Friday, March 26, 2021

StorySpotting: Fierce feline women (Wonder Woman 1984)

 StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

Finally catching up to the DC franchise, I watched WW84. It dabbles - to varying success - in all kinds of lore (most obviously the Midas myth), but since Kristen Wiig totally steals the show, I decided to post about something else.  

Where was the story spotted?

Wonder Woman 1984 (2021)

What happens?

Quirky scientist Barbara Minerva makes a wish to be special and unique like Diana, and unwittingly gains Wonder Woman's superpowers. Then, later in the movie, she wishes to become an "apex predator unlike any other", and transforms into Cheetah, a classic and iconic DC supervillain. She basically becomes an incredibly fast, strong, and agile feline-human hybrid. 
(At the end of the movie she has a big fight scene with Wonder Woman, and eventually it seems like she renounces her wish to save the world along with everybody else. Or does she?)

What's the story?

Women turning into felines is actually quite common in world folklore. I have gathered some of my favorite examples, excluding house cats, and focusing on larger felines, to save space (I am also excluding feline goddesses for the same reason). 

Husband and wife journey through the bush, with the baby strapped to the woman's back, when they come upon a herd of bush cows. The husband tells his wife, who has shapeshifting powers, to turn into a leopard and go fetch some cow. The woman, who doesn't appreciate being ordered around, indeed turns into a leopard and scares the crap out of her husband. Then she kills a cow, transforms back, and tells him never to order her again to do his damn job. (*mic drop*)

Achol and her wild mother
(Dinka people, Sudan)
A woman sells herself piece by piece to a wild lion in exchange for help with gathering firewood, until she turns into a lion herself, and runs away into the wilderness. Her daughter Achol puts food out for her every day, and every day the lion-woman returns to sing to her and eat. Her father and older brother are terrified, but the younger brother helps Achol capture the lion, and tame her until she turns back into a human woman. (Read here)

To win back her husband's love a woman turns to a magician, who uses medicine on her and makes her stand on an anthill. When she walks off, she turns into a lioness; when she returns to the hill, she is human again. Her family gives her up for dead. She lives as a lioness for a long time, only occasionally returning to the hill to "remind herself she is human"; living as a lion makes her stronger and younger. Eventually she finds the magician - who turns out to be a slave, forced by his master to test the medicine on her. They make a plan, kill the master, fall in love, and live happily ever after.

(Haya people, Tanzania)
A man has a daughter with a leopard woman, and the girl sometimes takes on a feline shape for fun. As she gets older, she scares more and more people, so when she gets married, she promises not to transform anymore. However, her father-in-law wants to see her leopard form, and begs her to show him. Eventually she gives in to his pleas, but she sets up such a clever situation that when he runs around scared, no one believes what he saw. (Read here)

Nyavirezi (Rwanda)
The daughter of a chief accidentally drinks lion urine, and gains an urge to eat raw meat and the ability to transform into a lion. When she is married off (to a man who likes her because she is "big and strong"), she hides her powers. However, after the birth of their first child the husband finds out, they get into a fight, and Nyavirezi kills and eats him. Later on, she marries a man named Babinga who turns out to hail from a family of spirits, and has no problem with having a shapeshifter wife whatsoever. She gives birth to a hero-son, and also eventually trains a younger lion-shifter girl how to control her powers. The girl becomes her daughter-in-law.

The wife of the Dawn's Heart Star
(San people)
Lynx and Hyena are sisters, and Lynx is married to the Dawn's Heart Star (Jupiter). The younger sister in her jealousy feeds some grubs to Lynx, and she turns into a feline creature and runs away into the wilderness. However, her baby is without milk, so she tells her sister to bring the baby out every day to the bush to be suckled. But every day, she forgets a little bit more, until she tells her not to bring the baby anymore, because she is becoming fully feral. Eventually the husband finds out, the family goes out, captures the lynx, and turns her back into a woman. (Read here)

The jaguar's wife (Opaye-Shavante people, Brazil)
A girl wishes to live with a jaguar, because she longs for eating good meat every day. The jaguar takes her into the woods and marries her; they keep supplying meat to her family. Eventually the jaguar suggests they should move into the village. People, however, are troubled by the transformation of the jaguar's wife: she is slowly becoming feline. Dark spots appear on her skin, claws on her hands and feet, and fangs in her mouth. Eventually her grandmother gets so scared that she kills her with witchcraft. The family, afraid of his revenge, offer the jaguar another girl but he doesn't accept. He just say "I do not wish you any harm", and returns to the jungle.

A woman, looking for clean water, accidentally drinks from a water hole that a tiger uses, and she starts transforming into a tiger. She snaps at things and she craves raw meat, until she gains the ability to fully transform. From that on she hunts at night, but returns to her children in the morning. One day, she kills a person, and brings a leg home. Her husband is terrified, and she realizes that she is a danger to her family, so she runs away into the wilderness. The husband fills in the watering hole. 

A man, trying to climb up to the sky, falls into the distant land of the tiger people. He and his dog end up in the house of an old tiger-woman, who takes pity on them and promises to help. She hides them from the tiger-men, and figures out a way to help them escape and stall the hunters.

A proud hunter sets out to kill the last mountain lion. While wandering in the wilderness, he meets a strange old woman with a beautiful necklace, who claims she can show him where to find the last mountain lion. She leads him deep into the mountains, until suddenly she disappears, and he is left stranded. He catches a glimpse of a mountain lion, wearing a beautiful necklace, running away...
(Story by Si Kahn, not sure if it is based on a folk tradition. Many American tellers tell it. Reference here.)


Boy, women turn into large felines a lot. Be warned.

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