Oh, to Be Human


As humans, we have a pretty sweet deal. We have books. And indoor plumbing. And opposable thumbs. No wonder all of the non-humans are trying to get in on this gig.

I kid, of course. But I do enjoy a good human transformation.

Whether it’s a little mermaid wanting a pair of legs or a crow turning in his wings, each character who wants to be human is in love with one. And what really draws me to these characters is their decision to sacrifice everything they’ve known in order to be with the one they love.

The little mermaid doesn’t just give up her tail. She gives up her family, her way of life, even how she breathes. Plus, you know, her voice. So she gives up everything for the man she loves, and can’t even tell him.

In Disney’s version at least, she manages to cope pretty well with the transition. She finds her balance moderately quickly and is eager to learn everything she can about life as a human. But at least she was already used to hands and whatnot.

In Tamora Pierce’s Trickster’s Choice, Nawat the crow falls in love with Aly the human. He takes on human form to be with her, giving up his feathers and his flock, but he has a much harder time with the transition. He tries to woo Aly as a crow would, with offerings of bugs and shiny rocks — which, unsurprisingly, she doesn’t go for.

But as he learns more about humans, the more torn he becomes between his crow self and his human self. Humans don’t think the same way crows do. Humans lie and betray and play with the feelings of others. Nawat ends up sacrificing more than he bargained for when he first became human.

His love, however, carries him through. He may not think much of humans in general, but he can still believe in Aly.

And that’s what’s so great about characters becoming human. There’s that culture clash between their old world and the human world (which, as an anthropology major, I love), but there’s also a deep undercurrent of love that drives the character. All of their sacrifices, all of their differences, none of it matters because they are able to be with the one they love.

P.S. Want to know why the post’s picture is a doe? Sign up for my free newsletter (to the right, there). One of the early stories is about a doe who becomes human to — you guessed it — be with the man she loves. Edit: my newsletter has changed and this story is no longer available.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.