Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. Today we’re talking about love, and I’d like to talk about a very particular kind of devotion.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a beloved animal companion can steal the spotlight in any book in which they appear (and usually the heart of the reader while they’re at it). They may a comrade in arms or a friend in need. Sometimes they’ll save the day, sometimes they’ll die heroically (NOOOOO). But the best linger in our memories and make us wish we had better pets (…okay, look, I don’t have pets because allergies. I just want a pet. Let’s leave it there).
I’m keeping it fairly focused today: I have to have read the book (so no Hedwig or Toothless) recently enough to still be warm and fuzzy about them (ahem, sorry Falkor and Pantalaimon, I’m certain you deserved a spot but it’s been over 20 years). And in the end, I have to believe that the companion is as devoted to the human character as I was to the animal as a reader (…so there go Maud the pig and Bill the pony, but I’m sure someone will take them in and feed them well).
Animal companions are far more common in my childhood favourites than my adult reads, so let’s start with some lifelong sweethearts. It’s pretty clear from the moment purple-eyed Faithful appears that he’s not your average cat, but what’s not to love about a devoted furball determined to tell his squire exactly what he thinks of her terrible decisions and help her scratch her enemies’ eyes out anyway? (note: no eyes were harmed in the deployment of this companion. That I remember. But I bet he would). While the latter Alanna books don’t work for me as an adult, Faithful is still a joy.
He’s also the safest choice of my favourite childhood animals, because the rest come with a hanky warning: hearts may be broken, you were warned. I love how Ged adopts – or is adopted by – a small animal as fierce and isolated as he is whilst studying on Roke in A Wizard of Earthsea. For a creature that has such a brief space in the overall narrative (a few chapters, at most), the otak has been curled up in my heart ever since.
Yes, The Cats of Seroster is a whole book about heroic fantasy cats who lead the resistance against a usurping nobleman in a mediaeval Provençal city. There are no less then 3 devoted cat companions here and they are each as glorious (for different reasons) as this book is unusual. Warning: not all cats survive the reading of this book.
Epic fantasy has space for epic companions, and their bonds with the protagonists are written as large as their deeds. When Captain Will Laurence inadvertently finds himself adopted by a freshly-hatched dragon, his life and career change (but for the best, Laurence. THE BEST). Temeraire will challenge Will’s unexamined beliefs and much-protested loyalties, and force him to read books on mathematics and philosophy. More importantly, they will do anything for one another – their relationship is one of the great joys of modern fantasy.
Hey-ho, time for a spoiler alert for The Ninth Rain! Another glorious bond exists between warbeasts and their riders in The Winnowing Flame. Once again, it’s love at first sight – but while the warbeasts have distinct personalities, there’s also a mirroring of traits that is both hilarious and adorable. Vostok and Noon are short-tempered and vengeful; Kirune and Tor are less self-confident than they appear (and given to sulking); Jessen and Aldasair care deeply for the innocent. Poor Celaphon is an exception, but, well, special circumstances.
This grouping couldn’t be complete without the dire-wolves of A Song of Ice and Fire earn a place here (yes, over and above the dragons. Shocking, I know). Like the warbeasts, their bond goes deeper than mere adoption with mirroring of personalities blurring into sharing of souls as the Starks stray into warg territory. And I will always feel my heart break when Arya forces Nymeria to leave her (and whilst this is meant to focus strictly on the books, oh gosh I loved the scene when they came face to face again. And I haven’t seen the final season, shhhh).
While I considered making my category lines blur enough to include aliens for Binti in this top ten, I think that’s a whole other top ten for another time. However, that means I came up with only one science fiction animal companion – and it neatly ushers in a final grouping of battle companions.
I don’t even know what to call Seven except a space otak: small, fuzzy, comforting and willing to bite your enemy’s face off. Or eat their corpse if you beat them to it. This fierce little bundle is the perfect match for Mars Xi, most feared woman in the Voidwitch universe.
Reichis the squirrel cat claims to be that ferocious, but we rarely actually see him live up to his bloodthirsty utterings. Similarly, he regularly threatens to desert Kellen the spellslinger, but he’s always there when his friend needs him (or if there’s food on offer. Squirrel cats, space raccoons, you could be forgiven for thinking they have a lot in common).
At the opposite end of the spectrum we’ve got a classic companion: Huan the hound, who turns his back on Celegorm (who wouldn’t. Faithless sons of Fëanor, pffft) to defend Lúthien in her quest for a Silmaril. A wolfhound with a high destiny and an abiding sense of honour who gets to speak, rout a young Sauron and deceive Morgoth himself – before embracing a fight he know will result in his death. EPIC TRAGIC DOGFRIEND ❤
I’m finishing the week with a friendship that has got off to a tentative but promising start. The gullaime was one of my favourite characters of The Bone Ships and I loved how his relationship with Joron Twiner evolved from reluctant fear and angry disdain to staunch allies against the odds. I’m dearly hoping to see these two side by side for the rest of this trilogy.
Who are your favourite animal companions?