So, in the pantheon of creatures of the night, there is a reigning triumvirate of creatures that frequently receives literary attention–at least in my reading, and those would be witches, vampires, and werewolves or shape-shifters. Of these three, it has been my experience that the shape-shifter receives the least amount of love and sort of the least consistent coverage, particularly in the realm of YA lit.
I have a couple of theories as to why this seems to be the case. Take a look at my blog, My Vampires, My Friends, and you will see why I think that the vampire genre continues to fascinate so many readers and writers. In light of that blog, I suggest that one of the reasons that we see less lit about shape-shifters is because the mythologies of shape-shifters (and here, I am talking specifically about those creatures that shift from human to animal) are less fully developed. Where do shape-shifters come from? How do they live? What are their roots? All of these are questions that are easily answerable, when you are talking about vampire (even if there are several different answers). But, quick, see if you can name off the top of your head any books that explore those same questions with shape-shifters in mind. (Ok, I will give you that there have been a few movies in the past few years that have done some interesting things with werewolf mythologies–but comparatively speaking, you get my drift.)
Something else that might factor into the relative lack of shape-shifter lit, might be the less well-defined sense of where these creatures fit in relation to human kind. What is it, exactly, that a shape-shifter represents to the human psyche. Are they that creature that represents humankind’s more bestial, animalistic side? Is there something about that side that is harder to face and examine? Is the shape-shifter viewed as a regression because of its animalistic connections? Alternatively, might shape-shifters be an evolution, the next step forward for humanity, as mutants of sorts? Does their connection to the animal world complicate such a perspective?
I don’t know, really, the answers to these questions, but they are the very questions that make the shape-shifter so intriguing to write and think about. That mythology is not yet set in stone in the ways that it is for other creatures that one might write about. As such, it is an interesting task to try to construct these worlds and myths without the normal sign posts along the road to guide me. I mean, I am working it out. I have the big details, and I get more of the minute ones every day, but it is a challenge. At the same time, there is all sort of space to become an architect of those myths, which means a freedom that is both wonderful and daunting.
For these reasons and all of the questions that are, as yet, in need of answers, shape-shifters need love too. These are creatures that are bursting with potential to play as important a literary and cultural role as vampires (and not just because we now have special effects tools that are capable of making the shifting process look really cool. :p)