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Animals in literature

Art is Life

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1TheresaWilliams
Apr 7, 2008, 3:16am Top

On another thread here at Art is Life, vpfluke mentions reading The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats. This got me wondering about animals in literature: what are some of our favorite animals?

The shooting of the dog in Of Mice and Men has always broken my heart.

2eightpurplelizards
Apr 7, 2008, 6:50am Top

I used to have a lot of the 'Animals of Farthing Wood' books...I'm so glad that I didn't have the one where Badger dies though as I would have wept buckets!

3SqueakyChu
Apr 7, 2008, 10:30am Top

One animal that always comes to mind, but never without tears, is the fawn in The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The first time I read that book, I was an adult reading it as a chapter book to my then young sons at bedtime. When I got to the sad part, I couldn't read it because my voice was breaking up.

Another animal that I love is Winnie The Pooh, a bear, of course, but I also love the diagreeable mule Eeyore from the same book because he reminds me so much of my son (who was also very disagreeable as a child).

I also love the fox from The Little Prince and...

...I guess they are too numerous to mention! :)

4TheresaWilliams
Apr 7, 2008, 1:06pm Top

I also love the fawn in The Yearling. The death of the fawn is one of the best scenes in literature ever written, I think. One thing that got me interested in the Pooh stories is The Tao of Pooh.

I know there are lots of animals in lit., and I'm curious to know which ones we love. So bring them on!

#2, I never read those books. How did the badger die?

5SqueakyChu
Apr 7, 2008, 1:29pm Top

--> 2

I know there are lots of animals in lit., and I'm curious to know which ones we love. So bring them on!

The first cat that comes to my mind from literature is The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Isn't it nice to know that a character from a book is noteworthy because of a smile? That's an endearing characteristic for people as well. Long after those we love are gone, we remember their smiles.

6TheresaWilliams
Apr 7, 2008, 4:38pm Top

I love your last line, Squeaky Chu. That would be a great first or last line of a story!

7ambushedbyasnail
Apr 7, 2008, 4:51pm Top

How about the scene in Owl at Home when Owl makes Tear-Water Tea?

Here's a link.

Spoons that have fallen behind the stove and are never seen again! Pencils that are too short to use!

It, uh, kinda still makes me cry a little. So I love Owl.

8TheresaWilliams
Apr 7, 2008, 5:33pm Top

Aww, what a sweet story, Ambushed!

9TheresaWilliams
Apr 7, 2008, 5:39pm Top

My students are typically moved by Robinson Jeffers' poem, "Hurt Hawks." You can find it online. Here is one of the stanzas:

I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk;
but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.

We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance.

I gave him the lead gift in the twilight.
What fell was relaxed, Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.

Robinson Jeffers

10maloytsang
Apr 7, 2008, 5:51pm Top

Snake, by D.H. Lawrence is a favourite of mine and the Ancient Mariner's albatross that Snake alludes to.

Here is a link for Snake:

http://homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/dhl.snake.html

11SqueakyChu
Apr 7, 2008, 6:03pm Top

--> 6

Thanks! Someday I'd love to write. In the meantime, I try to practice expressing myself as well as I can here on LT. :)

12TheresaWilliams
Apr 7, 2008, 7:24pm Top

Ooooh, "Snake" is one my favorite poems by anyone! I introduce it to students every chance I get. #10, if you come back here and if you have time, would you talk about "Snake"?

13mejix
Apr 7, 2008, 8:45pm Top

"snake" is brilliant, yes. the last lines in particular. they stay with you.

14TheresaWilliams
Edited: Apr 7, 2008, 11:41pm Top

There is a great story in Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son called "Emergency." Therein two young men accidentally run over a pregnant rabbit, stop their truck, and save the babies. What follows is both funny and disturbing, but here is just a bit of the dialogue:

"These rabbits better be kept warm." One at a time I slid the little things in between my shirt buttons and nestled them against my belly. "They're hardly moving," I told Georgie.

"We'll get some milk and sugar and all that, and we'll raise them up ourselves. They'll get as big as gorillas."

15maloytsang
Apr 8, 2008, 12:21pm Top

Theresa,

Here are my own observations about Snake-feel free to add any comments etc. but please note I am not an academic, simply a fan of this site :-)

The speaker appears to be mesmerised by the beauty of this snake, against all convention that teaches us that snakes are dangerous, poisonous, and in Judeo-Christian terms, Satanic.

While the snake is slow moving, dignified and unthreatening to the speaker, the speaker is full of agitation, ‘And voices in me said, If you were a man/ You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.’ Yet the speaker confesses to liking the snake.
Still, a stick is thrown at the reptile, and then the speaker is gripped with horror at this action due to his ‘accursed human education’. His pettiness is completely at odds with the animal’s dignity.
The poem appears simply observational, but I think that if one examines Lawrence’s writing and life, perhaps there is an undercurrent of repressed sexuality being aired here?

Maybe that is why Snake resonates for some time after it is read-there is much more to it.

Marie

16TheresaWilliams
Apr 8, 2008, 1:55pm Top

#15: This is how I feel about "Snake," too. A snake is so primal. And sensuous, so I can see the connection to sexuality. And regenerative, since it sheds its skin. Lawrence was always fascinated by the subject of death. Thank you so much for your thoughts. Great poem, great talk.

17devenish
Apr 8, 2008, 3:34pm Top

Tarka the Otter The Old Stag Salar the SalmonThe Phasian BirdThe Epic of Brock the Badger ect all by Henry Williamson that fantastic writer of so many animal stories and much besides comes immediately to mind,as does Denys Watkins-Pitchford better known as 'BB',who wrote that excellent book Wild Lone about the life of a fox.This I feel really cannot be bettered.
Also some of Richard Adams early and best stories such as Watership Down (rabbits),The Plague Dogs (dogs,needless to say) and Shardik (a bear)

18mejix
Edited: Apr 8, 2008, 9:19pm Top

i love it that the narrator of "snake" is wearing pajamas while meeting this presence. its kind of an absurd situation but also meaningful, as if he were somehow related to a dream state. asexual dream state? something like that.

speaking of animals in literature, while i was looking at the poem i remembered a short story by balzac that i must've read around the same period i first read this poem. sorry i don't remember much about it but it involved a lion in a cave. i think the narrator is in awe of his presence and the situation, and ends the story by saying -exclamation marks and everything- "this is creation without man!" anybody familiar with that story?

19margad
Apr 8, 2008, 11:26pm Top

The first book I remember was Elsa Minarik's Little Bear, which my mother read to me over and over until I learned to read it myself (that's the story she told me, but it's likely I just memorized the story and associated it with the pictures). Very simple story about a baby bear and his mother, both thoroughly anthropomorphized. I don't know why it meant so much to me, except that it was illustrated, I believe, by Maurice Sendak, and the drawings were utterly charming.

20maloytsang
Apr 9, 2008, 3:08am Top

#16 Thanks Theresa.

21Jim53
Apr 9, 2008, 3:01pm Top

I remember enjoying The Incredible Journey as a very young reader; I particularly remember feeling sorry for the dog who got a muzzle full of pins. I don't remember if they were from a plant or a porcupine. On the other hand I did not much like Reepicheep. More recently I have admired Boswell in Duncton Wood (a mole) and particularly Hazel-Rah.

22TheresaWilliams
Apr 9, 2008, 5:07pm Top

#21: I ADORED The Incredible Journey when I was a child.

23geneg
Apr 9, 2008, 6:54pm Top

How about that quintessential guy dog, Buck, star of Call of the Wild.

Did anyone mention Moby Dick, the quintessential white whale?

Or that quintessential Giant Squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?

Of course, there's Old Yeller, the pet with a heart of gold and a brain full of *** SPOiLER ALERT!!! *** hydrophobia.

24mejix
Apr 9, 2008, 11:33pm Top

and platero, the donkey in juan ramon jimenez platero y yo. -SEMI SPOILER ALERT- made many a children cry in the spanish speaking world.

25SqueakyChu
Apr 10, 2008, 12:24am Top

How about Mr. Jingles in The Green Mile by Stephen King? That rodent is a very memorable mouse to me.

26TheresaWilliams
Apr 10, 2008, 2:35am Top

What are the roles of these animals, everyone? We have already discussed "Snake." What of the whale, the dog, the rodent, and so forth?

27margad
Apr 10, 2008, 5:49pm Top

I think we sometimes allow animals into our inner sanctuary of consciousness more easily than we do human characters, especially when we are children. With human characters, it's too easy to point to the differences between "me" and the character. With animals, we know they're utterly different and alien, so their similarities to us slip under the radar screen.

I remember reading The Incredible Journey. I don't think the animals in that story had roles that would have been any different than the roles of human characters in a similar story. Essentially, they had been abandoned, one of our most primal fears, and they succeeded in surviving and returning to a family (or families?) that loved them. Because they were animals, not human children, a child's fear for the characters might be more manageable than if the child were reading about abandoned children.

28TheresaWilliams
Apr 10, 2008, 6:44pm Top

It's funny; as a child I was never interested in human dolls, but I played endlessly with plastic animals and stuffed animals. Linda Hogan, in her book Dwellings says it is the human that separates us, that our connectons with animals are necessary to our spiritual understanding of the world.

