November 10, 2011 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Bookfilter: Books where protagonists are transformed into animals/aliens/etc for extended periods?

I recently read Up The Walls of the World by James Tiptree. This in turn reminded me of a couple of other books I'd read (The Colour of Distance, the Animorphs series when I was a wee lad) and made me realize I find transformative aspects interesting - the reaction of characters to new physiology, the adjustment period, culture shock, etc.

So can anybody recommend some more adult-directed books exploring this concept? (I'm sure there's a fair few teenage ones, but - as with Animorphs when I look at it now - the prose and storytelling in those is often more questionable.)
posted by solarion to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The assassin and fool's trilogies by robin Hobb feature this. It is ya, but somebody by Diana wynne jones also is a stirling example.
posted by smoke at 3:46 PM on November 10, 2011

Kafka's The Metamorphosis, of course, is probably the leading example; very philosophical about just the issues of alienation and adjustment you're describing.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:49 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Jack L. Chalker's Well World series.
posted by ShooBoo at 3:51 PM on November 10, 2011

Best answer: TH White's The Once and Future King. Disney based The Sword in the Stone on it, and the book's descriptions of the young Arthur as a bird, fish, etc., are inspired.
posted by theora55 at 3:52 PM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

The Witches! The boy is turned from
...a boy... into to a mouse!
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:01 PM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by edguardo at 4:02 PM on November 10, 2011

Best answer: This is a bit of a spoiler but China Mieville's Perdido Street Station has a character who gets transformed into a part-insect about 2/3 or so of the way through.
posted by jessamyn at 4:05 PM on November 10, 2011

Best answer: A Voyage to Arcturus is a 1920 sci-fi novel that drags the protagonist through a wide range of physical and philosophical transformations.
posted by Paragon at 4:10 PM on November 10, 2011

George R.R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series features one character in particular who spends a considerable amount of time as a dire wolf.
posted by bluejayway at 4:13 PM on November 10, 2011

Eva by Peter Dickinson is about a girl who's consciousness is transferred into a chimp following a car accident. It's technically a YA book, but the entire book is essentially an exploration of what it is like to suddenly be inhabiting the body of an animal, so I thought it might be of interest.
posted by clerestory at 4:15 PM on November 10, 2011

Chalker did a lot of that in his books. His "Soul Rider" series ("Spirits of Flux and Anchor" etc.) also includes a bunch of it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:35 PM on November 10, 2011

Pushing at the edges of the question a bit:

Anxious Pleasures is a weird sort of re-interpretation of Kafka's Metamorphosis, but through the viewpoints of everyone else in the house.

Kockroach is about a roach who wakes up to find himself transformed into a man. He then goes on to take over the New York underworld.
posted by Su at 4:43 PM on November 10, 2011

It's in reverse (unicorn that becomes a person for a time), but Peter S Beagle's The Last Unicorn is really lovely.

Also, I know you asked for adult books, but Roald Dahl's The Magic Finger does this in a way that still gives me the screaming heebie jeebies.
posted by Mchelly at 4:49 PM on November 10, 2011

TV Tropes: Shapeshifting.
posted by zamboni at 5:04 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Magicians has a long section along those lines.
posted by bq at 5:28 PM on November 10, 2011

Moonsinger has both those things. Don't pay attention to the cheesy cover graphic, or the fact that this is often classed as YA; the writing is good.
posted by gudrun at 5:55 PM on November 10, 2011

Anne McCaffrey's Crystal Singer is about a woman who comes to terms with a physical gift and an irreversible physical transformation. It's a pretty good read; the sequels are bad.
posted by zadcat at 5:58 PM on November 10, 2011

Children's book, and very good is The Pig Scrolls

See also Apuleius, the Golden Ass
posted by IndigoJones at 6:01 PM on November 10, 2011

Not just the Well World series, but pretty much anything that Jack Chalker has ever written - it's kind of a running theme for him.
posted by tdismukes at 6:08 PM on November 10, 2011

Best answer: Downward to the Earth, Robert Silverberg
posted by Bron at 6:28 PM on November 10, 2011

Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones. May be technically YA, but I must recommend it.
posted by mefireader at 6:41 PM on November 10, 2011

Best answer: Ovid's Metamorphoses is the literary fountainhead for this theme.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:47 PM on November 10, 2011

I believe there is a lot of this is Carlos Castaneda's books.
posted by zoinks at 6:54 PM on November 10, 2011

Fur Magic by Andre Norton is also YA but is an interesting Native American Myth twist on the shapechange thing, especially since the protagonist is turned, not into something cool like a wolf, but a beaver.
posted by The otter lady at 7:20 PM on November 10, 2011

The second book in the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane is called Deep Wizardry, and the two young wizard characters spend an epic amount of time undersea as whales. Duane's stuff is fun if you like to spend a whole lotta time immersed in something; one of the other titles in the series involves a lot of action that takes place inside the head of a young autistic wizard.
posted by redsparkler at 7:58 PM on November 10, 2011

Best answer: The Magicians
posted by peagood at 8:08 PM on November 10, 2011

Great Apes by Will Self
posted by empath at 9:27 PM on November 10, 2011

Response by poster: Well, that's a broader response than I expected!

Let's take them in order:

I'll go looking for some Diana Wynne Jones in various libraries. Seems to be a recurring theme.

I've read Metamorphosis, and that seems more of a philosophical set piece than what I'm looking for here. Nothing against Kafka though; great stuff.

What I've heard of Well World before (I've heard of it but it had slipped my mind) was somewhat negative, and makes me think Jack Chalker is probably a transformation fetishist, but what can you do. I'll check out the early books if I find them.

Once and Future King I will definitely pick up somewhere.

Witches I've read.

Incandescence: I'm pretty sure I haven't liked Greg Egan in the past (vague recollections) so I'll give that one a miss.

Perdito Street Station looks cool. Also on the list.

A Voyage to Arcturus: I love 1920s-30s sci-fi. Something about it. Books with a philosophical bent are good too; so this goes to the top of the list.

Song of Ice and Fire I've been bugged about elsewhere; and I don't like sagas so I can probably skip that too. Thanks for the info though.

Eva is probably a bit too YA but looks good.

Anxious Pleasures doesn't really look to focus on the transformation.

Kockroach gets a lower place on the list, as it's the opposite way to my preference, but if I see it I'll probably pick it up.

The Magic Finger I have also read. :P

Last Unicorn I 'unno. I'll put that into the back of my head.

The Magicians has been recommended twice, and looks very good, although I'm not sure where the transformation comes in; but perhaps it's spoilers. To the top of the list also!

Moonsinger -does- look like cheese, so I'll trust you on this one; goes onto the pickup list.

Anne McCaffrey? Ehh. I've read her in the past as an unabashed dracophile, but once I started reading a bit more widely it was all a bit...and Crystal Singer looks more symbiant than transformation, so I might skip that.

Downward to the Earth looks solid. On the list.

Metamorphoses, eh? Heard of that, vaguely. Investigations will proceed.

Carlos Castaneda I'd like a bit more clarification on; his oeuvre is quite large, and I don't really know where to look. (I've read Journey to Ixtlan, and The Art of Dreaming; interesting enough.) Expect a note.

Fur Magic again looks a little too YA. Is all okay though.

Young Wizards: YAish, but as always if it pops up somewhere I'll take a look.

Great Apes sounds a lot like an idea I had for a story a while back. Neato.

So, the grand two lists: Things I'll go looking for, and things I'd pick up if they appeared.


- The Magicians
- A Journey to Arcturus
- Well World
- Once and Future King
- Downward to the Earth
- Perdito Street Station
- Metamorphoses

Stuff I'd pick up:

- Kockroach
- Dianne Wynne Jones
- The YA stuff
- Great Apes
- Moonsinger

Plenty to keep me occupied. Thank you all!
posted by solarion at 3:02 AM on November 11, 2011

James Herbert, "Fluke". Written from the perspective of a dog that realises it used to be human.
posted by Jabberwocky at 7:49 AM on November 11, 2011

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