Happy Halloween Season! October is possibly my favorite month of the year, and Halloween has a great deal to do with that. This year, I thought it would be fun to do a little fact finding about the traditional Halloween monsters (werewolves, vampires, and Frankenstein) and their evolution in folklore and literature.
upcoming release - Andromeda's Fall - (release date TBD) involves
mountain lion shifters, let's start with werewolves (and shifters in
As I researched this topic, I found it very
interesting that--unlike vampires and Frankenstein--almost every culture
around the world has some type of transformation or shape-shifting
mythology (typically with animals indigenous to the area) that go back
In earlier history, shapeshifters were most
commonly deities (gods or goddesses) with the magical ability to
transform. In Japan they have Kitsune, a fox shifter who is typically
benevolent but often a trickster. Korea and China have similar fox
shapeshifter myths. In Africa, deities shift into lions or leopards. In
South America they transform into jaguars. Some gods/goddesses in Greek,
Roman, Norse, etc. mythology can pick their forms.
frequent myth seen for shifters in earlier history were humans who were
transformed into something by a god or goddess as a punishment. In Greek
mythology, Arachne was transformed into a spider. In Roman and Ovid’s
Metamorphoses, King Lycaon was changed to a wolf by Jupiter (some
attribute this as the beginning of werewolf mythology). But in these
cases, the person shifted had no power to change back to human. This
theme continued in later European folklore. The Frog Prince and Beauty
and the Beast both involve transformation into animals as a punishment.
the Middle Ages where the werewolf mythology became prevalent. Most of
the people executed for being werewolves in this time period were later
found by historians to be serial killers. The werewolf mythology closely
follows witch folklore and persecution. In fact, shifters mythologies
were not all that prevalent in North America until brought over by
European colonists at the same time as they brought their fear of
Based on what I could find, not a lot seemed to change
about shapeshifter folklore for quite some time. Up to the 1940s (and
even later) they were truly seen as monsters eliciting terror and
revulsion. Early books and movies about werewolves have the happy ending
being the death or defeat of the creature.
In my research, I
couldn't find a specific trigger for the change in perception of
shapeshifters and werewolves as monsters to the view of them today as
sympathetic and even heroic. Even books written in the mid- to
late-1900s still use a more classic example of shifters. For example, in
C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, Eustace is shifted into a dragon
- but more as a learning moment or punishment, not at will.
would argue that shapeshifters we see today are found in literature and
movies only in the last 10-20 years. Unlike their earlier counterparts,
these people/creatures are not deities (or not always), are not being
punished, can change forms at will (or at least aren't permanently an
animal), are powerful, are usually benevolent or good, and frequently
have an entire sub-culture of like-shifters to support them or deal with
in some way.
What a change from the monsters they originally were. Right?
found this topic so interesting to research, I'll have to dig more on
the psychology behind this phenomenon. My guess is that, like vampires,
we've romanticized werewolves and other shapeshifters, giving them more
human qualities, behaviors, and values. Dissatisfied by our human
frailty, we are intrigued by the thought of what additional power
assuming such a form could provide.
It makes me wonder what the next 10, 20, 100 years have in store for these fascinating--and ancient--creatures.
Award-winning author, Abigail Owen was born in Greeley, Colorado, and
raised in Austin, Texas. She now resides in Northern California with her
husband and two adorable children who are the center of her universe.
Abigail grew up consuming books and exploring the world through her
writing. A fourth generation graduate of Texas A&M University, she
attempted to find a practical career related to her favorite activity by
earning a degree in English Rhetoric (Technical Writing). However, she
swiftly discovered that writing without imagination is not nearly as fun
as writing with it.