Guest Blogger on Shapeshifting – Deborah Cooke

The idea of a person being able to change physical form is a really old one. Shape shifting is associated with magic, with shamanic powers and with legendary origins. People have speculated about this ability for a long time! The oldest written shapeshifter romance in Europe is one of the stories of the medieval poet Marie de France. It’s called Bisclavret and tells of a nobleman who can become a wolf. His treacherous wife steals his clothes when he shifts one night, in order to compel him to remain in wolf form. This lets her steal his possessions and be with her lover at her husband’s estate. Justice is served in the end, but what’s interesting is that the wolf takes his complaint to the king’s court to see himself avenged.

There are, of course, oral shape shifter stories that are much older than that. Many origin stories for aristocratic families in medieval Europe refer to fantastical beings as father or mother of the line – the first of the Merovingian kings, for example was said to have been conceived when a noble warrior coupled with a sea monster. Their offspring was Merovech, the founder of the Merovingian dynasty, and all of their line were reputed to have fantastical powers (like the ability to heal with touch.) The heroine of another medieval story, Melusine, was condemned to shift shape to a snake (or a dragon) for one day a week as punishment for a transgression. There is some suggestion that the origins of heraldry lie in these family associations with certain animals, fantastical or real.

Of course, many other cultures around the world believe that their shaman or other gifted individuals in their group can assume the shape of animals. It might be a specific association – one tribe or one person becomes one kind of animal – or the gifted person may have the power to transform into many kinds of animals.

In fairy tales, the notion of shape shifting is pretty common. Witches turn into beautiful women to work their wiles on unwitting heroes; trolls become rocks to hide themselves from adventurers; sons are condemned to become geese to keep them clear of the lines of inheritance.

Ancient stories also associated shape shifting with the powers of divinity – Zeus was always changing forms, usually to have his way with a beautiful mortal woman without Hera catching him! Other gods and goddess punished individuals by compelling them to take other forms. The oldest suite of shapeshifter stories I know of are the erotic adventures of gods and heroes recounted in Metamorphoses by Ovid.

Why are we so interested in shape shifters? I’ll speculate that we like the idea of trying out other powers and abilities. One of the things I hear most often from people reading my Dragonfire paranormal romances is that they love the idea of being a dragon and being able to fly. The ability to breathe fire is at the top of the list for other readers! I think there’s something magical about the notion of becoming something other than what we already are. As a storyteller, I like the challenges and inner conflicts that would be inherent in a character having such abilities – as a romance writer, I love the notion that love can overcome even this obstacle.

I’ve written quite a few shape shifter romances. My first two shifter romances had medieval settings: THE MAGICIAN’S QUEST tells of a hero with shamanistic powers (who doesn’t want them) and can become a black panther at will. Meeting the heroine rouses the beast within and he finds himself shifting shape without deciding to do so – there’s no more avoiding his legacy once Alifa is in his life! ENCHANTED tells of a hero cursed to be a wolf half of the time. Since his affliction is a curse, there’s a solution, and the heroine he saves from a hungry pack of wolves proves to be the one who can set him free. The price, of course, is true love.



 My Dragonfire paranormal romances feature heroes who are dragon shape shifters. ( Each book tells of one hero meeting his proverbial match – when one of my dragon guys meets the human woman who can bear his son, he experiences a firestorm. Sparks literally fly between them until their match is consummated. This gives the dragon shifter a lot to explain while he’s trying to seduce the heroine and win her over, which I really enjoy. The current Dragonfire title is FLASHFIRE ( and Lorenzo, the hero, is the first of my dragon guys who has no desire to be a dragon shifter. He has a plan to get rid of his abilities forever and ditch the other dragon shifters. He’s not planning on either his firestorm, or the passion and persistence of Cassie Redmond. She might just be the perfect woman for this man who thinks he wants to be alone.

I also have a spin-off paranormal YA trilogy called The Dragon Diaries ( which features the coming of age of the only female dragon shifter in my Dragonfire world. She’s called the Wyvern, but being one of a kind means that there’s no one to help 16-year old Zoë master her emerging dragon shifting skills. Never mind that she’s sworn to keep her abilities secret, even from her best friend (who senses that Zoë isn’t telling the truth), that an old adversary of the shape shifters has invaded Zoë’s school with a plan to eliminate all shifters, and that the one hot guy who seems to know more about dragons than even Zoë also is determined to run hot and cold. Book #1, FLYING BLIND, came out last June, book #2 WINGING IT just came out in December and #3 will be out in June. This series was a lot of fun to write

So, have you ever imagined yourself being a shape shifter? What kind of creature would you want to be able to become and why? When would you shift shape?

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2 Responses to Guest Blogger on Shapeshifting – Deborah Cooke

  1. Meso-American culture is so interesting, Maureen. I only learned a little bit while travelling in Mexico and always wanted to learn more. In fiction, Angela Carter wrote a number of shape shifter stories – literary fiction, not romance – and several tied into those cultural references, too.

  2. Maureen Fisher says:

    Welcome, Deborah. When I was writing about shapeshifting in ‘The Jaguar Legacy’, I used Carlos Castenada and his books on Meso-American shamanism as my inspiration. The ancient Olmec priests worshipped the jaguar, and believed they could shapeshift into a jaguar.

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