Review: Shapeshifters: A History by John B. Kachuba

Shapeshifters: A History by John B. Kachuba
Reaktion Books (June 2019)
208 pages; $15.78 hardcover
Reviewed by Kevin Lucia

As an English teacher and lover of myths and folklore, nonfiction works on the historical and mythical backgrounds of monsters and such is right up my alley. I love reading how strange beliefs, customs, and folktales serve as the roots of some of our more famous monsters and horror fiction beasties. So, as you can imagine, when Shapeshifters: A History by John B. Kachuba showed up on my doorstep, I was pretty excited. 

And I wasn’t disappointed. Kachuba has complied an extensive survey of all sorts of shape-shifting myths, legends, folktales, and fairytales from the ages. He covers everything from the gods and goddesses of the ancient world, to the faerie folk of Europe, to the classics such as the werewolf and the vampire. He also talks quite a bit about how preoccupation with the power to transform oneself ties in deeply with cultural beliefs about race, gender, sex and identity, and how that has played out in the evolution of these shapeshifters not only throughout oral history, but in their portrayals in popular media.

If you enjoy reading nonfiction works about the origins our monsters and mythical beings as much as I do, then this is the book for you. 

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