Transformation fiction is a type of make-believe literature that has transformation as a primary theme or plot development. The radical change may be of a physical or psychological nature. Examples include shape-shifting in a science fiction or horror story and gender changes in a mainstream novel. Authors may use transformation to promote various themes, both uplifting and critical.
Shapeshifting is a common plot device in the genres of science fiction and horror, and thus is a well-known type of transformation fiction. This practice occurs when a being physically changes into another type of being. The transformation may either be at the character's will or it may occur involuntarily.
In the former example, an alien entity might possess the natural ability to look like any human being or other earthly creature, such as in the science fiction classics The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. One popular representative in the involuntary transformation vein is the werewolf story. An example in classic literature would be The Metamophosis by Franz Kafka, which details a young man's inexplicable transformation into a large insect.
Gender change is another common device in transformation fiction. This process may involve the aforementioned magical and mystical abilities associated with shapeshifting, particularly in mythology and folklore legends. It may also involve metamorphosis of a more psychological nature. Transgender fiction has emerged as a subgenre in 20th century literature. These works explore the journey of an individual who feels he or she is trapped in the wrong body, and they may include actual physical changes from male to female or vice versa. The Pulitzer Prize-winning 2002 novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is one prominent example.
On a more subtle level, transformation fiction may chart a character's slow internal change. Personality, values, and the overall outlook on life may be significantly altered in a fictional protagonist's journey from the beginning to the end of a story. An extreme symbolic offering is found in the novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which the story's main character vacillates between a good, law-abiding side and an evil, law-breaking side. Much contemporary fiction documents less drastic mental and emotional paths.
Themes in transformation fiction may be positive or negative. Loss of control, lack of free will, and alienation can emerge as negative aspects of involuntary transformations. Sometimes the characters are forced to endure a transformation as a punishment as well, such as in the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast." An individual who chooses transformation, on the other hand, may become symbolic of liberation and escape from convention or expectation. Voluntary transformation can also, however, indicate abuse of power and deceit.