By Ashly Moore Sheldon • September 04, 2020
Animals have long shown up as main characters in fiction. Whether anthropomorphic talking beasts, supernatural creatures, or realistic portrayals of animal life, these characterizations often seem deepened by their inherent wild qualities. It's as if we somehow understand the character better because we feel we are familiar with the traits of their species. To wit: a curmudgeonly badger, an industrious bee, or a scheming coyote. For National Wildlife Day, we decided to spotlight eight novels with animals as main characters.
Often stories about groups of animals serve as an allegory for chapters of human history. For example Art Spiegelman's brilliant graphic novel Maus depicts the horrors of the Holocaust with mice as the persecuted Jews and cats as the terrifying Nazi forces.
The Young Adult fantasy novel Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies, a story about warring deer herds, draws heavily on themes of good and evil. It has been compared to the beloved Watership Down, which many see as depicting the timeless struggle between tyranny and freedom.
Other literary animal kingdoms are designed to more closely resemble real animal worlds. The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy imagines the existence of elephants as they struggle to survive droughts, predators, and ivory hunters in sub-Saharan Africa.
Another good example is the YA fantasy Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel which tells the story of a young bat trying to get back to his family after becoming separated from them during an annual migration. This one is part of a thrilling series.
Often realistic animal characters serve as the best friend or companion to a human character. Such is the case with Pax, a lovely children's novel by Sara Pennypacker about a boy and his faithful fox.
In We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, Rosemary's psyche has long been shadowed by the early childhood disappearance of Fern, her beloved sister who, as it turns out, is a chimpanzee. This highly unique tale explores the ramifications of an animial socialization experiment gone wrong.
There are a lot of beautiful books in which an animal character appears as a sort of sage or mystic, dispensing wisdom or offering support during difficult times. In Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter, a mourning family is adrift in the wake of loss. A man mourns his wife; his two young sons, their mother. Crow appears to them in their lowest moments offering a singular sort of comfort.
Ready to get in touch with your inner spirit animal? Try one of these great wildlife-inspired books. Or suggest some of your favorites.
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