Man Vs Wild: Animal Transformation in Medieval Literature

Man Vs. Wild: Animal Transformation in Medieval Literature

Throughout much of my reading of medieval literature, there have been a couple of concepts that repeat themselves frequently. One such concept lies in the idea of human-animal transformations, a phenomenon that we see repeated in a great deal of literature. I want to examine a couple of facets of this. Particularly, I would like to focus on the fact that women were not “allowed” to transform into animals of any sort, while men are often featured as central characters with this quality. What exactly does this mean? Are men “allowed” to transform into animals because this is seen as a manifestation of their truer selves, while women are discouraged from exploring this more primal side? Or is it a method of protection, where women are seen as too fragile to withstand such a transformation? What do the animals that men often change into – typically wolves – mean about the men in question? Is it an expression of their truer, purer selves? I would also like to examine what this means in terms of how medieval people felt about the body and the soul. There are a lot of concepts in the research I have conducted regarding duality and fragmentation of the human soul. The idea that there was not just one soul, and that it was not attached to any particular body, adds another layer of interest – do women only have one soul, and one body, while men have more than one? Animal transformation lends itself well to these ideas, particularly on the male-female contrast. Some of the works that I plan to use include select essays from Carolyn Bynum Walker, (a prominent scholar of medieval literature), from her book, Fragmentation and Redemption, which seeks to answer questions regarding animal transformation and the male-female dynamic at play. Primary sources I will be utilizing include Marie de France’s Yonec and Bisclavret, and several selections from Gerald of Wales’ History and Topography.

One thought on “Man Vs Wild: Animal Transformation in Medieval Literature

  1. I think it is interesting that we have yet to see a story in which women become animals as in Yonec or Bisclavret. We did see a gender fluid deer in Guigemar, but that still doesn’t answer the question of why women aren’t doing this typically male thing. However, we do get a couple of examples of women having extra dominion over the animals. Even if sometimes it comes in the form of when that woman “tames the lion with her feminine mystique.” It may be worth looking at?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *