Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Top ten wolves in fantasy

Via File 770, at Fantasy Faction, a top ten list of the greatest wolves in fantasy.

Actually, though, I think it was cheating to include werewolves. I also don’t like including Buck from Call of the Wild. Obviously it isn’t correct to say that Buck “turned from a domestic dog into a wild wolf.” That’s like saying that this horse jumped the paddock gate and went from being a domestic horse to being a wild zebra. I mean, what? You do know that you’re talking about different species, right? It’s ridiculous and annoying.

In other words, Fantasy Faction’s list makes me ask: Okay, but what are the top ten best actual wolves in SFF? Only I couldn’t get to ten, so how about five?

1. I actually am not following along with GRRM any more, but I’m willing to grant you Ghost from Fantasy Faction’s list. He sounds like a good character. Anybody actually reading this series who wants to weigh in with whether Ghost is a real wolf or a dog masquerading as a wolf?

2. I’m also not conversant with Robin Hobb’s Nighteyes from the Assassin trilogy, but perhaps eventually I will be, since that is on my TBR pile. Knowing about Nighteyes makes me more likely to move that series up on the pile, in fact.

3. There are the wolves in Through Wolf’s Eyes by Jane Lindskold. They’re not bad.

4. We have the trellwolves in Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. They’re not ordinary wolves, but they’re great and I hereby declare they totally count even if werewolves absolutely do not.

5. Akela in Kipling’s The Jungle Book . Grey Brother and the others were all right, but I always was particularly fond of Akela.

Okay, I can’t think of a lot more wolves in fantasy, so let’s switch gears: who are the top ten eagles in fantasy? Cause eagles appear quite a bit, don’t they, and they are always very snazzy. I’m not sure I can get to ten, but let’s just see:

1. Starting with a series I haven’t read, but I do have on my TBR pile

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That looks so cool. I love the intelligent consideration of just how someone could be carried by a giant eagle without interfering with its flight.

2. Of course you can’t forget the eagles in The Lord of the Rings.

3. Continuing the popular theme of giant eagles, how about the rukh from Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts trilogy? I felt really bad for the chained male rukh — worse than about just about anything else that happened in the book. I could not believe the good guys made it into and out of the bad guy’s fortress without finding and freeing the poor thing. Of course enslaving giant eagles is likely to rebound against you eventually no matter how clueless the good guys are.

4. One more giant eagle — have you read Nick O’Donohoe’s great Crossroads trilogy? I despise the new cover of the first book, but here is the much better cover of one of the other books in the trilogy:

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Of course this cover is showing the griffins (wonderful griffins!) rather than the giant eagles, who are called The Great. What a wonderful term for giant birds that act almost like the hand of God. They dwarf all other giant eagles ever.

5. Not giant eagles, but I was very struck as a young reader by the battle of the eagles in Joy Chant’s Red Moon Black Mountain. I don’t think the eagles played a huge role in the book, but still.

6. Remember Farsight, the eagle from The Last Battle by CS Lewis?

7. Okay, not an eagle, but one of my favorite birds of prey in fantasy: the Falcon Ter from The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

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That’s seven! At least, if you allow the falcon, it’s seven. Only three ore to get to ten. What great fantasy eagles am I missing?

8. I’ve been reminded of the gwythaints — I’m not sure where all they appear, but in the Prydain chronicles, the gwythaints were giant eagles enslaved by the dark lord. Man, what is it with dark lords enslaving giant eagles?

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23 Comments Top ten wolves in fantasy

  1. SarahZ

    If Trellwolves are wolfy enough to count, then Ghost should count, too (based on what I know from the tv show).

    I’d add the wolf pack from Tamora Pierce’s Wild Magic. There’s an eagle in there too, I think, but it didn’t make as much of an impression.

  2. Rachel

    Oh, I have Wild Magic on my TBR pile. The description focuses on horses, so I didn’t realize there were also wolves.

    Incidentally, someday I will write a book where the young girl protagonist can talk to animals, but they feel no urge at all to do what she says. What’s with that trope, anyway? Do you really think animals would just naturally obey you if you could talk to them? Why?

