The winner is Honey Cuddles. Please contact me at dakotaATdakota-banks.com 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.
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 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.
Most 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.
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