article written by Kathy Halliday (Founder & Prose Editor)
Recently I read Marjorie Celona’s article on ‘Great Literary Animals You’ve Probably Forgotten About (and not the talking kind)’ – which is available to read in full here. I have been inspired by Celona’s article to write my own version, drawing on a couple of personal favourites to share with you, here at The City Fox.
We’re all familiar with the great animals of the literary world, one of my personal favourites being Michael Morpurgo’s The Butterfly Lion – but what about the rest of the menagerie? What about the ones who appeared in chapter 6, only to fade into the fabric of the narrative moments later? We love our animals, and we love them even more in novel form. I sometimes wonder though, if it’s possible we’ve overlooked some of the greatest characters ever written into existence. I think it’s about time we pay tribute to a few lesser-known names of the literary animal kingdom:
Sarah Winman – When God was a Rabbit (2011):
‘God’ couldn’t be further removed from the warrens of Watership Down, or from Peter Rabbit as he frolics through Mr McGregor’s garden. Such a charming novel in which I was completely and utterly captivated, by Elly and her Belgian Hare, ‘God’. Filled with moments of sentimentality and eccentricity, When God was a Rabbit shows the beauty that is the dysfunctional family, or rather, the family which is so unorthodox, it works. I laughed and wept profusely throughout, which is possibly the highest accolade I could award any book. I implore you to take home a copy today, love it dearly and place Elly and ‘God’ in pride of place on your bookshelf of animal greats.
Sōseki Natsume – I Am a Cat (1905-06):
A beautifully translated classic, I Am a Cat captures true humanity through a feline perspective. The unnamed Cat is, quite possibly, more human than his counterparts in the novel. Well worth a mention here, and definitely worth a read.
Ross Raisin – God’s Own Country (2008):
Eerily compelling and unsettling, but full of lovely Border Collies too! Raisin’s debut God’s Own Country is a strange thing, but that’s why I love it. There’s something evocative about a disturbed character such as Sam, which is partially the reason as to why I can’t put this book down. I think the reason I keep going back to Sam as a character, is because of his relationship with the Border Collie pups. It makes him almost human, showing a glimpse of compassion. Hauntingly beautiful in the rural setting, showing even in the sleepy Dales there is darkness.
Jon Klassen – I Want My Hat Back & This Is Not My Hat (2011, 2012):
These are two of the most delightful children’s books I have ever read, written by Canadian author and illustrator, Jon Klassen. Children and adults alike will love the characters within these books, wondering where on earth these hats keep disappearing to!
& that leaves only one:
Michael Morpurgo – The Butterfly Lion (1996):
This particular story holds overwhelming sentimental value for me, having introduced me to reading for the first time when I was a small child. I think, rather unfairly, the story of Bertie and his white lion has been overshadowed by Morpurgo’s War Horse, which has recently been adapted into a major motion picture. Though there are obvious similarities between the two stories, there is something I find enchanting about the image of the white lion, which has resonated with me throughout the years.
So here are a few of my favourites, but we here at The City Fox would love to hear about yours. Please, drop us a comment or two below. Tell us about the literary animals you love the most.