Monday, June 28, 2010

Feathers, Fur, Fangs, and Snakes

The giveaway is closed. The winner is Honey Cuddles. Please contact me at to claim your copy of Sacrifice + swag. 

Thanks to all who responded for your insightful comments!

Hi, I'm Dakota Banks. If I were to die and come back as something, it would be as a Dove extra dark chocolate bar in the hands of the man to the left. I I'd promise not to melt on his hands, only in his mouth. Sweet!

Now that you've learned everything there is to know about my personality, I might as well move on to my topic. Eyes over here, please. I'd like to talk about the origins of some of our favorite types of characters.

Shapeshifting is the basis of most paranormal fiction today because it is also the basis of many myths, ancient and current, widely spread around the world. Vampires and werewolves are the best-known shapeshifters and dominate paranormal fiction.
Ancient Vampire Girl
Vampire legends go much further back in time than Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. Stories of blood-drinking spirits have been around for thousands of years. In Persia, 2,500 years ago, blood drinking was shown on pottery. In ancient China, people believed a vampire was created when a dog or cat jumped over a corpse. Makes you wonder why so many civilizations throughout the world and through history seized on a version of the same legend. In Europe of the 1800s, vampires inspired a mass hysteria where corpses were dug up and "re-killed" with stakes, and suspected vampires were put to death and buried upside-down.  Where's the shapeshifting in all of this? Vampires weren't associated with shapeshifting until Bram Stoker introduced the idea, based on real vampire bats. Count Dracula could also change into a wolf.

Werewolves Werewolves also have a long history of stories behind them. Ancient Greek gods turned a king with an appetite for human flesh into a werewolf. There is a famous story from the 1600s involving a she-wolf. A French king saw a hunter in his woods and asked him to report on the success of the hunt. The hunter encountered a vicious wolf who was too strong for him to kill, but he managed to cut off the wolf's forepaw. He wrapped it up and took it to the king. When the king heard the story, he unwrapped the bundle and found a woman's hand with a gold ring on her finger. Horrified, he recognized the ring as belonging to his wife. Searching her out, he found her injured, with her hand missing. She admitted being the she-wolf and was burned to death.

Beyond vampires and werewolves, there are many other shapeshifters in myth and folklore around the world. Werefelid (werecat) stories of Africa, Asia, and South America far outnumber werewolves. They are humans who can change into lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, or domesticated cats. Werefoxes and weresnakes are popular in Asia. We tend to think of weresnakes as evil (such as Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter or Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian), but in India they are the good guys!

People tend to develop their myths and folklore using animals that are local to where they live. That gives us werehorses from Europe, weredolphins from Brazil's Amazon River basin, wereseals from island communities, werehyenas from Africa, and weremers (okay, mermaids) from countries that sailed the oceans.

© Andrew L. PaciorekMost of the time, the human can change into a single animal that reflects his or her personality. The human form of the werewolf is powerful and dangerous. The human form of the werefox is tricky or mischievous, and so on. There are a couple of well-known exceptions. Skinwalkers, from Native American traditions, are shamans who can transform into several animal forms. Ireland has the pooka, an all-purpose creature who ranges from annoying to seriously bad. The pooka can change into a black goat, an eagle, a horse, and a man. To the right is an image of a pooka, something I'd prefer not to come across in spite of the cute name. Activities went from tripping people into mud puddles to sitting on them, putting pressure on the chest until they died (perhaps an early explanation of heart attacks?).

For my writing, I wanted to see what I could do outside the vamp and werewolf norm. I found the myths of ancient Sumeria fascinating, so I built a story around the idea that some of their gods, goddesses, and demons are still around today. Only a few humans know about them, and are aligned for or against. I was lured in by shapeshifting, though, so there are demons who transform into various horrid forms. I have a lot of fun writing the Mortal Path series! The second book is Sacrifice, to be released August 31.

I'm giving away a signed copy of Sacrifice, to be mailed near the end of August. Included are a bookmark, a magnet, and a pen. The drawing is open internationally. To enter to win, please tell me what kind of shapeshifter stories you enjoy. You can earn points by:

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Just post the total number of points that you’ve earned in your comment. Winner to be announced in this post in two days. Contest ends Tuesday, June 29th at midnight. Contest is now closed.

Visit my website at


Jacqueline C. (The Eclectic Book Lover) said...
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Jacqueline C. (The Eclectic Book Lover) said...

