Tweet of the Day: Horses in Fantasy
Animals, both mundane and fantastic about in fiction just as they do in real life, in spite our attempts to eradicate them or domesticate them.
Yes, thank you for my ginormous check, unnamed environmental group with abundant love of all things fuzzy.
Animals, and animal themes come in four broad categories (enter ye olde bullet points):
- The Totem Animal: An animal, usually a spirit which represents a theme of some sort and a reflection of a character’s trait(s). In Harry Potter, wizards can summon a Patronus to protect them against certain dark creatures or assume a specific animal form. Totems also serve as messengers (speech is optional) or guides to a character in their quests.
- Pets: Almost always a domesticated or trained animal. Mostly of mundane origin (although not necessarily so) who is special because it is bonded to the hero/character. They tend to not exceed the abilities of said animal beyond their training (if any) although any named pet tends to be a good example of the breed/species. Mostly known for their loyalty to their master and serve to highlight the compassion of said character.
- Animal Companions: These are characters in their own right. May or may not belong to a domesticated species but exceed the average member of the species. They tend to share two traits: 1) it is they who chose their companions, such as the Tree Cats in the Honor Harrington series and 2) are capable of communicating with others. The communication part can vary from simple understating of human speech/emotional state/thoughts to outright speech. Many of them do not speak a human tongue but either posses their own form of communication and can use it with other animals. Often their human companion (they are not treated as pets for the most part) learns to understand the animal’s companions “language” and engage in a conversation of sorts even if they do not speak the same language. The Mabari war hounds in Dragon Age are a great example of Animal Companions.
- Sentient Animal : He talks, acts and exists as his own character, only in horse form or whatever other form the writer chooses. Existentially treated as another sentient species who may or may not be bipedal. More often than not used as a reflection on human society/culture. A classic example are the Houyhnhnm of Gulliver’s Travels who while they are shaped as horses speak and act in a rational manner but their human counterparts, the Yahoos are savage and petty.
So animals come in a wide spectrum of forms and are used as such by writers. By the way, these are (perhaps overly) broad categories without any hard boundaries between them.
A great example of an Animal Companion appears below: