Top Ten Memorable Fictional Animals

 Some months ago, a certain young Labrador joined my family and all who have met young Theo have paused to hail his awesomeness.  He is a very lovely canine specimen and very clever too – he is very understanding about being picked up and cuddled, he goes mad over cheese and bounces about with delight every time he catches sight of the wooden broom my parents keep outside.  During a recent trip home, my mother laughed that I had made the journey to see the dog rather than my parents to which I protested indignantly out that I can speak to them in between times to catch up on the news, while Theo is unable to operate the phone – yet somehow there are times when I still expect him to speak.  So, I got to thinking about the animals in fiction which have also inspired admiration and so this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was born.  To avoid repetition, we can take it as read that I think that Paddington and other members of the ursine community are amazing – bears will always be my first love.
The Velveteen Rabbit, The Velveteen Rabbit

I am picking the Velveteen Rabbit here because he was a toy made Real through the love his owner had for him.  I remember the tears fizzling up when I first heard of the poor rabbit’s misery at being discarded and alone on a pile destined for the bonfire and then oh such joy on realising that he would be saved.  I think that this one plays into that inner belief about the toys we truly love, as well as a wish for a ‘happy hunting grounds’ that they may enjoy once we are ready to move on from them.  They take such a battering – they deserve something in return.  I have had one particular constant companion since childhood and for him especially, he deserves a velveteen-rabbit style aftermath … but not just yet.  Another excellent celebration of that tenuous borderline in the imagination between stuffed animals and the real thing is Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes and of course Winnie-ther-Pooh but somehow it is The Velveteen Rabbit that still makes me sniffly.

Greyfriars Bobby

Similarly to the previous – as a child, I wept over Greyfriars Bobby, the good and loyal canine who mourned his master for years and returned faithfully every night to sleep by his grave.  Aged nine, I sneaked out of class to read Eleanor Atkinson’s novelisation in the toilets because I just couldn’t wait to hear what happened next.  To be fair, it was Year Five and my teacher was laissez-faire to put it mildly but you get the point.  So it was with some disappointment that I read several years ago that the whole thing was a fraud.  Photographs make it fairly clear that there were in fact two different dogs – apparently because the first one died/was a bit unfriendly and the whole legend of the shepherd owner etc was a big fat lie.  It was all drummed up for Edinburgh tourism!  So, basically – Greyfriars Bobby makes a great story but if you want the real thing, St Andrews is only fifty miles north and really did have a glorious cat called Hamish who ruled the town with an iron claw.  Everyone likes the idea of a town-mascot-animal but Greyfriars Bobby exists in the realms of fiction.

Rat – The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights
 

I adored Rat – he is more of an ally in The Midnight Folk while in The Box of Delights he becomes rather unfriendly but his one-liners are brilliant.  I still remember him describing how useless something was ‘except to smell when one was feeling faint’ – it made me giggle then and it still does now, the image of the distinctly-rough-around-the-edges Rat reaching for the smelling salts was just too funny.  For me, he kind of speaks in my mother’s voice though since she is the one who read him to me – it’s funny how your brain processes these things.

The inhabitants of Redwall, Redwall

I have already mentioned my love for Basil Stag Hare but Redwall in general had a highly complex society of animals which was far beyond the average tales of fairyland frolics.  There were the Cornish moles, the argumentative shrews, the noble badgers and the ghastly foxes, ferrets, stoats, and rats.  I loved it then but look back at it now and worry about the odd messages about racial stereotyping and segregation – in The Outcast, not even bringing a ferret among the good-hearted Redwall folk is enough to save him from his predestined wickedness.  I guess if that kind of thing bothers me then it’s a good job I was never allowed to read Enid Blyton.  Anyway, while I didn’t question how the hares, badgers and mice co-existed in harmony when I first started reading the series, by the time I reached secondary school, the issues of scale had begun to concern me and I gave up on the series with the kind of haughty disdain only a twelve year-old could possibly muster.

