talking animals in fantasy

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by pennywise86, Apr 23, 2005.

  1. pennywise86

    pennywise86 Nothingman ... Nothingman

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    have you ever read a book that had a talking animal in it as one of the minor characters? What kind of an animal was it? On the other hand, what do you think would make a good talking animal in a fantasy story?
     
  2. alison

    alison Books of Pellinor

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    Lots. Though when I come to think of it, they're often YA - Mogget the cat in Garth Nix's Sabriel books is one (even though he isn't really a cat). All the animals in the Narnia series. And dare I say it, in my Pellinor books; though in my case, it's more that some human beings have the ability to speak to animals, like Gwydion in Welsh myths, rather than the fact that they can talk. A major character in my most recently written book is a crow.

    I love the idea of speaking to animals - and it seems like a deep human desire, as if we're all very lonely being the only animals with language. Why else this strange idea of teaching chimps to talk? And how often do we speak to pets as if they understand what we're saying?
     
  3. Michael B

    Michael B Doomfarer

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    Re: Talking Animals

    I admit to talking to animals, but it is probably more for my benefit than theirs.

    In all the stories, that I have written, I have never had talking animals. I supose is because my plots do not require it. I tend to be more interested in grey ideas of human thought and belief .

    Of course talking animals aren't perculiary fantasy. Kipling not only wrote the Mowgli stories, but other tales filled with talking animals.

    Michael B
     
  4. Mithfânion

    Mithfânion Lord of the Wild Hunt

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    Alsion,

    I love the idea of speaking to animals - and it seems like a deep human desire, as if we're all very lonely being the only animals with language

    You mean to say that other animals don't speak our language right, rather than actually meaning that we're the only one with a language?
     
  5. alison

    alison Books of Pellinor

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    Thanks for picking me up on that one, Mithfanion. I didn't mean to suggest that animals can't communicate (anyone who has a cat knows that they're quite skilled communicators and have quite complex languages). But we are still the only animals on the planet who have turned communication into an artefact, and human language is what has permitted us to make culture and to write down knowledge so it is communicated past our individual deaths, and so on. With that we've lost a whole lot of instinctive senses - tidal senses, weather senses and so on - that other animals still possess. We have developed whole systems of thought that would not be possible without language (philosophy, literature and so on). And that has made us lonely in our existence, even as we eradicate all other species on the planet.

    Maybe that loneliness is deeply connected with our brutal treatment of other species; maybe there's a profound sense that we've lost something in being unable to speak to other animals. The speaking animal is so common throughout myth and folklore, as well as in child fancies, that it suggests there's some deep longing there to reconnect.
     
  6. Suricou

    Suricou Reading Raven.

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    Talking animals are quite common. There are a few accepted types:

    - a character has the ability to talk to animals. This does leave gapeing holes, assumeing that all animals are intelligent enough to hold a conversation and yet act like dumb animals still. Sometimes, though, this doesn't matter. Particually when targeting a younger audience. Snakes in Harry Potter are in this class: Though only a few rare wizards can communicate, it makes no sense that their intelligence is undiscovered by the muggles. Unless, perhaps, the big conspiricy to hide magic includes that... Oh, im sure a fanfic has explored the idea further.

    - mythical creatures, or those created by the author. It is quite acceptable to have unicorns, dragons and gryphons talk. Who is going to object to the accuracy of either vocal ability or intelligence? Similar applies to enhanced animals - my magical means in fantasy, by genetic or implant in sci-fi. Many examples can be seen in Mercedes Lackey books.

    - full anthromorphs. They are roughly human shaped and stand on two legs, but contain animal elements. Typicly furred (or feathered), with muzzle and pointy ears, and any other characteristics of the species the author wishes to include. I should be able to think of many examples, but the only one that comes to mind immediately is Alan Dean Foster, Spellsinger series. Probably because I posted about that one yesterday.

    The reason for their popularity... Clearly, there is some deep interest in talking animals. They span all cultures. Egyptian animal-headed gods onwards. Perhaps a misdirected social response? There are animals, and people feel curious about them, or in the case of pets want to know them better, but are frustrated by the lack of communication and intelligence.

    Or it might just be that they are cute :)
     
  7. Sir Stephen

    Sir Stephen Registered Knight

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    The best talking animal, ever, is a mouse named Reepicheep. He's from C.S Lewis's Narnia books. Described as a "martial mouse", he wears a rapier at his side and a circlet capped with a rather dashing red feather in it. He is the Chief mouse, and widely renowned as the "most valient" talking beast in Narnia. His skill with a blade is second only to his courtly manners and sense of honour. His main aims are to challenge villains to a duel or to die for King and Country, preferably in a hopeless last stand of some kind. Away from the battlefeild he enjoys chess and twirling his whiskers in a gentlemanly fashion.

    He would kick your ass.

    Edit: Corrected sp.
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2005
  8. Shehzad

    Shehzad High Priest of Cainism

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    Sir Stephen, I believe that was Reepicheep...
     
  9. H.F.

    H.F. New Member

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    Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff had a talking cat as a sidekick. Didn't impress me much though.
    The only talking animal I really liked: Archimedes the highly educated owl from Sword in the Stone. But I can't remember if he talked in the book, or just for the movie.

