Joanna here, with Ask a Wench for November. It’s the Thanksgiving month so celebrating all the wonderful literary animals seems appropriate.
Who’s your favorite literary animal?
Starting out with Anne:
I've always loved animals and, as a child, devoured books about them. Finn the Wolfhound, Wild Brother, Black Beauty, The Silver Brumby series, Kiki the parrot in Enid Blyton's "Mystery" series, Timmy the dog in the Famous Five books who went everywhere with them, and many others.
But stories about dogs always end with the dog dying, so now I like stories with dogs, but not about them.
Probably my favorite animal in a book is the dog, Ulysses in Heyer's Arabella. A scruffy little mutt who is foisted on the very elegant hero by the soft-hearted Arabella, he quickly takes command of the hero, and his household staff. The conversations between Mr Beaumaris and Ulysses are a delight and reveal another side of the hero.
Here's an example: Mr Beaumaris goes away for a few days, leaving the dog in the care of his servants. But Ulysses fretted and refused to eat, no matter what tasty morsels Beaumaris's French chef had prepared for him. When Beaumaris arrives home, Ulysses is pathetically skinny, and his servants all try to explain.
Mr. Beaumaris, who had picked Ulysses up, paid no heed to all these attempts at self-justification, but addressed himself to his adorer. "What a fool you are!" he observed. "No, I have the greatest dislike of having my face licked, and must request you to refrain. Quiet, Ulysses! quiet! I am grateful to you for your solicitude, but you must perceive that I am in the enjoyment of my customary good health. I would I could say the same of you. You have once more reduced yourself to skin and bone, my friend, a process which I shall take leave to inform you I consider as unjust as it is ridiculous. Anyone setting eyes on you would suppose that I grudged you even the scraps from my table!" He added, without the slightest change of voice, and without raising his eyes from the creature in his arms. "You would also appear to have bereft my household of its sense, so that the greater part of it, instead of providing me with the breakfast I stand in need of, is engaged in excusing itself from any suspicion of blame and – I may add – doing itself no good thereby.”
I'm attaching a photo of my beloved Chloe-dog, who sat at my feet (often on my feet) while I wrote many of my books. I still miss her. My Milly-dog is lovely, but she is too busy discouraging cat visits and refusing birds landing rights in my back yard (or on my trees) to supervise the writing of a book.
Pat, it turns out, is pro hedgehog:
I add animals to my books for various story purposes—Will Ives talks to his dogs in No Perfect Magic— but my lamentable memory simply doesn’t recall much of animals I’ve read about since my elementary school days. I had no books at home, no one to read me Pooh, and by the time I was in school, I’d progressed far beyond what I would have considered baby stories. I know I enjoyed the Black Beauty books but hated Lassie. I was all about horses back then and even read Zane Grey just for the horses his heroes rode off on.
Right off, the only “recent” book I recall with a memorable animal was Laura Kinsale’s hedgehog in Midsummer Moon (I need to go back and re-read that book!).
And loyal animals of my own—I had none. I’m not saying I didn’t have pets but that we lived on what was considered a major highway when I was a child. People would drop off animals there, and we’d feed them and after a year or two, they’d disappear. So I never developed any particular bond even after I was an adult and bought a dog for our kids. There’s a character story in there somewhere!
Andrea next, with the fictional animals of childhood:
Andrea/Cara: I have a real soft spot in my heart for animals in fiction—I think that’s because as a child, the books that captured my imagination featured so many wonderful furry and feathered creatures as brave, loyal and resourceful characters. There are, of course, the classics like Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows. Pooh was such a good friend to his raggle-taggle band of buddies. “How do you spell love?” asks Piglet. To which Pooh answers, “You don’t spell it, you feel it!” I also adore his answer to Piglet’s worrying about how to face the challenges of Life: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” Such a wonderfully supportive friend, and beautifully wise words for all of us to take to heart.