Regarding The Incredible Journey, I am moved by what you say margad, about the fear of abandonment. Hansel and Gretel comes from such a place in the human psyche. It is indeed a primal fear. What stands out most about what you said is that the animals succeed in surviving and in returning to the family that loves them. I think on some important level, I was looking for some sort of return or reconciliation with my family, which was physically in tact but spiritually fragmented (not whole as a family).

29ambushedbyasnail
Apr 11, 2008, 6:55pm Top

Theresa, I wasn't interested in human dolls either... instead I played with Matchbox cars. My typical afternoon was spent hurtling cars into the air, catching them (which kind of hurt), and making up stories about them. (Each car had a name and a personality of its own. The most memorable was "Boy," a blue tomboy car whose real name was Sylvia. Everyone picked on her.)

In terms of animals in literature, I highly recommend that everyone go out and read Time Stops for No Mouse and the other Hermux Tantamoq Adventures. Brilliantly written.

Hermux (a mouse) has a pet ladybug named Terfle, who may be my favorite character in all of literature, animal or no.

30margad
Apr 12, 2008, 11:40pm Top

Yes, Theresa, I think that is one of the most crucial reasons The Incredible Journey spoke to children - the animals not only find their human family again, they are also reassured that the family loves them. My family was fragmented, too. My father spent a year as a chaplain in Korea, starting when I was a year old, and we never fully recovered from the separation. I feel so sad for the children whose parents are in Iraq now. It seems much worse, because in some cases both parents are in the military, and even when not, the soldiers have to go for repeated tours of duty, unlike my father who only served one year.

My younger brother had a collection of Matchbox cars. He didn't anthropomorphize them (so far as I know), but he did spend hours on end drawing maps of towns for them to drive around in. I don't know why he never became a cartographer. Perhaps he got the map-making urge out of his system as a child and didn't need to revisit it.

31TheresaWilliams
Apr 13, 2008, 4:22pm Top

I tended to anthropomorphize everything as a child, and as a result everything in my world was very dear to me. I think I still tend to anthropomorphize my belongings. No everything, of course, but many things. I was struck by something I saw on the TV show Boston Legal (which I used to like but now refuse to watch because it has discended hopelessly into endless bed swapping). A character with Asperger syndrome fell in love, romantically, with mechanical things, like a digital clock or a banking machine. The episode wasn't that great, but I found the concept fascinating and wondered if perhaps it wasn't just a more pronounced form of humans' tendency to anthropomorphize things.

In a J. D. Salinger story, a character repines a sandwich thrown into the trash. The sandwich had belonged to someone she has feelings for. I have always remembered that detail because it seemed like something I would do.

But back to animals, I'm interested in any literary stories you know of with animals. You know, grown up stories of high quality, like the Denis Johnson story I mentioned. I'm interested in how authors of literary fiction use animals in their work.

32margad
Apr 17, 2008, 6:51pm Top

There's The Dogs of Babel. A man's wife dies in an odd but evidently accidental way while he was away from the house, and the couple's pet dog was the only witness. The man becomes obsessed with the idea of teaching the dog to talk, so he can learn precisely what happened to cause his wife's death. It's not a murder mystery. The husband just gets stuck and can't move through the grieving process because of his inability to understand how his wife could have died. It's a story about how people can do really terrible things when they get too caught up in their own pain to feel compassion for others.

33QueenOfDenmark
Apr 17, 2008, 7:23pm Top

When I was about six years old I read a childrens book where a young boy finds an injured or abandoned baby mouse and cares for it. When the mouse is recovered and grown his parents make him release it so it has the chance to be a wild creature. Only the mouse wants to stay with him and sits there on this log pile waiting for him to come back and pick it up. And he doesn't.

This book broke my heart, even as a little girl I was sure a baby mouse raised by a boy wouldn't ever know how to be a wild creature. I was sure the mouse would die and was so upset because it was upset. I sat there at school and cried my eyes out and the book was taken out of our class because I set everyone else off crying about it.

I can't even remember the title of that book but it will always be the best and worst animal story in literature I have ever read, because it is the one that has stuck in my mind for so long and caused so much sadness to me.

34TheresaWilliams
Apr 18, 2008, 2:21am Top

Margad, I have never read that story! Wow! I must find it!

Jody, I agree that is very sad story. That would have bothered me as a child as well. I've never gotten over Velveteen Rabbit and Charlotte's Web!