Recently, the most interesting shapeshifter character for me has been the Skinwalker, Jane Yellowrock, from Faith Hunter's series. While Jane prefers her mountain lion form, she can change into any sort of animal. The scenes where she shifts and those where she is running around in another form are always intriguing.

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Helen Lowe said...

I've always been fascinated by some of the Celtic traditions, such as the kelpie, but also the Tam Lin story where he is shifted through many shapes before the fae will release him back into mortal life. This story has strong overtones to the Old Man of the Sea in Greek myth. Other favourite shapechangers include the Loathly Lady in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Breton-Celtic folk legend of Melusine.

Adelina said...

Love both Patrica Briggs Mercy Thompson series and the Alpha and Omega series. Also, Rachel Vincent's Shifter series.

Zita said...

I like them all: Christine Feehan, Laurell Hamilton, Patricia Briggs, Lori Devoti, Keri Arthur, Charlaine Harris, Rachel Vincent, David Wellington, Kelley Armstrong, Carrie Vaughn...I could go on. I think I'll try to collect an alphabet'w worth of shifter authors =).

Katie said...

I really enjoy books with a variety of weres. Ilona Andrew's books are a great example. She has wolves, lions, hyenas, rats, so on. It is great!


Tanya said...

I love Laurell K Hamilton's because she has alot of different species in her books. She has gone into some of the legends and brought them into her stories as what I call guest stars. Really I have been reading anything I can get my hands on that has a paranormal/preternatural flair to it. Love em!!

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Pamela Palmer said...

Wonderful post, Dakota! It amazes me how so many of these legends (vampires, shape-shifters, faeries) seem to have been common to cultures across the globe. Are the tales so ancient that they pre-date the spread of civilization? Or did the stories spread with travelers? Of course, those of us writing shifter (and other) stories love playing with the question, 'What if they were based in fact?'

Jessica said...

I LOVE Rachel Vincent's Shifter series. It's amazing! Her characters shift into werecats, a panther like creature. Very cool, very addicting series!

Terri Garey said...

GREAT post, Dakota! Love all the historical references, especially the story about the Queen she-wolf - hadn't heard that one before.

Good luck to everyone!

elaing8 said...

I really like werewolf stories.
I also like Rachel Vincent's Shifter series.I've recently started Dragon Shifter books,really enjoying them.

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Sharon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sharon said...

I love the all the books mentioned above. I always like to find a new twist on the shape-shifting theme and I appreciate it when an author uses myths and legends for the basis of their character and gives us the background. Are people that can change into other people considered shape-shifters?

+2 points

Michelle W. said...

Jaqueline I too love the Jane Yellowrock character. Skinwalkers fascinate me. My favorite shifter books of all though would have to be the Darkness Chosen books by Christina Dodd with Pride Mates by Jennifer Ashley running a close second.
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CrystalGB said...

I love shapeshifter books. Some of my favorite shapeshifters are big cats, werewolves, and dragons. :)

Cassie C said...

Thanks for the comment gonna look into picking up your books

+3 pionts

Cassandra C

Nicole said...

I love shapeshifter stories! Some of my favorites are Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series, Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling Series, Keri Arthur's Riley Jensen Series. But my all time favorite shifter would have to be Curran from the Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series. <3 *sigh*

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Anonymous said...

I enjoy pretty much any kind of shapeshifter story, since I have a bit of an obsession with the paranormal :) My latest favourites, though, would have to be walkers ... Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson is a walker, and can shift into coyote form thanks to her Native American heritage ... I wasn't too sure what how coyotes differed from hyenas and wild dogs, so I Googled them all and OMG coyotes are TOO cute :D No wonder everyone likes Mercy, hehe.

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throuthehaze said...

+1 I love all kinds of shifter stories...wolves, dragons, cats, birds, bears, etc.


God's gal said...

I love them all! But mostly I'd pick Ilona Andrew's brilliant 'Kate Daniels' series! She shows so many interesting shapeshifters. I couldn't even wrap my head around rat and wolf shifters and then Curran (a cat and the leader) being able to co-exist with each other. It's so cool :D

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tetewa said...

Rachel Vincent's series and Charlaine Harris's are my favorites!

rachel445 said...

I like pretty much all shifters stories, but I love Rachel Vincent's werecat series, and the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs.
Rachel- Res498(AT)

nymfaux said...

Shifters are so cool!--Great post--and Great prize--You're book looks awesome!!!

