I've long been a fan of werewolf and shape changer folklore, and I'm always ready to grab a new collection of myths and stories. But after a certain point they become new collections of old stories, with the same handful of European werewolf myths rewritten from book to book. Jamie Hall's Half Human, Half Animal: Tales Of Werewolves and Related Creatures has the nerve to showcase a striking wererat on its cover instead of the usual lupine suspect, and a quick look at the bibliography gave hope that there might be more emphasis on the "related creatures" than my beloved, but over-exposed, were-canines.
Even those with a devoted interest in the subject are likely to find an unfamiliar tale or two in these pages, like the were-dolphin governor of Amazona. There are rats and foxes from Japan, snakes from across Asia, hyenas from Africa and cats from almost everywhere. Thereís even a healthy dose of shapeshifter myths from the Americas and modern times. I almost didnít get to the appetizing meat of the book; Hallís introduction swings between storytime chumminess, awkward second person questioning, and stilted, uncomfortable attempts at formality. Fortunately, Hall finds her voice as the book goes on, settling into a well-paced informal narrative. Her attempts at explaining folklore remain unfocused but brief, and most of the book is occupied with diverting, straightforward accounts of legends from around the world.
There are several reasons to pick up Half Human, Half Animal, and many of them are in the bibliography. Hall has clearly done extensive research for her fandom. Her list of modern shapeshifter tales in print and film is not only quite lengthy; it comes with concise, accurate descriptions to help other fans of the subject choose their next diversion. The bibliography and resource lists are by far the best part of the book, and consume a healthy quarter of the book. Even Hallís writing is at its best in her sharp descriptions, showing off a conciseness and wittiness she sometimes loses in the main text.
The obvious intensive research done for this project leaves me mystified as to Hallís illustration choices. The cover of the book, a lovely and disturbing Japanese woodblock print, and an interior illustration of a Goya etching, show that Hall is aware of at least some of the public domain options available to her. But the majority of the illustrations are new art, with a special emphasis on the authorís own work . All the commissioned artwork is the sort of character illustration done at fan conventions for ten dollars at an artistís table. Theyíre rather good examples of their genre, but still clearly amateur. Perhaps she was unwilling to lean too heavily on the work of the past, but thereís no shame in borrowing from the masters, and it would have added greatly to the feel of the book.
For the devoted fan of shapeshifter lore, Half Human, Half Animal is worth buying for the resource list alone. New fans to the genre could do worse than to start with this book, which covers a wider variety of myths and legends than the usual Euro-centric werewolf-exclusive fare. Itís not the most elegantly written volume on the subject, as Hall seems to be finding her feet in this first literary excursion. Still, Iím looking forward to the second volume Hall claims to be assembling; with luck sheíll have fully overcome her first time writerís foibles without losing her fanís enthusiasm for the subject. Half Human, Half Animal: Tales of Werewolves and Related Creatures will help round out any folklore fanís shelf.