One of my favorite books growing up was T.H. White's The Once and Future King, based on the legend of King Arthur. Years -- uhm, okay, decades -- later there are still scenes and passages from this book that remain vivid in my memory. I liked White's portrayal of Guenevere, for example; his very sympathetic treatment of this legendary woman who loved two men, and the two best of her time. And I especially liked Merlin's tutorship of Wart (young Arthur) during his childhood. As part of Wart's instruction, Merlin turned the boy into one animal after another: a fish, an ant, a hawk (if I recall correctly), and others that don't come to mind in the moment. I mean, how cool is that? What I wouldn't have given to have teachers who could turn me into animals. Even JK Rowling's magnificent Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry could not replace, in my imagination, the wonderful tutorship of Merlin.
When I crafted the childhood of Eolyn and Akmael, I wanted them to have a touch of Merlin's approach in their training. So Ghemena and Tzeremond both include shapeshifting as part of their students' instruction. Both Akmael and Eolyn experience shapeshifting during their younger years while they are mastering the principles of Middle Magic. In one scene, they spend an afternoon trying to change each other into animals, but don't succeed. This is because in the world of Moisehén, mages and magas cannot induce shapeshifting on their own until they learn the techniques of High Magic.
In theory, a person who has mastered High Magic can shapeshift into any animal with which he or she has had contact. This gives Eolyn, especially, a very wide range of options, since she grows up in the forest and interacts with all its creatures on a daily basis. Yet, as magas and mages reach adulthood, they tend to favor certain forms over others. Both Akmael and Eolyn favor the forms of Wolf and Owl -- yet another expression of the underlying affinity between these two characters, who develop a strong friendship and mutual attraction, despite the circumstances and formidable conflicts that separate them.
There are few animals, in my mind, that embody as well as Wolf the image of fierce independence coupled with a deep need for meaningful companionship -- Eolyn and Akmael, through and through. I have a special love for wolves, though I have never had the privilege of seeing them in the wild. A few years ago, we went camping in northern Minnesota, where we heard the wolves at night. It was just spectacular.
Owl, of course, is a creature of the night, with amazing wings that are designed for an absolutely silent flight. Day creatures like ourselves are crippled by darkness, but Owl is at home in the night forest, which for us is shrouded in mystery and fear. When I do night walks with students in the field, I always include a moment when we turn off our headlamps. All of us. The darkness is astounding -- a deep inky black that is hard to imagine anymore for folks who live in urban environments. It makes you especially appreciative of what it means to be nocturnal.
If I could be changed into any animal -- just for a little while, because I actually like being human and wouldn't want to permanently shape shift -- I would be a mountain lion, or puma. The puma is more of a New World animal, so it doesn't appear in EOLYN, but one of it's cousins, Lynx, lives in the South Woods and shows up on occasion. I've always been partial to the strength and ferocity of the wild cats, and the kind of powerful sensuality that accompanies their every movement. African lions are another one of my favorites. They're just cool.
How about you? If you could shapeshift into any animal, what would it be?