling, snapping, wishing to get out. That’s where werecreatures come in. We all have that base desire to buck the trend, to let our hair down (or the fur fly, as the case may warrant) and howl at the moon. The freedom to run through the woods barefoot, and to snap at things that hurt us. Reading about characters who literally transform into their inner animal. We live vicariously through those creatures, relishing their exploits, and wishing we could use that excuse just once. “It wasn’t me; it was my second nature.”

The shifters that stand out most to me are the ones that never let me forget that even though they look human, and mostly act human, they are completely aware and connected to their animal. Their human habits and nervous tics belie their human facades. The big, burly man pacing the room, taking note of his surroundings, just as a wolf does in the forest. The lithe, sinuous man constantly licking his lips to taste the air, just like the snake he transforms into. The huge blonde who rubs his face against his mate, leaving his scent behind, so everyone knows which lion he belongs to.

Man and his animal. Two forms, merged into one being. All the danger lurking just below the calmly presented surface. The power to shift between the two. We all have it. It’s in there, just waiting to be unleashed. The animal instincts we repress on a day-to-day basis, never letting out lest we be labeled as something less than human.

Most of you know what I am. What's inside you, waiting to be let loose at a moment's notice? What's your animal?

Let me know in the comments. I'll give three winners a swag pack. Contest closes Sunday, 8 January 2012, at 3:00 p.m. CST.



  1. I'm a sea bird of some sort. I love the ocean and I have always wanted to fly and I am pretty solitary. I can just imagine soaring just high enough to get splashed every once in awhile for hours on end (no clue if there is a real bird out there that fits this...if not I will just have to make one up). =)

  2. LION!!! I have the crazy hair to prove it!

  3. Hmmm, I've been compared to a cat or fox my whole life. But, I think my inner is a cranky, old cat (much like the one who owns me). I have my sweet moments, where I just want to cuddle and curl up against someone, relax and nap; find a sunny patch and laze about doing nothing. And then I have my cranky moments, where I'm biting people's head off and just want to be left alone; hide away in my "area" and pretend I'm not surrounded by annoying people.

  4. Great post! The concept of being two creatures merged in one body--the primal animal hidden beneath the facade of human civility, somewhat controlled but generally able to unleash itself given the proper incentive--is definitely one I love about werecreatures. Your examples of animalistic ticks and habits belying shifters' human forms were wonderfully vivid, too, as was your reasoning behind our fascination with shifters. <3

    As for my animal, I'd probably be a fox (likely similar to the young Tod of The Fox and The Hound). I'm curious, playful, tricksy in a good-natured way, cuddle selectively but with joy, can be snappish when cornered, and have hair as bushy as any fox's tail. ^_^

  5. Jaguar/Panther - think big cat at the zoo in Manna' Francis's The Administration.

    Looks harmless enough - but get too close without being invited and she'll still rip your head off :D

  6. Werecreatures definitely call to our own hidden Jekyll/Hyde tendencies.

    These are all such great answers, I can't choose a winner! If all of you will email me a physical address, I'll send you each a swag pack.

    xara (at) xaraxanakas (dot) com