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Exceptional Animal Characters

November 3, 2011

This week, I’m posting a list, in honor of Manchee from The Knife of Never Letting Go, of those heroic and loyal animal characters that stand out in their respective books. To be clear: in order to qualify for this list, the animals must act like animals. Pet-type characters. No animals that talk (well, we can be a little lenient here, because…Manchee) or wear clothing or otherwise act like people. If the animal is the main character, it probably doesn’t count. No Redwall, no Warriors or Guardians, no Winnie-the-Pooh (we’re focusing on YA here, so that probably wouldn’t count anyway, but you get the idea). I will try not to overpopulate the list with Harry Potter characters, but there are quite an abundance of them, so fair warning.

Rontu: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – Initially the leader of a wolf pack that attacks Karana after she is left alone and stranded, Rontu eventually becomes her best and only friend on the island. Look, I can’t really talk about this without spoiling the book for everyone, but…it is not possible not to love Rontu. This book is completely wonderful and Rontu is a big part of the emotional heart of the story.

Crookshanks: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling – Obviously, Crookshanks was in more than one book, but this is the book in which he was introduced, and the one in which he had his finest hour. At first he seemed like a terrible nuisance, but was later proven to be an excellent judge of character. Let’s just leave it at that.

Nigel: Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams – Ingrid’s pet dog/sidekick in this highly entertaining mystery series. His appearance basically kicks off the start of the first book, and he is quite possibly my favorite character, so he makes the list.

Squijim: Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville – This might be a bit of a stretch, because I think the Squijim’s level of sentience is higher than your typical animal character, but the strange squirrel/monkey creature acts very animal-like and is one of Cara’s most loyal allies in her fight to save the unicorns from the evil Hunters, in a way that reminds me somewhat of Manchee’s role in The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Buckbeak: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling – Buckbeak the hippogriff has many heroic moments throughout the course of the series, beginning in this book when he wounds Draco and then helps to rescue Sirius. Also, his involvement in the time travel plot especially endears him to me. I am always in favor of time travel.

Cafall: The Grey King by Susan Cooper – Sadly, this is likely to be the least familiar addition to this list. The Dark is Rising series isn’t terribly well-known these days, but it is brilliant. Cafall (which was also the name of King Arthur’s dog) plays a key role in this, the fourth book in the series, as he and his owner, Bran, help Will in his quest to defeat the Dark. (Also, this book takes place in Wales, which is something that, like time travel, always gets bonus points from me.)

Maruman: Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody – Maruman is an ancient, mangy, and bad-tempered cat, but he is also Elspeth’s oldest friend and a firm believer in her destiny to save the world by stopping another nuclear holocaust from happening.

Who did I miss? Who are your favorite animal characters?

One Comment leave one →
  1. aftran permalink
    November 16, 2011 11:52 am

    Glaring Omission Number 1: Fortinbras and Ananda from Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quartet (Quintet?). I did think about adding Fortinbras, but I couldn’t think of anything he actually did in any of the books. However, I’ve just started rereading A Swiftly Tilting Planet (or listening to, rather), and I think both dogs belong on this list solely because of the void they fill in the Murry household. It’s not about any specific action that the dogs take, but a need that they fill just with their presence. Ananda also deserves special mention because of how much I love the Sanskrit meaning of her name: “that joy in existence without which the entire universe would fall apart and collapse.” God, I love Madeleine L’Engle.

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