    Talking animals walk a fine line for me. They can easily get too cute, too sarcastic, or too stereotypical. I think cats are the worst offenders. If I see a talking cat, I tend to avoid the story. They just annoy the heck out of me.
     
  10. Saedolin

    Saedolin Welded to desk

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    You might be interested in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman (excellent books, but that's just my opinion). Characters in this story have a 'daemon' (essentially, a talking animal) that is part of them in another dimension, like an embodiment of their soul. It's a really useful character device actually. The book switches between 'real' and fantasy worlds with these animals, which might be useful for you.
     
  11. JamesL

    JamesL Speculative Horizons

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    If you are interested in talking animals, then read any of the 'Redwall' books by Brian Jacques. His books are full of talking badgers, otters, hares, rats and loads more. Brilliantly written, especially the earlier ones, and hugely imaginative. The hares in particular are pretty funny.
     
  12. Postaurch

    Postaurch Registered User

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    Talking Animals

    LOTR has pleny, from dragons to the various lords (eagles, horses, etc.).

    McKillip's RiddleMaster series and her The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

    Lots and lots of others.
     
  13. Postaurch

    Postaurch Registered User

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    Not sure that critique is wholely true.

    It is very easy to fill in the gaps, it's just a question of wanting to. Taking snakes in HP, it could be presumed that snake concept models are incomprehensible to humans, and human concept models, to snakes. Thus, the language isn't really snake or human, but a magical conduit that allows communication:

    Harry says, "What a flippin' sod, kill 'em"

    Snake hears, "Annoyence-but-not-danger/food. Attack."

    This does not pre-suppose intelligence beyond the normal to snakes, just a para-normal method of comminication.
     
  14. Suricou

    Suricou Reading Raven.

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    Nice theory... You would need to use the human mind to substitute some concepts and directly take control of the animal in some situations - continuing with the Harry Potter example, how did the snake know to point out the 'raised in captivity' sign? The only mechanism I can see would be for Potters mind to subconsiously notice the sign, predict what the snake should do if it was intelligent, and transfer instructions for it to do so. Essentially createing a virtual snake-personality to bridge the concept difference.

    This makes for some interesting ethical issues... Easy to get attached to a personality that exists only as a part of yourself interacting with a non-inteligent animal. What rights does it have?
     
  15. Postaurch

    Postaurch Registered User

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    See how easy it is to start down the path? :D

    There is a book by Piers Anthony, Mute, that basically uses that exact approach to allow a telepath to communicate with a (I think) weasel and a snail.

    Another approach would be to simple make it part of the magic that the person able to speak with animals also temporarily enhances the mental capacity of the individual creature spoken to. Or that the magician builds a conduit between individual creatures and the Socratic Ideal of that creature, the TRUE snake which DOES have intelligence. Or...

    I think there is a tendeancy to impose "scientism" on magic, in that if something doesn't follow the know laws of the universe it is faulty. Magic systems need only be internally consistent. I'm fine with the scientific gaps, so long as the author doesn't then turn around and present basically magic systems as science (see the P. Anthony book above).
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2005
  16. Suricou

    Suricou Reading Raven.

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    Mute? I havn't read it, but I have a very low oppinion of Piers Anthony. I decribed him to someone once as "An author who writes what seem like childrens books at first, and also writes porn. The problem is that often there are the same book." He is certinly origional, and popular, but, well... I know many PA fans, and all of them are just plain weird.
     
  17. alison

    alison Books of Pellinor

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    Er...aren't we talking about fantasy? I agree, it's whether the world is self-consistent that counts.

    Whether the animals seem like animals, or just humans in funny costumes, is down to the skill of the writer. Are you willing to suspend your disbelief? Watership Down is pretty good at creating rabbit culture that you believe in happily, because it seems to be built on rabbit concerns and rabbit behaviour. But it's a trick, really, because we relate to the rabbits as we would to human beings.
     
  18. Postaurch

    Postaurch Registered User

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    Yep. However, his eary SF stuff, while still suffering from the T&A compulsion, has some great SF concepts. Even that is the most I can praise him, for while he brings in a lot of SF concepts, he pretty much always makes it a fantasy story with science trappings.
     
  19. Postaurch

    Postaurch Registered User

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    Yes, but as pointed out above, HP takes place in OUR world. It is one thing to suspend disbelief to allow a book to treat rabbits as people. It is another to allow that the rabbit on my front lawn is quietly doing calculus in its head.

    That is a main challenge with the whole urban fantasy gig -- regardless of what laws (science or magic) something follows, if it affects the world around us that effect can be measured, and would have been by now.

    Charles de Lint skirts the issue with a lot of parallel universe mechanics. Alot of the vampire/zombie/werewolf stuff does alternate history.

    Rowling took the approach of having any "outbreaks" of noticible magic blanked from the minds of the muggles. This requires that all things touching on magic have a magical explaination, so the snakes CAN'T be noticibly sentient except through magic, otherwise we either wouldn't know about snakes (like giants and dragons), or the Ministry of Magic would be VERY busy blanking muggle minds after each display of snaky brains, humor, etc.
     
  20. dented

    dented PerpetualStudent&Teacher

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    I am surprised no one has mentioned E. B. White's work. Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little are genious. For any aspiring writier, I highly suggest picking up Strunk and White's Manual of Style.