  3. Craig

    Were “The Great” giant eagles? I thought they were rocs, even if he didn’t use the name explicitly.

  4. mona

    I thought of the wolf pack in Wild Magic (mostly in Wolf-Speaker really), but if we’re talking Tamora Pierce, the wolf that comes to mind most vividly is actually the one-eyed Demon Grey from In the Hand of the Goddess. I can never forget that scene.

    Is it so common as to be a trope? I can think of 4 books / series that include a human speaking with animals, but I don’t recall “natural obedience” in any of them, including the Immortals quartet. Well, at least, not the “natural” part.

  5. Rachel

    Well, aren’t Rocs giant eagles? To me that seems like a distinction without a difference. Or am I misremembering what a roc actually is?

  6. Rachel

    Pern. Once you impress a dragon, it is your obedient friend.

    The Heralds of Valdemar. The horses may be sent directly from the gods, but they go where you point ’em.

    Loiosh in Jhereg et al. He’s snarky, but he follows orders.

    The wolves and other animals in Through Wolf’s Eyes also follow orders.

    The treecats of the Honor Harrington universe. Supposedly they only are subordinate because they’re living in human society, but they sure follow the standard pattern for telepathic animal companions — fiercely devoted and quite obedient, definitely subordinate to their humans.

    It seems to me that this is definitely a trope, but perhaps I’m forgetting the ones that don’t follow the pattern. I will grant that the trellwolves are in some ways dominant to the humans, but I can’t think of any others.

    I haven’t read In the Hand of the Goddess, though.

  7. SarahZ

    Mona, you’re right, I meant Wolf-Speaker. Just misremembered which book was which. Not really any wolves to speak of in Wild Magic.

    Rachel, the wolf in In the Hand of the Goddess isn’t a good guy wolf, so definitely not obedient.

    I was really bothered by the dynamic with obedient animals in that Avatar movie (the one with the blue people). The fact that they forced a connection seemed really icky to me.

  8. Craig

    I do think the animal servant thing is pretty standard — Naomi Novik does pretty much the same thing as Pern with her dragons, yes? — though talking to just any animal is less common than being bound to one particular beast. Maybe it goes back to witchs’ familiars? Heck, D&D has the type all over the place, wizards & druids & paladins (another argument that it’s a fantasy trope, since D&D has a major role in defining generic fantasy).

  9. Rachel

    Pete, Fenrir from where? I’m thinking Fenris from Norse mythology, but I’m sure you have a specific wolf in mind, right?

  10. Elaine T

    IIRC Andre Norton, who may have originated the telepathic bonding with animals didn’t always have them eagerly obedient.

    Can’t think of any Wolfy wolves to add. There was the Wolf Lord demi-god figure in Kay’s Fionavar but demi-god should disqualify him, I think. Besides he wasn’t terribly wolf-like IIRc. And Ingrey’s wolf is a spirit.

  11. mona

    SarahZ, there are wolves in Daine’s flashback in Wild Magic. I think the eagle you’re remembering is probably the one that’s not actually an eagle at the near beginning of the book.

    None of Pierce’s animals who speak to humans are obedient, that’s for sure.

    Rachel, that’s pretty true about Pern. I always put it down to the tight bond between them, but it does amount to obedience.

    I thought in Valdemar the horses had more influence/control, but I didn’t read more than a few of those before I got tired of reading Lackey (it started to feel like I was reading the same book over and over).

    McKinley’s animals in Spindle’s End are not obedient, although they are helpful. Actually, I take that back. They’re not obedient in the beginning, but they are towards the end.

    I know I had another book in mind, but now I can’t remember what it was.

    Fenrir… Final Fantasy? Harry Potter? Hmmm.

