Friday, December 16, 2011
Another One of My Nitpicks -- But in What Kind of Fur?
I have often wondered why the term lycanthropy has been applied to all cases of animal-human shape-shifting when there is a perfectly correct technical term to cover not merely the werewolf, but all such shape-shifters: therianthropy. So yeah, I am stumping for therianthropy/therianthropes in the vocabulary of all mythopoets. Update your speech and your bestiaries!
On another level, and this is a broader issue for all who change their appearances -- though the differences between transformation and illusion introduce complications --which form is the true form? (D&D gamers will recognize Gygax's take on this issue by his distinction between werewolves and wolfweres, and other similarly named monsters.) With a therianthrope, the issue could be put thus, Is it an animal that can pose as a human or a human that becomes a beast? Maybe we should consider the possibility that it is something else, although this too is complicated by the possibility that it was originally one before it became what it is now. A further complication is therianthropes that have a hybrid form; perhaps that is the true form? But wherever there are multiple forms, they hold out the possibility that no single form alone is the creature's true form, challenging us to entertain the notion that all the forms are equally true or perhaps that they are true in different ways.
This comes up in particularly humorous ways when discussing the TV show American Horror Story with people. All the women I've heard talking about it laugh over what it says about men that they would see the maid as she is pictured below, when she is "really" a gross-looking old woman. On one occasion, my psychologist friend countered by saying exactly what I was thinking: "Why isn't the beautiful form her true form? Maybe only men can see her as she truly is, and she is disguised in the sight of women." Oh man, there followed silent and unhappy discomfort from the female faculty involved in that conversation. Whether spectral or embodied, shape-shifters prey on discomfort and fear -- the basic human fear that when things are not what they appear to be, they are dangerous.