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  1. #1
    Nothingman ... Nothingman pennywise86's Avatar
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    talking animals in fantasy

    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. #2
    Books of Pellinor alison's Avatar
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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. #3
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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. #4
    Lord of the Wild Hunt Mithfânion's Avatar
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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. #5
    Books of Pellinor alison's Avatar
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    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?
    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. #6
    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. #7
    Registered Knight Sir Stephen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pennywise86
    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?
    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 by Sir Stephen; April 24th, 2005 at 08:29 AM.

  8. #8
    High Priest of Cainism Shehzad's Avatar
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    Sir Stephen, I believe that was Reepicheep...

  9. #9
    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. #10
    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. #11
    Speculative Horizons Moderator JamesL's Avatar
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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. #12

    Talking Animals

    Quote Originally Posted by pennywise86
    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?
    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. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Suricou
    - 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.
    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. #14
    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. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Suricou
    Nice theory... You would need to use the human mind to substitute some concepts and directly take control of the animal in some situations...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?
    See how easy it is to start down the path?

    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 by Postaurch; April 26th, 2005 at 01:52 PM.

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