In a genre that is as much about wish-fulfillment as it is a reaction to the Scientific Revolution that denied us mystique and magic in favor of equations and mechanics, it is hardly surprising that fantasy is home to some of the most appealing and awe inspiring animal companions in literature.
While fantasy animals, familiars and companions are often little more than window dressing, thankfully there are many cases where animals play an integral part in the plot or theme of the book, as in ERAGON by Christopher Paolini, TEMERAIRE by Naomi Novik and Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS.
The animals in HARRY POTTER don’t, for the most part, directly impact the plot, but they are given personalities that feel right for the young witches and wizards they accompany. Poor Ron couldn’t have a cool pet—he has to have a rotten hand-me-down rat called Scabbers while Harry, whose life has been touched by good fortune ever since Hagrid broke through the lighthouse door is given the uber-cool snowy owl, Hedwig. Personally, I find the use of the Patronus spell more interesting than the pets the students of Hogwarts bring with them, because they are a true reflection of the characters’ inner selves, much like Pullman’s daemons.
Horses are among the most frequently featured creatures of fantasy, and as a lover of real horses I can see why. Even in real life they seem like creatures of the imagination, too beautiful to actually exist, and in their dark, liquid eyes it’s easy to imagine a deeper intelligence and understanding. So we find Talat, the horse in Robin McKinley’s THE HERO AND THE CROWN, an abundance of unicorns and winged horses, and Shadowfax in J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.
A more unusual choice, yet one of the most beloved of all, is C.S. Lewis’ creation for the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA series, the inimitable talking rodent, Reepicheep, who is pugnacious and quick to defend any affront to his honor at the point of his diminutive sword. Of a similar depth of character are the REDWALL creatures by Brian Jacques, who are also capable of speech.
If you’d like to find out which fantasy creatures are favored by my fellow Inkies over at The Enchanted Inkpot YA fantasy blog, click on the link here.
If you’d like to read a wonderful post just about cats in fiction (I’m surprised no-one mentioned the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland), you can visit Katherine Langrish’s blog here.
So now it’s your turn—who are your favorite fantasy animals, familiars, and companions? I haven’t even touched on mechanical versions…
Mythical Beasts (The Enchanted Inkpot)