April 22, 2022

T is for Transforming

         (My A to Z Challenge theme this year is How to Make a Fantastical Creature, in which I explore 26 traits that are widely shared among the monsters and marvels of fantasy and folklore.)
        When is that duck not a duck?  When it’s a were-duck, of course.  One feature that marks an animal (or person) out as clearly being magical is if it transforms.  (Fun linguistics fact: the were- part of werewolves and wereducks is from Old English for “man.”)  There are lots of different ways such transformations can work: voluntary or involuntary, superpower or curse, lots of forms or just a couple, in appearance only or in true essence…
        You can revisit a couple of previous posts about some of the most iconic types of transforming creatures: werewolves (and other were-beasts), and selkies, kitsune, swan maidens, and other creatures that use their skins to transform.
        Encantados are Amazon river dolphins that occasionally take human form, usually in order to go to parties and have sex with humans.  When in human form an encantado always wears a hat in order to conceal its blowhole.
        All sorts of animals that can transform into human form are very popular.  Nowadays it’s become popular to give dragons the ability to take human form, which certainly makes it more convenient for them to deal with the human world.  However, I personally am not a big fan of this particular trope.
        There are also all manner of spirits that can shape-shift for purposes of pure mischief.  Usually these types of creatures can transform into a wide variety of shapes, from various animals, to humans from infants to hags, to inanimate objects such as baskets, lumps of gold, furniture, and more.  These 
pranksters include the Irish pooka, the Hedley Kow of England, the Mourioche of Brittany, and Osschaert who plagued the people of Flanders with cruel tricks.  Folklorists often describe what these creatures look like, but this seems to me a somewhat pointless endeavor, what with their ability to take whatever appearance they want.  But some certainly do have a preferred form.  The Lange Wapper of Belgium can be tiny as a mouse or taller than a building.  He can even duplicate himself into a whole crowd.  When possible, 
however, he prefers to take forms of things with long, gangly limbs.
  All these tricksters range from playing funny little pranks to getting people killed with their malicious tricks.
        In the folklore of the Toba people of Argentina, the Araganaqlta’a is a sort of lord of snakes and its primary form is a large multicolored serpent with saw-spines down its sides and two hooks on the end of its tail.  However, it can also take the form of a quadruped, a rhea, or even a nattily-attired human.  Whatever form it takes, however, it has a red crest atop its head.  These creatures enjoy human conversation (flashback to L) and are protectors of nature and associated with water (flashback to N).
        In Yupik folklore the Kăk-whăn’-û-ghăt Kǐg-û-lu’-nǐk is an orca that can transform into a wolf in order to hunt on land.  It is especially aggressive.
        A particularly interesting type of transformation is that exemplified by the Eintykára of Paraguay.  These are stingless bees that make much-prized honey.  They can also join together as a swarm to become a single man.  When in human form their hair is golden as honey, and they are exceptionally intelligent and hardworking, but when they want to eat, they transform back into an entire swarm of bees, go out and collect nectar, and then coalesce back into human form when they’ve finished.
        Lots of the creatures I’ve mentioned before can also change forms, including huldra, imp, jinni, kelpie, kobold, lebraude, leshy, and lidérc.
        Shape-shifting is also a popular superpower among more recent mutants (such as Mystique in the X-Men), space aliens (such as glamapods in “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”), and even the Pokémon Ditto.
        The moral of these tales is that Things Are Not Always As They Seem.  A Pro Tip for anyone encountering a hostile shape-shifter is to try tricking them into a shape that can more easily be controlled.  For example, ogres that shape-shift into the form of mice can then be eaten by cats, while jinn that shrink down to fit back into their bottles can be sealed back up.  Usually a bet or a bit of trash-talk questioning the extent of their abilities is enough to get them to take the desired form.
        If you could transform at will into any other form, what would you pick?

[Pictures: Werewolf (Devil), wood block print by Niklaus Manuel I from Cosmographia by Sebastian Münster, 1552 (Image from The British Museum);
Selkie (The Selkie Pool), wood engraving by Kathleen Lindsley (Image from Society of Wood Engravers);
Kitsune, detail from color woodblock print by Ogato Gekko, c 1906 (Image from The British Museum);
Hedley Kow, illustration by John D. Batten from More English Fairy Tales ed. Joseph Jacobs, 1922 (Image from Internet Archive)
Glamapod, concept art by Marc Simonetti for “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” 2017 (Image from marcsimonetti.com.]


TWW said...

This is an awesome post, love that you also mention Selkie.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Lots of great creatures here. This is one blog I keep coming back too.

Tim Brannan
The Other Side | The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories

Deborah Weber said...

Now I'm going to be a little more curious about hat-wearing men. But my fave of today's cast of characters definitely has to be the Eintykára bees. I'd love to meet them in either of their forms, and taste their honey as well.

Alana said...

Interesting all the transforming in folklore; this must be a basic human wish and/or fear. If I could transform, I would want to be a bird. To be able to fly, to be able to see the world as a bird does (they can see wavelengths we humans can't), to be able to do some of the feats they do, that would be amazing.

Joy Weese Moll said...

So many! I had no idea. I would transform into a cat to eat shape-shifting ogres, but also because I want to know what it's like to have a tail.

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

East Asian dragons traditionally had the power to transform into humans, and Hungarian folktale dragons were usually human to begin with. But it is a new thing for Western dragons, I think.

The Multicolored Diary

Kristin said...

My favorite shape shifter is the main character in Octavia Butler's Wild Seed, a woman who can transform into anything.

I would choose a bird so that I could fly outside of my dreams.

betty said...

Very fascinating theme you are doing for A/Z! Seems like you did a lot of research and writing of each and every one of them!! It is something I'm usually not interested in but I did enjoy reading this post of yours :) Good luck with the rest of the challenge! We are nearing the finishing line!


Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Deborah, in one of the stories about the eintykára, a woman falls in love with it/them because of the suggestively phallic-shaped hive! lol But they sound like they'd make a great companion.

Zalka, thanks for reminding me about the Asian and Eastern European dragons tending more toward human form. So there's plenty of traditional background to it and not just a "modern trend." Still, I like my dragons to be fully dragon!

Alana and Kristin, I think I'm with you on transforming into a bird of some sort. Although, Joy, if I were to have a cat form I'd be most excited to be able to purr.

betty, thanks for stopping by!

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

The phouka is one of my favourites :-)

Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge My Languishing TBR: T