Shape converter

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The frog princess von Wasnezow : metamorphosis from frog to princess (1918)

The term shape shifter , shape shifter or metamorphic designates fictional beings or legendary figures who can change their own external shape. This possibility is mainly used by fantasy and science fiction authors as well as in comics and films , but shape-shifters also occur in some folk myths, such as the Japanese hengeyōkai and the Islamic saint al-Chidr .

Origin of the term

The term metamorph goes back to the Greek word "metamorphosis" (transformation, transformation), which is generally translated as change of shape or transformation. This relates more to a natural and irreversible or one-time change in shape.

The Germanic god Odin was already referred to as a shapeshifter , who could transform himself into animals such as birds or snakes in order to visit distant places. In the Icelandic sagas, the "hamingjur" (shapeshifters) appeared early on, they have the ability to transform themselves into animals. According to Rudolf Simek, the name probably comes from “ham-gengja”, someone who can let go of his “hamr” (shell, body). Even witches were sometimes referred to as "ham-hleypa" (cloak runner) in late medieval legends.

Shapeshifter can transform themselves into animals, plants or from one human shape to another, whereby they can also change age, ethnicity or gender. An inner transformation of a figure can also be seen as a change in shape, as it is, for example, in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from 1886. The transformation of the Hulk or other superheroes from the Marvel universe is designed in a similar way. The lexicon of film terms also includes the cinematic master criminal Fantômas , Dr. Mabuse , Fu Manchu or Keyser Soze on these shape converters.

Shapeshifters in film and literature (selection)

Many works are known from literature and the film adaptation of novels that deal with shape changers thematically. Often vampires or werewolves appear in these works, but there are also fairy tales and folk tales that refer to them. JRR Tolkien also took up the motif of the shape shifter in his Middle-earth mythology . In the book The Hobbit , for example, it is the figure of Beorn , who is called a fur changer , whose name has similarities with the Norse hero Böðvarr Bjarki from the Hrólfs saga kraka or to Beowulf . The figure of Beorn also behaves according to an Old Norse idea of ​​people who were able to change their shape, such as the berserker Úlfheðnar (wolfskin) or Kveldúlfr (evening wolf), the grandfather of the hero Egil from the Egils saga , who himself of the Turned into a wolf at night and posed a threat during this time, as is the case with the description of Beorn in The Hobbit and in the book and film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban .

  • A species can change from its own (mostly human) form to that of another species (mostly animals). Well-known examples are werewolves (see also lycanthropy ) and vampires . In some folk myths there is also a change from animal to human form, for example the kitsune (red fox) in Japanese mythology, who can fall in love with people and then take the form of beautiful young women in order to marry these men . However, they go away as soon as the man realizes that his wife is a kitsune.
  • As a rule, a shape shifter can only switch between two forms, exceptions are very strong or old beings. In some legends , Dracula can turn into a wolf, a bat, a vampire in human form and in fog. The fog can also be seen as a state between the transformations.
  • Another type of shape shifter can only take on a different shape within its own species, such as the face dancer from Frank Herberts Dune or the character Mystique from the Marvel comic series X-Men . In the movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Land , the chameleonite Martia, another form of shapeshifter, Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy to escape from the Klingon punitive asteroid Rura Pente.
  • The figures of the children's series Barbapapa are also able to transform themselves into any (animal) shape.
  • The latter type of shape shifter does not have a proper shape of its own and can take almost any shape. These include, for example, the T-1000 from the film Terminator 2 and the TX from the follow-up film Terminator 3 - Rebellion of the Machines , which are made of a synthetic liquid metal, as well as Odo from the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine , whose species is one of the So-called founders count, who are a liquid in their natural form and can transform themselves into almost anything with increasing experience - even luminous gas. In the novel The Problem of the Lost Bridge - among other things , a pastiche on AJ Raffles and Sherlock Holmes , an extraterrestrial form of life takes on numerous shapes, in addition to that of different people, that of an armchair and a bridge.
  • The antagonist in the short story Who Goes There? (1938) by John W. Campbell Jr. , the film adaptations based on them from 1951 and 1982 and the prequel from 2011 can also be assigned to the shape shifters.
  • Ghouls are often viewed as shapeshifters.
  • Today Formwandler also serves as a namesake for companies that are geared towards redesign or renewal, such as a Berlin fitness studio or a Frankfurt web design agency


  • Aimee Carter: Animox The Howling of Wolves, Oetinger Verlag
  • Katja Brandis: Woodwalker's Carag's Metamorphosis, Arena Verlag
  • Philip Jose Farmer: "The Problem of the Sore Bridge - Among Others", in German "The Problem of the Sore Bridge - among others". in the science fiction collection "With Sherlock Holmes through space and time (Part 1), Ed. Isaac Asimov, 1975
  • Bram Stoker: Dracula. A. Constable & Co., Westminster 1897, OCLC 776540759 .
  • JRR Tolkien: Little Hobbit and the Great Wizard. (Translation by Walter Scherf ) Paulus Verlag, Recklinghausen 1957, OCLC 73745775 .
  • JK Rowling: Harry Poter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Animagi) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Metamorphmagi)

Individual evidence

  1. Metamorphose on, accessed on August 22, 2014.
  2. a b Rudolf Simek: Beorn, the shapeshifter. in: Middle-earth. Tolkien and Germanic Mythology. CH Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-52837-6 , pp. 94-97.
  3. shapeshifter on, accessed on August 22, 2014.
  4. Nadja Sennewald: Alien Gender: the staging of gender in science fiction series. Transcript-Verlag, Bielefeld 2007, ISBN 978-3-899-42805-6 , p. 230f. ( online ).
  5. Home. Retrieved February 12, 2020 .
  6. Web design Frankfurt: Formwandler Interactive by Molchkragen Media GmbH: Web design Frankfurt ? & Marketing: formwandler interactive. Retrieved on February 12, 2020 (German).