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Monday, February 17, 2014

Animals and Books

My feelings about books and animals are deeply intertwined. One of the books that made the biggest impact on me as a kid was Black Beauty, and, when very little, Country Cat, City Cat was my go to nighttime read. Oh, and then there were the Clifford books and another favorite, Saucy, about a female dog who had a litter of pups. In my youth, my literary heroes were as likely to be four-legged as human.

I don't read many animal stories these day, but I still love to read stories that feature animals. Animals can be part of the conflict of a story, a trusted companion for a hero or heroine, or simply an indicator of a character's personality. Don't we tend to watch a person's treatment of animals or their own pets as an indicator of their temperament? We even categorize people as "dog people" or "cat people" and assume certain character traits based on that characterization.

Finn and Lucy
I'm not sure where I fit in. My family had dogs and cats during my entire childhood and I loved them dearly, each and every one. As an adult, I have yet to own my own home and have lived, mostly, in apartments. This restricted my ability to own and provide space for pets as I'd prefer, so I've been a cat owner for the last decade or so. I'm not complaining. My two shelter cats, a brother and sister pair, are my pseudo kids. With no kids of my own, they have become an essential and beloved part of my little family unit.

Lady Bertram in
Mansfield Park (1999)
The story I'm working to polish off at the moment, The Worth of a Kiss, features a dowager countess with two pugs, Castor and Pollux. I have to admit that I thought a bit about Lady Bertram and her pug from Jane Austen's Mansfield Park when writing Lady Stamford. I have never been able to get Austen's character out of my head, and her attitude regarding her pugs was a perfect means for Austen to offer moral lessons regarding her character. Austen made it clear she disdained any woman that put her pets above her children, and thankfully my character, Nora, Lady Stamford, has a much more sensible relationship with her twin pugs. 

Do you like stories that feature animals? Do you have a favorite? If so, why does that one stick in your heart and mind?


Sarah Raplee said...

I do like stories that feature animals. There are too many to choose only one as my favorite.

I do love the dogs in many of Jenny Cruisie's stories and the disagreeable Bassett Hound in Susan Elizabeth Phillips' AIN'T SHE SWEET.

I think they are memorable because they are unique while being true to dog nature.

Christy Carlyle said...

Thanks for your comment, Sarah! Yes, I guess you're right, there are just too many to choose from. But it's interesting that nearly every person I've spoken to (in my small personal poll) says they like stories that feature pets or animals.

Paty Jager said...

My favorite books growing up all had to do with horses or equine. All the Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry books.

I like using animals in stories to show the human characters' traits. It shows a reader a lot how a character interacts with animals.

But I don't have animals with major roles in all my books.

Great post!

Judith Ashley said...

Hi Christy,

Once I finish editing and publishing Books Two and Three of The Sacred Women's Circle series I'll be back to work on Book Four - while at this point in the story there isn't a pet the children are persistent and now have an ally in the hero. Bet there is a rescued pooch adopted into the family before The End.

There are horses in Book Two because the hero owns a stud farm and races horses. Not really in the "pet" category.

Christy Carlyle said...

Thanks for your comments, Paty and Judith.

I think animals infuse a story with something special, whether they serve as a backdrop or setting--like a horse farm--or as a pet that reflects character.

Most people can relate to having animals around, and I think this helps us as readers connect with a story.

Thanks again for commenting! :)