Tough Travelling: Animals
Welcome intrepid adventurers to Tough Travelling with the Tough Guide to Fantasyland!
That’s right, we’ve dusted it down and brought back this feature (created by Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn, revived by our friends over on Fantasy Faction, then dragged kicking and screaming to the Hive).
It is a monthly feature in which we rack our brains for popular (and not so popular) examples of fantasy tropes.
Tough Travelling is inspired by the informative and hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. Fellow bloggers are absolutely welcome to join in – just make your own list, publish it on your site, and then comment with the link on this article!
This month, we’re checking out our favourite ANIMALS:
Animals. See ENEMY SPIES, FOOD and TRANSPORT. Apart from creatures expressly designed for one of these three purposes (and this includes HARES and RABBITS), there appear to be almost no animals in Fantasyland. Any other animal you meet will be the result either of a WIZARD’S BREEDING PROGRAMME or of SHAPESHIFTING. You may on the other hand hear things, such as roaring, trampling, and frequently the hooting of owls, but these are strongly suspected to be sound effects only, laid on by the Management when it feels the need for a little local colour.
See also DOMESTIC ANIMALS and ECOLOGY.
We’re taking a bit of a deeper look than DWJ highlights above, and many of our favourites include the much-loved ANIMAL COMPANION.
A big thank you to Theo, Nils, James, Graeme, Taya and Beth for their recommendations…
I’d put them more on the “mythical creatures” side than “animals” but Beth allowed it, so…WARBEASTS it is, then – as in Jen Williams’ brilliant Winnowing Flame trilogy. They are defenders of the free world, they bond with a human rider, they fly, and they come in many shapes (but only one size – large!). I suppose they could have all been dragons, but that would have been boring when you can have a griffon or basically a flying tiger. And they all have personalities, too, from the haughty to the playful.
Animal-wise, aside from that I must read the wrong books! I loved the anthropomorphic animals in Redwall (as Graeme mentions), and other childhood favourites include the beavers in Narnia, or poor Bill the pony, or antagonists like the R.O.U.S.s or shrieking eels.
More recently you can always count on RJ Barker for creative fauna, like the antlered mounts from the Wounded Kingdom series or the giant arakeesian from The Bone Ships – not to mention the foul-mouthed bird, Black Oris!
Solovey from Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy. Absolutely adore him.
I’m sure everyone is going to say Nighteyes from Robin Hobb’s Farseer books, and I do still get a tear in my eye thinking about him, but Cat from Fool’s Errand actually takes the win for me. Sure she wasn’t 100% animal, but who is in fantasy?
Cluny the Scourge from the Redwall series has to get a mention too. Rat warlord rampaging across the pastoral fantasy countryside. What’s not to love?
The many iterations of Roach from the Witcher books deserve a mention if only because they’re a legacy title.
The winner of any contest would have to be Nanny Ogg’s dear old cat Greebo. Such a precious little boy, who will attempt to kill, eat or ‘romance’ anything with a pulse, not necessarily in that order.
Cats certainly seem more prevalent than dogs in fantasy, don’t they?
Now, James has already mentioned Warbeasts, so I’ll allow him to elaborate there (FYI Kirune the Grumpy Cat fo life) and Graeme has already mentioned by second fave Grumpy Cat – Greebo…
I’ll shine a light on the magnificent Xus from RJ Barker’s Wounded Kingdom trilogy! Much too spirited and intelligent to qualify, in DWJ’s words, as ‘transport’, his connection with Girton was beautifully crafted.
Can I second the nomination of Greebo, Nanny Ogg’s ferocious feline, who disposed of an unfortunate vampire (in bat form) during Witches Abroad (my first ever Discworld novel)
Also, just to up the feline-ante, what about the unspellable and unpronounceable Guenhwyvar, trans-dimensional companion to Drizzt Do’Urden.
Daniel Polanksy’s excellent The Builders is full of some great talking animals too, as if Quentin Tarantino had rewritten The Wind in the Willows, with a mouse called “The Captain” playing a kind of Yul Brynner role gathering the band for one last blast of retribution.
Oh and there is the five legged dogkin Glider in Peter Newman’s The Deathless trilogy – part beast of burden, part guard dog with a human eye and a canine eye.
And of course ALL of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s lovely spiders (the many generations of Portias and Fabians) in Children of Time, not to mention the octopuses in Children of Ruin.
Ok, so I’m going to shine a spotlight on one author whose animal companions have consistently been my favourites – John Gwynne.
In the Faithful and the Fallen quartet we were given Craf, a whiny, cheeky, but absolutely loveable talking crow!
Then there was STORM – my beloved wolven! She’s fierce, loyal, and the bestest friend you could ever wish for, Storm was an animal you’d definitely want on your side in any battle.
In the Of Blood and Bone trilogy, Gwynne gave us Friend – an albino bear who was not the most friendly to begin with but was a real gem by the end.
On the villain’s side was Wrath, a talking draig, wyrm, crow and bat hybrid that was just a tad bit blood thirsty. He wasn’t really an evil creature though, it just happened that his creator was!
Next month, we’ll be looking at our favourite DEMONS in speculative fiction.
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