The Wind in the Willows

 

I think it is probably Mr Toad and his wild motor car which is most familiar here – although to be fair I also have a great affection for Mr Mole.  It was a very strange book though – there is the part where they stumble upon the god Pan in the clearing, this scene has some rather unexpected homo-erotic overtones.  Oddly enough, that part tends to be skipped over in the adaptations.  It is strange too that the animals are so accepted in mainstream society – it is not odd at all that Toad is tried, convicted and then jailed and the washerwoman who agrees to switch places with him to allow him to break out of jail does not find his ability to speak peculiar at all.  My favourite part remains when Rat, Badger and Mole lead a raid against the Wild Wooders to allow Toad to reclaim his home – I loved the rumour spread by Mole that a huge host of ‘Death or Glory Toads’ would be accompanying them.  The Wind in the Willows truly captures the full gamut of emotion!
Pongo and Missis (and Perdita), 101 Dalmatians
 
Pongo and Missis have a terribly English type of marriage – he is the strong provider type while she is his obedient wife.  They are also in fact dalmatians.  The two of them become proud parents to a litter of lovely puppies but it’s the way that the normal practice of introducing a nursing dog to help out with large litters becomes a plot point, it’s always stuck in my mind.  Perdita is the stray recruited for the task (in the films, Missis is given this name, presumably because it’s prettier than Missis).  I remember the way that Missis wondered to herself a little about the other dog with her husband but felt sure she could trust Pongo.  Similarly, Pongo thought of Perdita as another mother for his pups but never thought of himself as having two wives.  When the puppies are dog-napped by Cruella De Vil, Pongo and Missis leave Perdita to look after the humans and go in search of their children.  Along the way they meet a nasty little boy who throws stones and Pongo briefly loses his temper and is tempted to Bite.  Missis pleads desperately with her husband to remember his better nature and not give in to his fury – and he regains his self-control.  While remaining wholly canine at all times, Pongo and Missis are given a nobility and a courage that is just adorable without descending into the saccharine.
Scabbers, Harry Potter
 

For almost the first three books, Scabbers scampers about and is a generally dull and dissatisfactory pet.  In the grand tradition, he is the one you least suspect, we look at him and then we look away, wondering vaguely if Ron will get an owl instead one day.  But.  There is more to this little creature than meets the eye – even from Harry’s first meeting with him when Ron fails to turn Scabber yellow, there is something very odd about this rat.  Luckily, Hermione’s cat Crookshanks is part Kneazle and can sniff out treachery …

Misha the Penguin – Death and the Penguin

The strangest thing about Misha is that he is based on a real-life scenario – when Ukraine was so poor that they had to sell off their zoo animals.  The protagonist Viktor was sad after his girlfriend left him, so he bought himself a penguin but the two of them just ended up being sad together.  Being a penguin in a human house is no picnic – the penguinologist who Viktor meets that if he were in Misha’s shoes, he would ‘do himself in’.  Misha pads about, a peculiarly dignified and silent figure but in the end it is his fate rather than that of any of the human characters which lingers.

Charlotte’s Web

I wanted to pick Templeton the rat here but I couldn’t find any nice pictures of him – he was so helpful in finding words for Charlotte to spin about Wilbur.  To be honest, I loved so many of the animals within the farm, the sweet-natured Wilbur, the graceful Charlotte – it’s a very beautiful way of imagining a farmyard.

Richard Parker, The Life of Pi
 
Ah Richard Parker – named due to an administrative error and stranded in the middle of the ocean due to a shipwreck, Richard Parker is Pi’s only companion.  He and Pi have an uneasy detente and like Misha in Death and the Penguin, Richard Parker is never humanised – he is a real tiger, a carnivore trapped on a lifeboat with a human.  However.  After hundreds of pages detailing Pi’s battle to survive and co-exist with Richard Parker, as the book closes we are left to ponder what exactly Richard Parker represented and even whether he was truly there at all.
Roger – Cat Out Of Hell
 

I adore Roger – any cat who will compare himself to Daniel Craig, who can quote from Byron and who has a working knowledge of Greek ferry timetables deserves respect.  Roger is the Cat Out Of Hell – doomed to wander the earth, immortal, possessing powers beyond the ken of us mere humans.  His line manager is Beelzebub.  He is uberkatze.  With Roger, Lynne Truss takes talking animals far from children’s fiction and creates a hilarious and highly intelligent piece of comedy-horror.  Roger made Cat Out Of Hell one of my favourite reads of 2014.