I think my favorite is Daine, from Tamora Piere's The Immortals quartet, where Daine has a bond with animals and learns to shift--Also Daine had a daughter in a later series, and I think it would be fun to learn more about her!

Also, as a kid, The Thundercats inspired me to pretend I could turn into a cat!

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Sullivan McPig said...

If a story is well written I don't mind much about the kind of shapeshifter, but I do confess I have a soft spot for werewolves.

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Bethany C. said...

I like any kind of shifter, but wolves are my favorite animal (you know, besides a liger) so that's easy. I'm actually surprised I don't read about more bird shifters (just Riley Jenson comes to mind, and she's not exclusively a bird) since so many humans have an obsession with flying. +1

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Melissa said...

My favorite (as of today - who knows tomorrow depending on what I read next) is Mercy Thompson. I have enjoyed the series as I just finished it this morning. I liked how she fought to stand on her own two feet (or four).


Tori [Book Faery] said...

That was so fun learning about different shapeshifters!

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Patricia Lynne said...

I love the idea of shifting into any kind of cat (large or small) Unfortunately, I haven't read many books, only ones that have minor characters (which is why I'm excited about K.Spark's latest book)
I love it even more when the authors go back into history and dig up the stories and myths and incorporate them into the story (but making up a new myth is fun too)
+1 posting a comment.
and yet another book I have to look into and possibly buy. I might need a whole room just for books one day (or an ereader with A LOT of space!

Dakota Banks said...

Pamela asked whether shapeshifter stories were so old that they predated the spread of civilization, or were they spread by travelers.

These stories definitely arose locally and weren't spread by travelers. They're based on local animals and the folklore that builds up around them. For example, by the time European traders reached China on the Silk Road, bringing with them werewolf stories, they found that China already had its own weretiger and weredragon legends. The Chinese weredragons transformed themselves into human males and went about the country impregnating innocent, virginal girls. This was a convenient explanation to offer when someone's unmarried daughter turned up pregnant.

What is baffling is the global nature of shapeshifter lore. I think early societies were looking for explanations for evil or goodness in their midst, and that's a universal human trait.

Dakota Banks said...

Sharon asked if people who can change into other people are considered shapeshifters. My take on that is yes, they are. I think the definition is broad enough so that any being who can change into another being is a shapeshifter. That loose definition is especially important because science fiction uses shapeshifters liberally, and not all the "beings" transform from or to humans.

Barbara E. said...

I love Keri Arthur's Riley Jenson series - not only can Riley shift into a wolf, but also a seagull. And there are always lots of other creatures mentioned in the books, such as werehorses, werebears, etc. Ms Arthur has also written a series about dragon shifters, the Myth and Magic series, with Destiny Kills being the first book which was excellent.

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Merrie Destefano said...

I loved your post, Dakota! It really shows how much research writers do when they're writing. I also loved all the history you included on these legendary creatures. And your new book, Sacrifice, sounds fantastic!! Love all that swag you're giving away too--there's going to be a lucky winner here!

Erin said...

Id have to say that I love the kind of shifter books from Keri Arthur, Sherrelyn Kenyon, Kerrelyn Sparks, and Laurell K. Hamilton.

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Kimberly B. said...

What a great post! I think probably my favorite shapeshifter stories are those involving selkies, especially the sad, romantic ones like in "The Secret of Roan Inish." I am also developing a new appreciation for werewolves, thanks to the novels of Kelley Armstrong and Maggie Stiefvater.
Thanks for the great giveaway!

KerrelynSparks said...

Fascinating post, Dakota! I look forward to reading your books!

Nicole Murphy said...

Great post, Dakota. I love the idea of using something other than our usual Western mythology to deal with our beloved shapeshifters, so can't wait to read your books.

TracyW said...

I started my reading obsession because of vampires, and although I still love vampire books I have been reading alot of shifter books lately. It seams that wolves and big cats are my favorites.

nymfaux said...

This such a good post!

@Kimberly B--did you see the The Seventh Stream with Scott Glenn? It was about a Selkie who's hide is stolen--They rerun it on Hallmark sometimes & I really liked it!

wanda f said...

tweeted I love all shifter but my favorites are the Sherrilyn Kenyons from her Dark Hunter series
and Kresley Coles from Her Immortals After Dark Series .

stacey said...

i think Shifter series are so Cool Keri Arthur has a good one and Sherrilyn has some shifters two.and i can't wait to read yours

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YzhaBella (aka Kate) said...

ooooh! I've been dying to check out these books! My friends reviewed Dark time for my blog! I'd love to be entered!

