The shapeshifter is an archetypal character who is subordinate to the hero, difficult to define and, depending on the type of story, changes his shape, his mind, his side of the battle or anything else.
The Dramatic Function Of The Shapeshifter
Shapeshifters exist in stories to provide an element of doubt. They are the wild card, you never know what they will do. As a writer this is great for you because, if you have written yourself into a corner and don’t know how to move the plot forward, you can simply add a dash of the shapeshifter to shake things up. As a reader shapeshifters are great because they provide an element of suspense that keeps the story interesting.
Some examples of this character would include Miss Wonderly in The Maltese Falcon who is continually lying about who she is and what her intentions are. This keeps things interesting.
The Deeper Purpose Of The Shapeshifter
Shapeshifters serve a psychological function that provides a deeper level of depth and substance to the story. They are essential to the archetypal story structure of The Hero’s Journey as defined in Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero With a Thousand Faces and which is further illuminated in books like Christpher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and James Bonnet’s Stealing Fire From The Gods, all books that I highly recommend.
This is because, as Bonnet reveals in his book, stories are actually vehicles that inspire psychological growth in the reader. Psychologically shapeshifters represent the female part of male psychology and the male part of female psychology.
This archetypal character is the physical manifestation of the repressed elements of our personality that we all have. According to the psychologist Carl Jung, those elements of our psychology which we repress will ultimately manifest themselves in our physical reality.
This characteristic of shapeshifters is represented when they shift their shapes and cause problems in the real world that the hero was subconsciously hoping to avoid.
If you’d like to learn more about how to develop characters with greater depth that keep readers reading click here.