Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The best animal sidekicks in SFF

Here’s a timely post from Black Gate, considering that I was just trying to decide whether I sort of like the bat sidekick in Railsea (not really) or can see an easy way for the author to keep the plot but lose the bat (not really). And also considering the wolf-really-a-furry-person in Queen of Blood, which I only just read a week or so ago. Let’s see what Constance Cooper has to say on this theme:

Wolves, Bears, Cats & Dragons: The Best Animal Sidekicks in Fantasy

Category 1: Really, an animal: Ah hah, Cooper lists Wolf and Iron by Gordon Dickson. Now THERE is a wolf, by gum. That wolf is definitely a wolf and not a dog, far less a furry person. Two thumbs up on that choice, although I must add that Dickson’s work mostly has not worn all that well for me and I gave most of his books away a decade or two ago rather than keeping them in my personal library. Still: that is a great wolf.

Category 2: Not quite an animal: Oh, here’s another older series I liked a lot: the giant telepathic cats in the Raithskar series by Garrett and Heydron. That was before I got tired of telepathic cats. Also, this is a pretty cool example of the trope: the cats have more of their own personalities and agendas than some in that genre. This is a series I still own, though I haven’t read it in a while.

Come to think of it, the dragons in Novik’s Temeraire series go even farther in the real-people-with-their-own-agendas direction. They may not count as animals at all, though.

Category 3: More than human: Cooper mentions Pullman’s Dark Materials world, where “every human has a daemon — an animal companion that is an outward manifestation of their soul.” That’s interesting. I haven’t actually read this series, though.

My all-time favorite fictional animal is not a sidekick, as it happens, but the protagonist. Also, not really an animal, just stuck temporarily in animal form. I bet that’s enough to let most of you guess:

Sirius, the dog star, in Dogsbody by DWJ. It’s not just the dog; that whole story is just so well put together, despite the wildly disparate elements that go into it.

Also, another where the animals are protagonists and not sidekicks — Watership Down. What a wonderful story that is.

Actual favorite animal sidekick . . . hmmm. Maybe the horses in Robin McKinley’s books, The Blue Sword and particularly The Hero and the Crown.

Here, by the way, is a fun quiz: Which animal would be YOUR fantasy companion?. The quiz has a stupid advertisement that doesn’t appear to be avoidable, but it redeemed itself by assuring me that MY fantasy companion is a giant elephant. I’ll go with that!

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7 Comments The best animal sidekicks in SFF

  1. Robert

    I got a giant elephant, too! I thought I might get some sort of bird since I chose the eagle for the final question. But a mumak is still pretty cool.

  2. Rachel

    Well, I have to admit, a dragon might beat even a giant elephant.

    I liked Bansh better before she became a heavenly avatar, I think. And I’m not sure I’ve seen the wolves yet, though I have other titles by Bear on my TBR pile.

  3. Kristina

    I still reread Dogsbody every couple of years….

    Pullman’s daemons are SO close to their humans – literally a part of them – that I never really considered them as animals. I liked the first of the Dark Materials books well enough, but Pullman did some retconning in the second, which is guaranteed to lose my trust as a reader. I never read the third.

    What about the “royal” wolves and other animals of Jane Lindskold’s Firekeeper Saga? “More than an animal,” surely.

  4. Rachel

    I agree, “more than animal.” I wasn’t really into those wolves, in fact.

    I do think it’s very difficult to pull off wolves as important characters while still keeping them basically wolflike rather than humanlike. I wish “more intelligent than normal wolves” didn’t always mean “also having psychological wiring exactly like humans instead of wolves.”

    The trellwolves in A Companion to Wolves by Monette and Bear pulled it off, I think. Not that they were very wolflike, but they also weren’t much like humans.

    Other intelligent animals that are like themselves rather than exactly like humans — the “horses” in CJ Cherryh’s Rider at the Gate come to mind. Also, actually, the giant cats in the Raithskar series.

    Others?

  5. Pete Mack

    Daine’s various friends in Pierce’s Immortals series aren’t bad. Numair’s Spot(?) is particularly good.

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