This post by Robert Kroese at caught my eye: Sheep in science fiction and fantasy.

It’s a funny post:

I hadn’t even noticed the pattern until my editor brought it to my attention. “Rob,” she said, peering at me over a stack of my books on her desk, “why do you keep writing about sheep?”

“I have no idea what you mean,” I replied, taking a seat across from her. “I write very highbrow literary-type science fiction novels.”

She grabbed a copy of Mercury Rests from the top of the pile. “Page 243. You have a reference to an ‘exsanguinating sheep’.”

“Well,” I said, “what other animal are you going to sacrifice on top of a volcano?” I asked.

“And here in Mercury Rises,” she said. “Page 128. You have an exchange where an angel attempts to convince the biblical character Noah to trade his sheep for bricks.”

“That’s for the Settlers of Catan crowd,” I said. “I can’t help the fact that sheep are a key element of the game.”

And so on. Sheep everywhere. Or almost everywhere. Kroese does rather stretch a point with some of the books he includes, but since he’s not taking himself seriously, that’s fine. It’s a fun post.

But what it made me think of was a slightly broader category: Sheep in murder mysteries. Specifically, sheep in Leonie Swann’s entertaining and unique murder mystery Three Bags Full, which as you may know features sheep as the main characters and protagonists. Come to think of it, that’s fantastic enough right there to qualify this story for the fantasy genre as well as mystery.

On a hillside near the cozy Irish village of Glennill, the members of the flock gather around their shepherd, George, whose body lies pinned to the ground with a spade. George has cared for the sheep, reading them a plethora of books every night. The daily exposure to literature has mde them far savvier about the workings of the human mind than your average sheep. Led by Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in Glennill (and possibly the world), set out to find George’s killer…

Delightful, eh? Of course the sheep are pretty sure the butcher did it. I mean, of course the butcher, right? A butcher would be capable of anything, obviously.

It’s a charming story. The sheep are such . . . sheep. Here is a scene where they are thinking about Melmoth, a mysterious ram who left the flock for a while and has now returned, bearing unusual wisdom:

The sheep noticed that Melmoth was not just one more sheep in their flock. They couldn’t explain to themselves exactly why. Melmoth was a disruptive influence. When Melmoth grazed with them the flock could hardly manage to stay in formation. Instead they scattered as if a wolf had broken in among them. They scattered at grazing pace, of course, which meant very slowly, almost imperceptibly. It began to feel eerie.

Melmoth tells quite creepy ghost stories as well as teaching the sheep to “herd themselves” – resist being herded by dogs or men. He’s quite a sheep, is Melmoth. But all the characters are well drawn and delightful. This is definitely my favorite book featuring sheep — and probably the single novel where sheep are most thoroughly front-and-center.

Remember the Freddy the Pig books? Did you ever have a chance to read those when you were a kid? I bet there were sheep in them, but I fear I don’t remember any specific characters other than Freddy, Jinx the cat, an owl, a couple of cows . . . now that I think of them, I can remember specific scenes that still make me smile.

Anybody got another story that involves sheep?

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10 thoughts on “Sheep”

  1. I don’t think I have /ever/ read a book that featured sheep as the main characters. I feel that something has been lacking from my life. This needs to change asap!

  2. The Teen has been chortling overa collaborative webproject of fics which feature sheep that are embodied nightmares, but very nice for all of that. They go by names (mostly self chosen) such as: Terrance, Destroyer of Grass, Eater of Souls, Esq.; Fluffer-Nutter, Sauron, and Erschie (short for Erschreckendmörderdesgrasderamflaumigstenist Irreaffentittenturbosuperdupertyp Bammelbegierdedergoldenehufe)

    And at one point in their careers take to spelling out weather reports and village gossip on the hillsides.
    Link available on request.

    Then there’s Eustace, from The March North and sequels.

    His first appearance is described thusly: unusual is being led by a five-tonne sheep under a howdah. …. If you’re willing to call something six-horned and about five tonnes a sheep, anyway.
    Smells like a sheep.
    Rust looks almost amused as the great mass of wool kneels down in the road. Twitch looks appalled. The Creeks raise a lot of sheep; it’s probably harder to view an animal that size as a sheep, wool or no wool, if you’re used to the regular size. The wool isn’t quite the right colour; it’s an even grey with an odd dull shine.
    The mix of horns — great, massive, you-could-hold-a-dinner-party-on-those curling ram’s horns, great back-curved goats’ horns with visibly faceted points and sharp edges on the inside curve, suitable for ripping the ribs out of most anything, and long, low, turned-up-at-the-tips horns running down its face until they turn up over the nostrils — can’t be helping. Even without the metallic undertone it would look unnatural; at the size, it looks like someone set out to cross malice with a sheep and got black iron and brass into the malice.
    It breathes slow, which you’d expect, and fire, which you would not. Pale flames a metre long from each nostril on the exhale, …”

    He/it is very useful in what is coming. In the sequels we discover he is not unique.

    That’s all the sheep are important to the story possibilities I can call to mind.

  3. perhaps this all goes back to Phillip K Dick? He put sheep right there in the title, tho they never really appeared in the text.

  4. Ok, The Teen has mentioned a central website, but just informed me it’s on Tumblr and totally unsortable. But some of the fics are posted elsewhere and here are some concerning the Flock:
    Origin story

    Fluffer Nutter is named:

    Sheep Thieves outside view by some poor thieves:

    Chapt 4 of this one is a day in the life of the Flock while they babysit Master’s nieces & nephew.

    Outside view while the owner is playing at being a country wizard chapters 16 & 17 (I think this link goes to 16)

    For background and what this is all spun off of:

    I’ve read them, now, and find them mostly pretty fun.

  5. Thank you, Elaine! And now I must read Three Bags Full. This kind of thing hits my funny bone in just the right place.

    It’s been so long since I read Connie Willis’s Bellwether that I can’t remember if there are any real sheep in it or if they’re all metaphorical, but I remember it being a very funny book.

  6. Bellwether was very funny! I’m almost sure the sheep were strictly metaphorical, but it’s well worth reading. Makes actual sheep look pretty intelligent in comparison, too.

  7. A family member pulled Cordwainer Smith’s Norstrilia off the shelf, paged through and suddenly read in incredulity “in the name of the Seven Sheep…”

    I’d forgotten sheep were important in that story.

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