“In the Lost Lands” — George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin is the best-selling author of the Song of Ice and Fire epic fantasy series, which is currently in the process of becoming a television series for HBO. Martin has also written a range of other novels including Fevre Dream, The Armageddon Rag, Dying of the Light, and Hunter’s Run (with Daniel Abraham and Gardner Dozois). He is a prolific author of short stories, which have garnered numerous nominations and wins for the field’s major awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, Stoker, and World Fantasy awards; most of these have been collected in the mammoth, two-volume Dreamsongs.

One of the oldest of human desires is to shed our clumsy human bodies and run wild and free with the animals—or to soar through the air with the birds. Legend is full of accounts of people who can transform into animals, such as werewolves, or of animals that can transform into humans, such as the huli jing (fox spirits) of Asian mythology. Frequently such transformations involve an animal skin, such as in the tales of the Navajo skinwalkers. There are also countless stories about selkies or swan maidens. Often in fairy tales these creatures will take off their animal skins and become human, and a young man will steal the skin, trapping the creature in human form, and force her to marry him. These stories seldom end happily. It seems that humans were meant to be humans and animals were meant to be animals, and no good ever comes of trying to defy the natural order of things.

Our next story is one of the darkest of all such tales. Of course we want to run with the animals, but this story reminds us of that old advice: be careful what you wish for.