But I think one of my real heartthrobs is Gus the seagull from a lesser-known classic called The Fabulous
Flight. Robert Lawson was afairly famous children’s book author/illustrator who lived in my small town down a country dirt road at a house called Rabbit Hill. (Named after one of his award-winning books.) As a child, I loved driving past it and thinking of him writing his books in that old New England colonial house. I read them all, (and most featured animals, including Amos, who helped Benjamin Franklin in his many endeavors.) But my absolute favorite of his works was one with Gus and his pal, Peter Peabody Pepperel. Peter, by some strange scientific accident in his father’s lab, is shrunk down to the size of a mouse. Which, it turns out, makes him the perfect size to set off on an adventure to save the world from an evil scientist. Peter’s father grudgingly allows him to take on the mission and makes a small leather cabin (oh, I loved the description of its interior) to strap to Gus’s back. And off they fly . . . .
The story somehow just captivated me. Looking back, I think because it has all the themes that still resonate with me today—the bonds of friendship—even when your best friend is considered weird by everyone else; loyalty; courage, even when you’re afraid; honor . . . and a spirit of adventure and curiosity!
Nicola with a wonderful view on literary favorites. (She's a Shere Khan and Eeyore fan like me) :
It was fun trying to decide on my favourite literary animal and awfully difficult to choose. A lot of my favourites were encountered in childhood and I still love them today, especially Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin. Nutkin was such fun, irrepressible and cheeky. He had the sort of personality I wished I had as a child. Even when he had been chastised with the loss of his tail and was older and wiser he still had a buoyant spirit that couldn’t quite be squashed! He remains a special character to me to this day, perhaps because red squirrels are now so rare in the UK and they are so cute and funny to watch that seeing them is a real joy!
I guess my other childhood favourites also represented aspects of character that I found fascinating, from Shere Khan, the mesmerizingly wicked tiger in The Jungle Book to Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, who was so gloomy but somehow, funny as well. These days I have my own “literary dog” in Angus as well as a procession of literary guide dog puppies we enjoy taking to book festivals. (The picture shows Ethel visiting an indie bookshop!)
Mary Jo, advocat:
Mary Jo here. I certainly have my share of feline muses lounging about my desk and channeling creativity from the astral planes. (I can see three cats from where I'm sitting at my computer, and the fourth probably isn't far away.)
Since pets strike me as a normal and even necessary part of life, I'm happy to see them in books. Sometimes they are relatively low key, other times they have a vital place in the plot. Jennifer Crusie has a fine hand with plot pets. My favorite is Elvis in Bet Me, a splotchy orange and brown cat with one eye closed in a sinister fashion, as if he's a one eyed pirate. Except he changes eyes, closing sometimes the right, sometimes the left. He's a con cat. <G>
He also learns how to turn on Min's stereo so he can listen to Elvis Presley CDs. When "Love me Tender" comes on, he turns up the volume. Ugly and vaguely scary looking, he is the hero's accidental gift to the heroine, a gift she didn't know she needs. He brings joy to Min's life, and immediately realizes that her ex-boyfriend is scum. <G>
I'm also fond of Crusie's basset hound Fred in Anyone But You. Just divorced Nina goes to the shelter to get a perky puppy to celebrate her new life, and ends up with the lugubrious Fred because he's due to be chopped the next day. Luckily, Fred is lovable as well as lugubrious, and he finds his way into her heart and her love life in very canine ways.
Most of my stories have cats in them, unless it's a road book, where it would be too hard on the cat. My newest rescue, The Spook, is a ship's cat in the book I just finished, Once a Scoundrel. He's adept at catching vermin and sleeping on people's bunks. <G> I'm looking forward to reading about everyone's else's favorite literary pets!
And my own take, rounding it all up with my wonderful dog Mandy. She came to me in the middle of her doubtless adventurous life, an SPCA stray.
Mandy, protecting the house from a possum
She's a tough, unpretty dog with the personality of a Marine sergeant and an eclectic ancestry. She keeps the perimeter of the camp safe from UPS men and knows exactly when I should get up. Picture me pulling the blankets over my head with a “Not now, Mandy” and Mandy having none of this. Runs a tight ship, Mandy does.
She sleeps six or seven feet away from me when I work. Close enough to keep an eye on me. Distant enough so she can charge headlong against any incoming threat.
I plan to use her, slightly fictionalized, in the next story I’m writing. Still called Mandy, still brown, still uncannily smart.
What about you? Is there a book animal you remember fondly after many years?