Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.
This week’s tour topic is: PETS
Everybody needs somebody to love. And the best companionship doesn't always come from the same sentient group, does it? Be it furry or scaled, large or small, sometimes an animal companion is the best thing a person can have. (Thank you to Nathan's wife for this week’s topic).
Do familiars and companions count as pets? Well, they may protest the fact, but let's ignore the barks and growls and assume that they do indeed count . . .
The first pet I can remember encountering in epic fantasy (if you don't count the ferrets in the BeastMaster movie) is Guenhwyvar from R.A. Salvatore's Icewind Dale trilogy. A sleek black panther, she was actually an astral being that Drizzt Do'Urden could summon to his side through an onyx figurine. Limited to 12 hours of physical existence each day, she served as both friend and animal companion to Drizzt, accompanying him as much to stave of the loneliness of being exiled from his homeland as to fight alongside him in battle.
My favorite pet, hands-down, would have to be Oy, the cute, humorous, sadly loyal billy-bumbler from Stephen King's Dark Tower Saga. Kind of a cross between a dog and a raccoon, billy-bumblers have zebra-striped fur, spiral tails, and gold-ringed eyes. Both smart and clever, they have the ability to understand and mimic human words and actions. Jake Chambers adopts Oy as his pet in the third novel, and the little billy-bumbler remains a faithful companion right to the very end, serving to save the lives of the ka-tet on more than one occasion, and providing one of the saddest, most touching moments King has ever written.
Pets are, of course, a defining aspect of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. First we have the Stark children (and Jon Snow), who each get to adopt a cute little Direwolf pup. Of course, these cute little pups eventually grow to monsters the size of small ponies, and aren't shy about tearing out the throats of anyone threatening their owners. Then there are the baby dragons that Danaerys hatches and adopts. They're a little harder to tame, with some hungers that can't easily be appeased, but a dragon is a cool pet no matter how quickly it grows.
Part pet, part friend, and part familiar, Nighteyes is one of the most remarkable characters in Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy. Fitz is blessed (or cursed) with the Wit, a magic of the Old Blood that most find distasteful. It allows him to befriend and bond the young wolf, Nighteyes, with their relationship a driving force in the trilogy. There are accusations they bonded too young, and Nighteyes certainly seems more like a domesticated dog than a wild wolf, but he's a huge part of the story.
Sticking with the wolf theme for a moment, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time brings us Hopper. It's through his friendship with Hopper that Perrin begins to understand his role as a Wolfbrother. The two are able to communicate through a visual form of telepathy, consisting of images rather than words, and their affinity allows Perrin to enter the wolf-dream and run alongside Hopper as a wolf himself. It's definitely more of a familiar or friendship relationship that a pet one, but Hopper remains a trusted part of Perrin's destiny all the way through the series.
Finally, and this definitely counts as more a companions than pets, but there are few animals in epic fantasy more memorable than Yfandes from The Last Herald-Mage by Mercedes Lackey. These intelligent, loyal, honorable horses are Heralds who have passed on and chosen to come back as a Companion, to choose a Herald, and become bonded to them. Vanyel is a dark, tragic sort of hero, and Yfandes carries a heavy burden in trying to convince him that he's loved, and that his life is worth living. This is one of the darkest, saddest, most tragic fantasies I have ever read, but also one of the most powerful - it's what made me a fan of Lackey, even with an ending that rips your heart apart and pours shadows into your thoughts.
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