Hello humans! It’s part four of my series looking at some of my favourite tropes or features in books and after a bit of thinking I’m super excited for today’s post. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that my life will be made as soon as I have a pet dog of my own. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen any time soon, so I have to rely on reading about pets in books, I’ve extended this out to also cover familiars because I think sometimes ‘pet’ doesn’t quite cover it. I also won’t be including dragons (though in some instances that would apply) so if you want to hear my thoughts on them you’ll have to read last week’s post!
So, pets and familiars, why do I love them so much? I think it’s partly because you often get to see a side of a character you don’t always get from human interactions. For example, this week I finished Tempests and Slaughter and it was Arram’s interactions with the various animals, but most importantly Preet the bird that really endeared me to him as a character. In The Knife of Never Letting Go, I was far more invested in Todd and Manchee (the dog)’s relationship than I was with any of the human relationships. Equally, I am 99.9% sure I will instantly dislike any character who mistreats an animal – it’s a sure sign of a villain.
There is a special place in my heart for talking dogs. They are one of my absolute favourite occurrences in books and they just warm the cockles of my heart. Obviously, I could talk about 101 Dalmations and the frankly just plain weird sequel The Starlight Barking. I would have made a ‘weird – barking’ joke there but that may be a step too far even for me. Similarly, and interestingly also middle grade, Frogkisser by Garth Nix was ten times as enjoyable for me because of the talking dogs – they were royal talking dogs, it was amazing.
Then we have the fun of mischevious animals who drive the plot along. My favourite example of this is the goose in Frances Hardinge’s Fly by Night. I bought this book partly based on the fact that I love everything I have read of this author so far, but also because the blurb mentioned a homicidal goose. I love the chaos an animal can bring to a plot. I actually like them as a plot device far more than people at times. An animal doesn’t have to have hugely clear motivation – it’s usually food (can relate) – so I don’t get bothered when huge plot shifts come as a result of the actions of animals.
Let’s also send a special mention to Reichis from the Spellslinger books who is a talking squirrel-cat whose entire existence seems predicated around causing chaos and killing people – the best kind of companion.
Pets and familiars aren’t always cats and dogs, though they often are. You get more unusual animals (often in the more unusual books). For instance, in The Night Circus, Celia has many birds that she uses in her magic act (I’m working on memory here but I think she has Hugin and not Munin but please do correct me if I’m wrong). They don’t have a huge look-in plot-wise but it is a nice detail and adds to the sense of fullness in the world around the characters. If we’re talking bonds with unusual animals I could also mention the connection between girl and dinosaur that is evident in The Extinction Trials.
I think what I’m trying to get at, despite all this rambling, is that I think pets and familiars and wildlife in general adds to the detail of the setting and the characters within a story. Particularly in very high fantasy stories, I want to get a sense of the creatures that live in the world with the humans, both wild and domesticated. I know I’ve missed so many great examples from this post but these were the ones that sprung to mind.
What examples of pets or familiars can you think of? Let me know your favourites in the comments below!