Tough Travelling: Shapeshifters


Welcome to this month’s Tough Travelling!

Every month, we travel through fantasy with The Fantasy Hive, looking at a different fantasy trope as outlined by Diana Wynne Jones in her Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

This month, it’s shapeshifters…

“Shapeshifting is frequent among both WERES and MAGIC USERS. The usual form taken is that of a wolf, but lions, eagles, serpents, owls and cats are common too. In all cases the Rule is that the Shapeshifter cannot stay too long in ANIMAL form without actually becoming that animal and losing touch with her/his human thoughts.”

– The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones

As always, lets begin our list with Tolkien;

Sauron and Beorn
The Silmarillion and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

In The Hobbit, Bilbo and his companions seek refuge with “Somebody” known to Gandalf, a somebody who is able to change into a bear;

“If you must know more, his name is Beorn. He is very strong, and he is a skin-changer.”
Gandalf, The Hobbit

At some times, he is a bear and at others he is a man; but whether he is a bear that can change into a man, or a man that can change into a bear, isn’t known.

In The Silmarillion, Sauron is able to take on a number of different forms including that of a werewolf and a vampire. He is able to shapeshift into beautiful things in order to enamour his enemies, but he loses this ability to shapeshift when the island of Numenor is destroyed.

 Witches Abroad by Sir Terry Pratchett

Witches Abroad is probably my favourite Discworld novel… Yeah I’m having a good think about it and I think it’s pretty safe to say it is my favourite. Certainly some of my most memorable Discworld scenes come from this particular book; Granny Weatherwax playing poker, Nanny Ogg trying to speak a foreign language and send postcards… And Greebo being turned into a man by Granny.

“Greebo yawned and stretched. To his amazement he went on stretching…
Greebo unfolded himself and stood up, a little unsteadily.
Nanny stared, her mouth open.
Then her eyes moved downwards.
‘Cor,’ she said…
Greeboturned slowly, a faint, lazy smile on his scarred face. As a human, his nose was broken and a black patch covered his bad eye. But the other one glittered like the sins of angels, and his smile was the downfall of saints. Female ones, anyway….
Nanny Ogg leaned against the wall for support.”

Eustace Scrubb
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis


Eustace, the Pevensie childrens’ insufferable cousin, is turned into a dragon when he puts on a cursed bracelet. His shapeshifting is a turning point in the story for him, whereupon he learns how bad his behaviour was previously. His loneliness as a dragon prompts a change in his character once Aslan turns him human again.

The Copper Promise and The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams
(I haven’t finished The Iron Ghost yet, and so I’ve not included The Silver Tide)


So here’s an example of a shapeshifter that isn’t human! Rather, Gwiddion is a griffin who can also take the form of a crow. That’s right folks, a griffin. I don’t read enough books with griffins in.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones


Of course, Jones includes a number of examples of shapeshifting within her own books. There is Sophie, who I guess you could argue shapeshifts (under a curse) from a young girl to an old woman? But also, in the book, there is a character who (again, as a curse) shapeshifts into a dog. Unfortunately, I cannot remember more details than this from the book. In the Studio Ghibli animation, they change the story somewhat and the Prince from the neighbouring kingdom shapeshifts into a scarecrow that Sophie names Turnip Head.

Honourable Mentions

The following are suggestions made by Rhys and Chris when I asked if they could think of any shapeshifters in literature ^_^

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stephenson

In next month’s Tough Travels we’ll be looking at Apprentices!

9 thoughts on “Tough Travelling: Shapeshifters

  1. Greebo and Sauron? Awesome picks! Wish I’d thought of those. 😀 (Any list including Nanny Ogg in some way or another is a win for me!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great choices! I had completely forgotten about Beorn the skin-changer and Eustace, which is terrible of me, so thanks for refreshing my memory. And I want to read The Copper Promise even more now you have mentioned it has a griffin-crow shapeshifter. I love griffins! (and I also don’t read enough books with griffins in them)

    Liked by 1 person

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