Many books for young readers have explored the common childhood desire to run wild with the animals, from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are -- but even better than dancing with the wolves would be to have the power to become an animal oneself.
T. H. White tapped into this fantasy in his Arthurian classic, The Once and Future King. Here, Merlin educates the young Arthur by transforming him into a badger, a fish, an owl, an ant, etc., and Arthur must learn to live as they live, gaining knowledge, even wisdom, in the process. This isn’t a standard part of the Arthur myth, but White hasn’t made it up from whole cloth either. He’s drawn on a worldwide body of tales even older than Arthur mythos: tales of shape-shifting, therianthropy (animal-human metamorphosis) and shamanic initiation. Animal-human transformation stories can be found in sacred texts, myths, epic romances, and folk tales all around the globe, divided into three (overlapping) types:
First, there are stories of immortal and mortal beings who shape-shift voluntarily, altering their physical form at will for purposes both beneficent and malign. The second kind of story involves characters (usually human) who have their shape changed involuntarily—generally as the result of a curse, an enchantment, or a punishment from the gods. The third type of story concerns supernatural beings who are a blend of human and animal; they have the physical and mental attributes of both species and belong fully to neither world. Animal bride and bridegroom stories (in which a human man or woman is married to an animal, or an animal-like monster) can fall under any of these three categories: the animal spouse might be a shape-shifter, or an ordinary mortal under a curse, or a creature of mixed blood from the animal, human, and/or divine realms.
The Beastly Bride is an anthology of original stories and poems (for teen readers and up) inspired by animal transformation legends from around the world, retold and reimagined by Christopher Barzak, Peter Beagle, Jeffrey Ford, Gregory Frost, Hiromi Gotto, Ellen Kushner, Tanith Lee, Lucius Shepard, Delia Sherman, Midori Snyder, Jane Yolen and many other fine writers. The charming cover art and interior decorations are by the always-wonderful Charles Vess.
"Animal" is defined rather loosely here, for in addition to stories of bears, cats, rats, deer, and other four-footed creatures there are also birds, fish, seals, a fire salamander, a yeti’s child...and yes, a beastly bride or two.
"Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way." - John Muir
This volume was published as the fourth installment of our Mythic Fiction anthology series for Young Adult readers, each book dedicated to a different aspect of world mythology: The Green Man: Tales of the Mythic Forest, The Faery Reel: Tales of the Twilight Realm, The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, and The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People. It's available in hardcover and ebook format from Viking Children's Books.