Shape-Shifting Changelings

Shape-Shifting Changelings… These sly, manipulative creatures are far from the selfish, unpleasant Changeling babies from classical folklore, who are, at worst, annoying and repulsive babies who torment their worried parents. Shape-shifting changelings are cunning, and exhibit evil intentions. This new breed of Changeling can be found in many TV shows, films, and games, including Star Wars Episode II, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Magic: The Gathering, and StarCraft II. But this shift away from possessing the outward appearance of humans did not necessarily start with mass media and science fiction.

Shape-shifting changeling baby from Star Trek

It is uncertain when this new interpretation began, but possibly the first evidence of this deviation from the standard Changeling folklore is found in Welsh folklore. In Welsh tales, as in many other Changeling tales, a changeling is a child replaced by a sick or deformed fairy child who initially mimics the appearance of the original human child, but “gradually grows uglier in appearance and behavior.” This explicit reference to shape-shifting could be our first glimpse into the world of the shape-shifting Changeling who mimic humans and creatures around them for personal gain and/or to confuse their enemies.

Just as Shakespeare reinvented Changelings to fit his own artistic interests, folklore is often re-envisioned and altered by artists and writers to reflect their culture or their personal interests. Evil and shape-shifting is certainly not the only interpretation being used in contemporary popular culture — Courtney Crumrin comics by Ted Naifeh, and The Striker a play by Caryl Churchhill all feature classic, fairy-exchanged-for-human-baby Changelings — but many have embraced it, probably due to the visual challenge of presenting an otherworldly creature who visually looks just like the rest of us. Some shape-shifting changelings found in popular culture include:

  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, viewers encounter Changelings who are a gelatinous, humanoid species from the Gamma Quadrant who are able to morph into any shape. Like other shape-shifting changelings, they are somewhat untrustworthy, sketchy creatures.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, a Changeling card is considered ‘every creature type,’ and mimics other cards in a hand. (Mothdust Changeling card at right)
  • In Star Wars, Changelings are a species with the ability to shape-shift. Though some are honest, many are involved in assassinations, spying, and other crimes involving hiding or transforming themselves.
  • Aaron Williams takes a lighter approach to shape-shifting changelings in his comic strip Epic Campain (below), which is featured on the Dungeons & Dragons site.

Read more about Changelings here.