As a child I could talk to animals. Really I could.
While I was somewhat awkward with kids my own age (something I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of) I was always completely comfortable around furry beasts and I spent most of my time with my two cats, Mittens and Violet. I would have sworn we could communicate telepathically and I remember having quite involved conversations with them (just like Satoru Nakata). Eventually I began to channel my cats in everyday life e.g. eating food directly from my plate, having an obsession with tinned tuna and prowling around everywhere on all fours making meowling noises. The best part of this story is that my mum is such a rock star that once I explained to her why I had to go about life in this way—so I could better understand or rather be a cat—and she let me go ahead unhindered as she didn’t want to limit my creativity.
Luckily (or perhaps unluckily?) I grew out of it. Now if I want to talk to animals I hit the books. Here’s eight of my favourite anthropomorphic characters.
#1 Mr Fox from Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
Mr Fox has to be included on this list because frankly, he’s fantastic! And what makes him fantastic is he’s just like a real person—with flaws and fears and insecurities. On the one hand he is a thief and a murderer (think of all those geese and chickens), yet on the other he is endearingly in love with his wife, is a great dad and is determined to save not only his own family but all his underground animal neighbours. Dahl’s stories with their cruel wit and morbid subject matter makes us see that the line drawn between black and white is all shades of grey (just maybe not fifty).
‘I think I have this thing where everybody has to think I’m the greatest. And if they aren’t completely knocked out and dazzled and slightly intimidated by me, I don’t feel good about myself.’
#2 Snowball from Animal Farm by George Orwell
You can’t go past Animal Farm when talking about talking animals. Snowball is a democratic socialist and a pretty forward thinking guy (ah, pig) gaining supporters on Animal Farm through his smarts and compassion. Once revolutionising the farm, Snowball doesn’t just rest on his laurels. Instead, he dreams of spreading the rebellion across England until all animals are free. Snowball is largely based on Leon Trotsky (incidentally Trotsky is a fabulous name for a pig) who led the opposition against Stalin (represented in the book by Napoleon).
‘The flag was green, Snowball explained, to represent the green fields of England, while the hoof and horn signified the future Republic of the Animals which would arise when the human race had been finally overthrown.’
#3 Mr Toad of Toad Hall from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
I love all the critters in Wind in the Willows but Mr Toad takes the cake—and probably eats it too. A bit of a fop in his Harris Tweed suits, Toad, while intelligent and resourceful is self-centred and lacking entirely of self-control. But his heart’s in the right place and that’s what makes him such a loveable rogue.
‘All the animals cheered when he entered, and crowded round to congratulate him and say nice things about his courage, and his cleverness, and his fighting qualities; but Toad only smiled faintly, and murmured, “Not at all!” Or, sometimes, for a change, “On the contrary!”’
#4 Fiver from Watership Down by Richard Adams
Fiver was always my favourite bunny because he was the runt of the warren and half mad besides. Sure he wasn’t a leader like Hazel or a fighter like Bigwig, but being a seer is cooler than both of those things anyway. Plus he’s really the one who kicked off the whole story, predicting the immanent destruction of the rabbits and their home.
‘Rabbits live close to death and when death comes closer than usual, thinking about survival leaves little room for anything else.’
#5 The Turtles from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles conceived by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
Is it just me, or is the entire concept of pizza eating, man sized turtles who also happen to be ninjas the weirdest thing ever to become popular? Saying that I’m glad the comic book parody was a success because I grew up with the TV series and am a huge fan—to the point that I fought my way through massive crowds to see the creators and voice actors of the new series in a panel at Comic-Con earlier this year. On a side note I am in love with the work of head writer, Brandon Auman on the current series.
While I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Leo, I couldn’t really decide on only one turtle because they’re all are important to the team—so here’s the new theme song which tells you a bit about each of the heroes in a half shell (turtle power!).
#6 Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Charlotte is the cheese to Wilbur’s macaroni, the horizon to his sky and the best to his friend. She is the one with all the brains and it’s her smarts that save him in the end. Since reading this book as a child I have become a complete spider convert—a good thing too considering I spend most of my time in Australia—and I have many a spidery companion living in the cornices of my house, mostly named Charlotte (or Charlie if they look more masculine) in honour of this gorgeous character.
‘“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”’
#7 Aslan from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The true hero of the Chronicles of Narnia I chose this book because it’s the first time I met Aslan. Actually the book gave me nightmares—and not in the way you would think. Growing up around so many Italians I kind of got the whole lion/Jesus/resurrection metaphor and my worst fear at that age was that I would get stigmata. Saying that I loved Aslan—his kindness, his bravery, his forgiving nature and also his ferocity.
‘…one day you’ll see him and another you won’t’
#8 Various cats from Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Kind of a crazy book, Murakami said himself in an interview:
‘Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write.’
So there is this loveable old guy in the book called Satoru Nakata who may or may not be different parts of the same person as Kafka, the books main protagonist (confusing, I know). Anyway after an incident during WWII Nakata has developed the ability to communicate with cats. Through him we find out the personalities of the novel’s kitty characters, Goma, Otsuka, Kawamura, Mimi, Okawa and Toro. Murakami has stated he has a fondness for cats and has always had them around which is why I suppose he is spot on when capturing their personalities.
‘“What I think is this: You should give up looking for lost cats and start searching for the other half of your shadow.”’
What are some of your favourite talking animals? Which anthropomorphic tales do you think are most memorable? Let me know in the comments.