  12. Katie Patchell

    I think an interesting angle would be to make animals respond to humans (the ones who can speak to them) in ways that reflect their characters. This seems pretty obvious, but an author could definitely play up the different characteristics. Dogs generally have a pack mentality and are typically friendlier than every other domesticated animal. So they’d probably obey after the heroine (or hero) proved to be a pack member and alpha. Cats are another story….I respect them like I respect Cutco knives (which have injured me plenty of times, the latest being an ER visit with 3 stitches)–they’re sharp, dangerously beautiful, and should be given respect, distance, and aloof glares (I’ve mastered the cat aloof glare). :) So if someone talks to cats–small or large–I’m betting the cat would ignore and/or turn on the speaker. Usually I’ve seen some characteristics of this in human-speaking-to-animal tropes, but I agree, sometimes it’s a little far-fetched. Unless the world building is done to such a degree, it doesn’t make sense that someone can persuade eagles and dragons to do anything, unless (and a big unless) the main character has a forceful, conniving, fierce personality. Eagles are generally distant and fierce hunters, and dragons? I’ve seen funny ones and cute ones, but typically they’re manipulative and unbelievably dangerous in the world’s history of dragon legends (unless the dragon is an Asian one). They’d as soon trick an animal-speaker than actually, truly obey.
    It’d be interesting to read a book where a lot of the obvious AND unique qualities of different species were involved in their communications; rather than having a general rule, as in: “All animals obey her,” or “all animals don’t obey.” That way the rules would constantly be shifting, and the reader (and heroine) would always be interacting differently with different creatures.

  13. Rachel

    Elaine, I grant you, I can think of one Andre Norton where the telepathic animals were definitely not subordinate. That was Catseye. I think when she wrote Beastmaster, however, it was again human-with-obedient-servant-animals.

    I’m looking forward to Wild Magic!

  14. Rachel

    Katie, I think that’s a good idea, and I think what I’d most like to see is a human interact with both dogs and wolves and have them respond very differently and be true to life. And in fact a gundog, say, is going to be so different from a terrier. I’d like to see that reflected in a book, too.

    Hmmm. File under ideas for later, I guess, and if someone beats me to it, great!

  15. elaine t

    How could I not have thought of Rider at the Gate where the telepathic bonded critters have their own wants and argue with their riders?
    I was thinking of Catseye in fact. And in the wolverine one, the tie isn’t very strong.
    Tolkien’s Eagles that rescue Bilbo are cooperative because of Gandalf, not any bonding.

  16. Rachel

    Okay FINE you are right. The “horses” in Rider at the Gate can be pretty pushy.

    Tolkien’s eagles don’t count. They are not telepathically bonded animal companions, but a distinct people who barely interact with humans or even wizards.

    I don’t remember the wolverine one? Which was that?

  17. pete mack

    Fenrir and Fenris are the same. He shows up disguised more or less in fantasy everywhere. I always thought he’s a perfect embodiment of entropy and heat death. Brrr, cold in here suddenly.

  18. Elaine T

    I had to go through my Nortons to find ‘the wolverine one’, as that’s how my mind has tagged it, instead of something more useful like title.. Anyway it’s Storm over Warlock.

    Peter – if Fenrir is entropy would the wolf lord in Fionavar who wants everything to die already(because of disappointed in love) is a Fenrir analog? Never thought of it that way, Fenrir was Fenrir not an embodiement. Like it.

  19. Kim Aippersbach

    The cats in Jim Butcher’s latest (Aeronaut’s Windlass) are definitely not obedient, though they cooperate when it suits them. I thought they were one of the best things about that book.

    I think someone should write a fantasy in which humans are the obedient one in the telepathically bonded pairing. Why would we be obedient? Would we have no choice? Is it because the animal is way smarter or better at something than we are? Would we resent it? Or would there be some compensating factor that would make it worth it? (I feel like there is some sci fi that’s explored this concept, substituting aliens for animals, but I can’t bring it to mind.)(Sounds like something Octavia Butler would do . . . yes, Fledgling. Her take on vampires (so neither animals or aliens. but same general concept). Very cool.)

  20. Rachel

    It totally does sound like something Butler would have done — you could see the human relationship with the Oankali aliens a relationship as you describe.

    I’ve only read Fledgling once. It’s too depressing because it’s so obviously the first of a planned series and I would so have loved to see where Butler was going with it.

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