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Book Review: Shape-Shifters by Michael Berman

The book features a collection of folk tales from around the world covering not just ‘typical’ examples such as werewolves, selkies and godly manifestations but also encompassing stories of inanimate creations gaining consciousness, for instance golems and snow-children. There’s also a chapter on Lilith…

The scope and premise clearly sets out and allows for consideration of not just physical or visualised shapeshifting, but also the ability to shift by projecting consciousness into another entity. So far, so good. Objectively though, I can’t quite see how stories relating to entities that acquire consciousness fits in with the theme, and if there was a reason behind the inclusion either it wasn’t explicit in the commentary, or I completely missed it.

The author commentary overall seemed a little erratic to me. In some areas it simply relates the origins or summarises the themes of the stories themselves (which in large part is unnecessary when you’re just about to read the stories anyway). In others the author appears to be leading up to some sort of point but, to my mind, never seems to quite go – or get to – anywhere. One notable chunk relating to shamanistic journeying about half a page long is copied and pasted in two different sections with no apparent rhyme or reason for the repeat – it probably isn’t obvious if you’re dipping in and out but I tend to read cover to cover and found it awkward (and again, unnecessary). And then there’s the chapter on Lilith which, while definitely interesting, didn’t seem to have even a vague association to shapeshifting, altered consciousness, transferred consciousness or general shamanism (although it had demons…?)

I may need to revisit this one as, if there was a coherent or unifying point to the book as a whole I clearly missed it. However I LOVE folk tales, stories, myths and legends and it contains a wonderful selection, many of which I hadn’t come across before, so on those grounds alone I would be confident in recommending it if you are of a similar persuasion.

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