by Quentin Long
©2003 Quentin Long -- all rights reserved
|Book:||Half Human, Half Animal, by Jamie Hall|
|Paperback, 316 pp, ISBN: 1410758095|
What it is
Half Human, Half Animal is a collection of legends of shapeshifting and lycanthopy, gathered from all over the world. It's also an example of 'print on demand' publishing, a relatively new technology which offers an enticing range of possibilities for anyone who feels that mass-market publishing does not serve the reading public as well as it ought. If Half Human, Half Animal were a computer program, it would be beta software -- it's mostly all there,but there are some bugs that want fixing. Fortunately, these bugs are comparatively minor, and most readers are likely to find the book both useful and interesting, bugs notwithstanding.
Ms. Hall was kind enough to supply me with a copy of the paperback edition to review. As is my custom, I'm going to get the negative comments over with first...
The bad news
1stBooks Library does not provide any form of quality control. It is up to the individual author to ensure that their book is free of typographical, and other, errors. In the case of Half Human, Half Animal, while the typoes which escaped Hall's notice are thankfully few in number, the ones that do exist are noticeable -- example: on pg. 150, there is a reference to a "plank-playing werefox from China".
The book is something of a jumble; it may be that Hall couldn't make up her mind whether she was trying to create a serious reference work or a hobbyist's book to be browsed through for pleasure. It contains such a wealth of material that the absence of usable cross-references or index (not Hall's fault -- see below) will be deeply felt by any serious student of transformative folklore. In addition to the overall bibliography on pg. 300, each of the seven chapters devoted to specific classes of shapeshifter has its own bibliography -- but if you are curious to know which specific bits of which reference work Hall gleaned data from, you must turn to "Sources", yet another 'index', starting on pg. 286. Even then, you still won't know which source held which bit of Hall's book unless you read the original references. Some of the author's other organizational choices are peculiar; for instance, it is not clear why Hall divided her werewolf bibliography into two parts, the first attached to the chapter on werewolves, and the second a separate chapter in its own right ("Werewolves Glore", pg. 232).
Again, it's serious students of transformations who will find these lapses most annoying -- all other readers may well not even notice, let alone care. Since Half Human, Half Animal's lack of a usable index is more due to the odd policies of 1stBooks than any choice of Hall's, it is worth noting that you can download an index from Hall's own website.
The good news
As stated above, 1stBooks Library is a 'print on demand' publisher. In recent years, conventional publishers have become increasingly reluctant to give specialty books a fair shake; this is an unintended consequence of the economics of conventional publishing, which requires relatively large (and costly) print runs. 'Print on demand', which is perfectly happy with arbitrarily small print runs spread out over arbitrarily long periods of time, offers a valuable alternative for authors like Hall -- authors who are not writing, nor do they wish to write, the next national bestseller.
The best thing about Half Human, Half Animal is its sheer scope. In its pages, Hall has assembled a truly global collection of lore from Europe, Africa, Asia, and both Americas. It's very interesting to see how werewolf legends differ between cultures -- compare the lycanthropes of America to those of Haiti, Brazil, France, and so on. Likewise were-cat legends, which can be found in Japan, England, the United States, India, etc, and which cover the gamut from the smallest of housecats to the largest of tigers and then some.
In addition to the geographical range of the stories in the book, Half Human, Half Animal covers an admirably wide selection of types of shapeshifter. While Hall could easily have filled her book with legends of lycanthropy alone, she was, fortunately, not content to just write Yet Another Volume of Werewolf Lore. It's all to the reader's benefit that Hall pushed on, collecting tales of the encantado (were-dolphin) of Brazil; the Bouda (were-hyena) of Abyssinia; Sardinia's boe muliache (magically enchained were-cow), and literally dozens of other, lesser-known, shapeshifters. Richly deserved kudos to Hall for her perseverence and hard work.
The bottom line
A truly massive compendium of legends of shapeshifters, Half Human, Half Animal is the kind of book you can dive into anywhere you like; no matter what page you're reading, you will find something interesting there. As it stands, it's a worthy addition to the library of any TF aficianado.