35misselainey
Apr 18, 2008, 9:04am Top

I look up at my special shelf, and find there are animals in every genre. One I've played with for years is Ted Andrews' Animal-Speak. It's a mainly Native American compendium of animals,birds, and insects and how each animal has traits that complement and inform our own lives.On the same line is Animal Spiritsby Nicholas J. Saunders (subtitled The shared world-sacrifice,ritual,& myth-animal souls & symbols).This is a global and historical work,richly illustrated with source materials.
Although these are "reference" books, I love to explore what we humans have done at different times, different places ,with basicallly , the same starting point.My art books are mixed in with the religion,there is no seperating the two.
Which brings me to Ganesha , the Indian god with the head of an elephant.Which has me pull out Nick Bnatock'sThe Venetian's Wife a surreal search for a n ancient statue.
There is Bestiary with poems from 1379 B.C.E. to the present(88 touchstones for beastiary!) (including T.Rothke)
Then there' my favorite critter, a dragon,who has an unusual(for a dragon) um,problem.Take your average college professor with a head full of the medieval world and theological stuff,Peter Stasheff, have him write about a doctoral candidate who just can't get over that last little hump,nod to Twain's Connecticut Yankee -but step sideways, not just back.Brush up on your Shakespeare & Co.,and Voila,Her Majesty's Wizard.

36misselainey
Apr 18, 2008, 9:09am Top

100 years for Wind in the Willows!

37ambushedbyasnail
Apr 18, 2008, 10:19pm Top

Well, it's been several years since I read The Hotel New Hampshire, but I still remember that Sorrow floats.

38TheresaWilliams
Edited: Apr 19, 2008, 12:36am Top

Aw, that's right, good ole Sorrow.

In Wait Until Spring, Bandini, a dog shows up at the end and the main character Auturo sort of adopts it and calls it Jumbo. The dog keeps finding dead things and carrying them around in its mouth. Dead, stinking things. It's symbolic, of course, because the characters have endured losses, both psychological and real.

39ravendory
Edited: Apr 18, 2008, 10:59pm Top

Pocket Full of Names by Joe Coomer...dogs and islands. In charge of noticing everything. Superb!

40margad
Apr 21, 2008, 1:33am Top

#33 - Jody, I'm so touched by your story about the mouse. The Frost poem Theresa discusses in the other thread seems like an echo of it, in a way.

41Esta1923
May 1, 2008, 12:48pm Top

In her book "Bel Ria" Sheila Burnford deals with a series of interactions between animals and people. I have reread it many times and always am moved.

42deathjoy
May 1, 2008, 1:15pm Top

The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling. Loved them as a child, reread them a couple years ago and they still hold up. Bagheera was my favorite. Also, White Fang by Jack London.

43geneg
May 1, 2008, 5:52pm Top

Anyone mention Aesop's Fables or Little Black Sambo or Uncle Remus?

I don't know, are fables considered animals in literature, the way Buck would be in Call of the Wild?

44TheresaWilliams
May 1, 2008, 6:04pm Top

I think there is such thing as animal spirit. Different cultures see animals differently. Our perceptions of animals become part of our mythology: cultural and personal. Whereas the wolf is a culture hero in Native American Literature, the wolf is often a villain in ours: the wolf mirrors those things we would like to forget about ourselves.

45hemlokgang
May 26, 2008, 10:31am Top

New to the group.........I love dogs. The dog in Call of the Wild moved me deeply. A dog I just plain love, probably due to the great illustrations, is Carl, who appears in a series of children's books the first of which is entitled, Good Dog, Carl.

46hemlokgang
Jun 6, 2008, 9:09am Top

Dogs & Literature?

47petescisco
Jun 12, 2008, 8:26am Top

And I thought I was one of a very small group who liked animal stories. My start was with Black Beauty, which my mom gave me for Christmas one year. I was pretty young. I read it I don't know how many times. Many years have passed. Watership Down, of course. My kids read themselves through a few Redwall years and I read a couple of those along the way. Paul Auster's Timbuktu is, like any Auster novel, very much worth a spot of reading time. For my wife I found a book called Shakespeare's Animals in a used shop -- she's loves her some Billy Shakes. Fables are defined by the fact that animals are involved, and lets not forget all the great poetry (and thanks for the one included earlier -- I had not ever read that and I am glad that I did). Finally, I guess my favorite animal to read about is the human one. Now, that's an odd bird!

48ambushedbyasnail
Jul 11, 2008, 10:44am Top

I just finished Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat. Really a lovely story (for middle grades, but worth the read to an adult, I think) - it had everything a story like that should have and it wasn't over the top.

Picture Mary Downing Hahn crossed with Eloise and then add rodents with magical powers.

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