Iorek Byrnison, His Dark Materials

Iorek Byrnison is a fantastic creation – despite being a bear, I decided to include him because he is after all a world away from his teddy-bear cousins.  He is the first armoured bear who Lyra meets and although he speaks, it is always obvious that he is not a human.  His deadly rival Iofur Raknison has taken on human traits – Lyra has the sense that she is looking at a person when she meets him and so she can defeat him, but Iorek is not so easily fooled.  Later he will see past Will Parry’s strategies to deflect attention – he sees to the truth straight away.  Yet Iorek also accepts Lee Scoresby’s last gift to him and the scene where he devours his old friend is truly haunting.  I picture him so clearly, I imagine his dignity, his piercing gaze – he is such a commanding character that I never question how he came to be.  He has no daemon and solemnly bids farewell to Lyra when she explains that she is going to the world of the dead, since he knows he will not go there himself.  Iorek Byrnison is a noble creature and one of my very favourite characters from His Dark Materials.

Zero Bagthorpe, The Bagthorpe Saga
There could hardly be a steeper contrast between Zero and Iorek Byrnison and yet I have always loved Zero, family pet of the Bagthorpe clan in general and Jack Bagthorpe in particular.  Zero appeared by chance one day in the garden and was absorbed into the family – no matter what Mr Bagthorpe may say (generally something along the lines of ‘pudding-footed hound’), they do love him really and on one memorable occasion, fought to keep him.  Jack battles desperately to teach Zero new skills and yet Zero is terrified of everything and is unable to learn a thing.  The battle to teach him to fetch sticks, beg for food and find his own way home leads to catastrophe and calamities for all concerned.  During the course of events, Zero achieves national fame, his own fan club and a hefty salary via an advertising campaign – he remains utterly clueless, adored by and adoring Jack – I have always wanted to give him a big cuddle but I have a horrible feeling that this would just terrify the poor old pup.
Reepicheep, The Chronicles of Narnia
Reepicheep is one of my all-time favourite characters – when he departed at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I really wasn’t sure about carrying on with the series.  Luckily the glorious Puddleglum the Marshwiggle in The Silver Chair changed my mind.  Reepicheep is a noble, honourable and courageous warrior – he just so happens to be a mouse.  He fights bravely for his King (Caspian), lays down his life and then is reborn … minus a tail.  Yet, Reepicheep inspires such devotion in his troops that they are prepared to cut off their own tails rather than have let their their commander be shamed … luckily, Aslan sorts him out with a brand new one.  Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader fails to treat Reepicheep with the appropriate respect and after a great deal of patience due to Reepicheep’s respect for Lucy, the mouse gets fed up and demands satisfaction.  Naturally, he kicks Eustace’s derriere.  I like how – as a character from children’s fiction – Reepicheep demonstrates that morals and bravery have nothing to do with size.  And despite his dignity and knightly status, he still lets Lucy cuddle him before he leaves her forever.  That is one fantastic mouse.
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5 thoughts on “Top Ten Memorable Fictional Animals

  1. What a great idea, a great list! I haven't heard of some of these books, probably because talking animals freaked me out as a child, so no Redwall,etc. for me!

  2. Such a great list 😀 I particularly love Iorek Byrnison.. He's such a great character! The bit in the first book where he fights Iofur gets my heart in my mouth every time..

  3. He's brilliant – so glad to find another fan! I know what you mean – it's quite the battle. I do think that the film didn't quite capture him though …. ah well. Hope you are having a great week, nice to catch you on the blogosphere again 🙂

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