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223 × 146 × 22 mm
200 pages
20 illustrations
13 May 2019

Shapeshifters A History John B. Kachuba

There is something about a shapeshifter – a person who can transform into an animal – that captures our imagination; that causes us to want to howl at the moon, or flit through the night like a bat. Werewolves, vampires, demons and other weird creatures appeal to our animal nature, our ‘dark side’, our desire to break free of the bonds of society and proper behaviour. Rituals in early cultures worldwide seemingly allowed shamans, sorcerers, witches and wizards to transform at will into animals and back again. Today, there are millions of people who believe that shapeshifters walk among us and may even be world leaders. Real or imaginary, shapeshifters lurk deep in our psyches and remain formidable cultural icons.

The myths and magic surrounding shapeshifters is brought vividly to life in John Kachuba’s compelling and original cultural history. Featuring a fantastic and goulish array of examples from history, literature, film, TV and computer games, Shapeshifters explores our secret desire to become something other than human.

Horror Writers Association: Bram Stoker Awards, Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction’ — Finalist

‘[Kachuba] delivers a series of interesting . . . accounts of transformations of human to animal; something that appears . . . to be a widespread myth. Kachuba muses that this theme — beginning with Lyacon, the king of Arcadia whom Zeus changed into a wolf — may fulfil a universal desire to be what we are not . . . Were you to want a primer on were-anything, this is a fine start.’ — The Spectator

‘In this wide-ranging study, John Kachuba argues that our interest in what the American Psychiatric Association calls “gender dysphoria disturbance” is only the latest manifestation of our long-established fascination with shapeshifting in all its guises. It is ubiquitous in literature and folklore, from the countless metamorphoses in Greek myth down to the apprentice wizards of Hogwarts. Transformation is the lifeblood of narrative . . . Kachuba refreshes the meagre store of case studies from the time of the European witch craze with comparable modern accounts.’ — Literary Review

‘Shapeshifters are those “who can change from human form to that of an animal”, John Kachuba tells us. Yet his absorbing and comprehensive conspectus of mutation also takes in human beings who can impersonate other human beings; Uther Pendragon does this in order to impregnate his future queen at Tintagel. Shapeshifting is fascinating and troubling: it asks questions about how we can tell who is who. From the inside, shapeshifting is about the struggle to find a true identity, but from the outside this shifting looks shifty.’ — TLS

‘When you reach the end of Shapeshifters, it seems clear that, in addition to being a history, with most of its chapters focused on stories from antiquity through early modernity, Shapeshifters is very much a book of, and for, the 21st century as well. The greatest shapeshifters have always been human . . . From diets and bodybuilding, to religious conversion and spiritual cleansing, to rising in social class, to online avatars, to gender reassignment, we seem to believe more strongly in the benefits of shapeshifting, literally and symbolically, than ever . . . For a study that barely reaches 200 pages, including references and index, Shapeshifters is comprehensive in examples and broadly multicultural.’ — Popmatters

‘This book is concise yet remarkably comprehensive, covering everything from werewolves and vampires to costume play and masquerades. It is also well-written, equally as entertaining as it is informative for any reader.’ — Magonia Review of Books

‘For this reader, "shapeshifter" initially suggested werewolves and vampires, and indeed two of this book’s 10 chapters focus on these subjects. But the author has taken a broader approach, opening with the well-known Palæolithic cave painting "The Sorcerer", which supposedly depicts a shaman transforming into a deer . . . a thorough survey of shapeshifters worldwide, past and present.’ — Fortean Times

‘when Shapeshifters: A History showed up on my doorstep, I was pretty excited. And I wasn’t disappointed. Kachuba has complied an extensive survey of all sorts of shape-shifting myths, legends, folktales, and fairytales from the ages. He covers everything from the gods and goddesses of the ancient world, to the faerie folk of Europe, to the classics such as the werewolf and the vampire . . . If you enjoy reading nonfiction works about the origins our monsters and mythical beings as much as I do, then this is the book for you.’ — Cemetery Dance

‘The book is a look at the cultural forces which generate tales of shapeshifters as much as it is a history, if not more so. The writing is engaging and the content interesting, so you will not go wrong by reading this book for diversion.’ — Historical Novel Society

‘The book examines the history of the enduring shapeshifter archetype, which persists today, is found in almost every culture around the world and is believed by some to be more than myth . . . [it] describes the various shapeshifter motifs such as discipline, avengement or punishment, for example in The Frog Prince. Katchuba differentiates between those who have been involuntarily transformed through magic or a curse, and those who have voluntary control over their transformations and can shift at will between their human and transformed nature.’ — Grammarye

‘inspiring and useful in understanding the cultural contexts that gave rise to stories of vampires, werewolves and witches in the first place . . . The moral of the story is that monsters change principally from within not from without, and it can be a two-way process. The choice is ours.’ — Catholic Herald

‘packed full of interesting details from myths and legends from around the world, historical research that sifts through the beliefs about shapeshifters in different cultures, and many brief stories of the exploits, drama, and dangers associated with these sometimes frightening creatures whether animal, human, or supernatural in form.’ — Monster Librarian

‘John B. Kachuba’s Shapeshifters: A History is a thorough examination of shapeshifters, discussing their importance in religion, literature, folklore, and popular culture. Readers whose knowledge is largely about the two most well-known shapeshifters – the werewolf and the vampire – will find this discussion to be much more extensive . . . this book should appeal to a wide audience. Stylistically, the prose is accessible to a general readership, but that does not detract from its scholarly value . . . One would be hard-pressed to find a more thorough and thoughtful examination of these creatures.’ — Journal of Folklore Research

‘John Kachuba has written a terrifically entertaining exploration of shapeshifting, from ancient folklore and fairy tales to Transformers and Twilight. I loved learning about skinwalkers, French werewolves, and where in Romania to buy a bottle of Dracula Merlot. This book offers fascinating insight into the origins of the stories we continue to tell about our desire “to be someone or something other than what we are.”’ — Becky Hagenston, author of Scavengers: Stories

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John Kachuba is an award-winning author and Creative Writing instructor at Ohio University. He has investigated over 100 haunted locations around the world and his books include Ghosthunters (2007) and Dark Entry (2012).

Introduction: Entering the World of the Shapeshifters

1 Gods and Goddesses: Shapeshifters in Antiquity
2 When Men Become Gods: Mortal Shapeshifters
3 The Power of Transformation
4 Fay, Faerie and Folk Shapeshifters: Europe
5 Fay, Faerie and Folk Shapeshifters around the World
6 The Werewolf
7 The Vampire
8 Fluid Shapeshifters: Sex, Gender and Identity
9 Shapeshifters in Popular Culture: Literature and the Media
10 Final Transformation

Photo acknowledgements