Posted on facebook: (June 28 @ 9:29pm est)

GB (formerly JD) said...

I never really think about vampires as shapeshifters. With the explosion of UF and PNR, the idea that vampires could transform into bats (or wolves, as is the case with Stoker) has got a bit lost for me and I put vampires and 'Shifters' into two completely different camps.

If I had to chose a favourite shifter story, it would be a tough call between Carrie Vaughn, Ilona Andrews, Kelley Armstrong or Patricia Briggs.

JenM said...

I like just about every kind of shapeshifter story. They are my favorite paranormals. There's something about the idea of changing into another shape (especially an animal shape) that fascinates me. My favorite shifters though are the werecats and the dragon shifters.

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Nicholas Johnson said...

I really like the Southern Vampire Mysteries -- the Sookie Stackhouse Series. The way she incorporated all of the different creatures really worked for me. Often when I'm reading shifter stories, it gets to seem a little implausible because the author tries to through everything in all at once.

That said, I'm getting a little tired of the same old vampires. And for some reason -- I couldn't tell you why -- werewolves have never done it for me.

Your book sounds great because it's tackling something outside the norm.

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heidi330 said...

Great post....
I like all shifter's..doesn't matter if they are hawk, were, panther or pigeon ( Riley turns in to one, Keri Arthur)I find them all interesting...
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Melissa said...

Yes, my interests do lie with all the strange tales that seem to travel the globe. Interesting how similar we really all are! Using those similarities with our differences we can come up with the most interesting concepts around. I guess that's why I like the UF/PNR type of books.

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Jackie Uhrmacher said...


Okay, shapeshifters. The most interesting shifter story I've read in a while was Kalayna Price's Twice Bitten. She has snake shifters who operate like selkies--their skins can be used by others to shift into snake form. It was absolutely fascinating how she weaved it into the story.

jellybelly82158 said...

I love any kind of shapeshifter - shinwalker, snake shifters, werewolves, werecats, dragon shifters, hawk shifters, raptors, even kitty cat shifters.

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Reena Jacobs said...

Yes, you've got a hook, I'm in!

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Thanks for the contest!

loves2read said...

My favorite shapeshifters come from Charleine Harris. I will repost this on twitter. @2readornot2read.

Honey Cuddles said...

Fantastic article! I love that you spoke on the other types of shape shifters out there, weresnakes and werecats. ^_^

I've been reading the Vampire Huntress Legend Books by L.A. Banks and she does a fantastic job of writing about shapeshifters and how they fit into the realm of the supernatural. She even describes in great detail the heirarchy of hell and where they fit!

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heatwave16 said...

I would have to say that my favorite stories are: ANita Blake series by LKH. I love that there are so many different kinds of were-animals. Plus, Carrie Vaughn's Kitty series rocks for the werewolves.

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Crystal said...

Very interesting post. And your series sounds great, I will have to add it to my list!
I enjoy Laurell K Hamilton's variety of weres in her Anita Blake series. Also all the different shifters/weres in the Sookie Stackhouse series and the Love at Stake series where the weres aren't widely known about, even by the vamps. Riley Jenson, IAD...Theres a ton more but I'll keep it short. ;)
Oh and @nymfaux , so loved the Thundercats too! Now I have Liono in my head. "Thunder, thunder, thundercats, Ho!"
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Crystal said...

Okay, so I have been trying for the last half hour to add the link on my FB page but it won't let me. So frustrating! I will keep trying. =)

nymfaux said...

congrats to the winner!

Athena said...

Help! About ten years ago a gal I worked with insisted that I read a series of books that she had. I fell in love with the books and 5 years ago I wanted to reread them and see if there are anymore to the series (I think that I only read 2 or 3) and over the years I have not been able to find them. The reason? I can't remember the name of the author or the names of the books. I was hoping that someone on this site could help. The first one that I read had a male warrior coming to earth to find a woman that has red hair. He kneels before her and offers her his sword which she accepts- by accepting the sword she accepts him as her mate- only she does not know this! Anyway, he takes her back to his world and they are accompanied by a large black (panther) cat that turns out to be his (younger) half brother. The warrior and his father do not change form, only his step mother and his brother. Anyone know the name of the author/books I am looking for? Hopefully this is enough info to enable someone to answer.