Topic Spotlight: Shapeshifters

By Marie on Jan 16th, 2015

Shapeshifter: Romance book favourites
Dragon shifters, bear shifters, all kinds of big cat shifters and of course the ever prominent werewolves: shapeshifting heroes may come in all shapes and sizes, but are ever so popular. But why is it that creatures straight out of horror stories have found their way into our hearts and heads and (imaginary) beds? (When I write all shapes and sizes, it might be worth noting that even though there is a wide variety of them out there, both based on real animals as well as mythical creatures, shapeshifting heroes are pretty much exclusively based on predatory, strong and big animals. I have yet to encounter a mouse sized hero is what I'm saying.) Shapeshifter heroes are in a way the quintessential romantic hero. Many of their attributes - being strong, physically abled, possessing a true alpha male personality - are incredibly common characteristics in hero personalities and attributes. And the shifters epitomise these things by their very nature. They are your standard hero, but better: They are stronger and more capable fighters, they are predatory and competitive, they are dominants who are leading the pack, they are not just ruggedly handsome and at home in nature, they are nature themselves.

In the relationship with the heroine, their 'animal nature' also provides for compelling dynamics (and I am not talking about sex here). Shapeshifting heroes are not only borrowing extra physical abilities from their animal counterparts, their behaviour also tends to be on the wild side. And this is where the shifter-as-romantic-hero trope becomes interesting: Romance novels regularly have to navigate a peculiar problem. Behaviour by the male protagonist which completely works as part of a fantasy, would be entirely unacceptable in reality. For example, reading about a jealous, possessive, controlling, short tempered hero is fun for a lot of readers, for those attributes are used to cement the heroine's status as his one and only, his centre of the world, the one thing he cannot live without, love beyond reason… On the other hand, the reader might wonder why the heroine would put up with a jerk? Shapeshifters provide an easy out here. Otherwise unacceptable behaviour is excused as being driven by instinct, outside the control of the hero, definitely outside of the control of a good therapist. On the one hand, the hero's questionable conduct can drive the plot, create tension between the heroine and himself, yet at the same time remains beyond reproach as it is his 'nature'. By creating a character which is half man/ half animal, a certain amount of the hero's personal accountability is thrown out of the window. For the reader it means that they can enjoy a leading man who demonstrates all the bad behaviour that we loathe/love, without having to question the ethics of his actions too much. What do you think is the allure of shifter heroes?