Books

An­i­mals have al­ways been a favourite of au­thors – whether they’re used as pets, as sym­bols, or as the walk­ing, talk­ing main char­ac­ters. Tabitha Barda takes a look at some of the book world’s most fa­mous lit­er­ary crit­ters

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Ten fa­mous lit­er­ary crit­ters.

Richard Parker, the tiger in Life of Pi by Yann Mar­tel

Fans of the 2012 hit movie will have al­ready been puz­zled by Richard Parker, won­der­ing ex­actly where the real an­i­mal ‘ac­tor’ ends and the fright­en­ingly re­al­is­tic CGI tiger be­gins. But those who haven’t seen the film ver­sion of the story of Pi – a young boy who sur­vives a ship­wreck, only to find him­self stranded on a lifeboat with a Ben­gal tiger – will know Mar­tel’s tale throws up some very dif­fer­ent ques­tions. De­picted as a real an­i­mal that acts in ways true to his species, Parker’s fe­roc­ity forces Pi to stay alert and iron­i­cally helps keep him alive. But he also sym­bol­ises Pi’s most an­i­mal in­stincts – in his des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion, Pi must do things he’d have found un­think­able in his nor­mal life. Or is Parker just a guise for Pi him­self, in­vented to make the bru­tal­ity of his time at sea eas­ier to stom­ach? The ques­tion haunts the book, as does this eerie fact: Mar­tel chose the name Richard Parker af­ter the un­can­nily high num­ber of re­al­life sailors with the same moniker who are recorded as com­ing to a sticky end at sea. As Mar­tel says, “So many vic­timised Richard Park­ers has to mean some­thing”.

Roger the dog inMy fam­ily and Other An­i­mals by Ger­ald Dur­rell

This au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal work by Ger­ald Dur­rell is full of de­scrip­tions of the many cute an­i­mals the 10-year-old bud­ding nat­u­ral­ist col­lects dur­ing his child­hood on Corfu, but none of them is as lovable as his canine best friend, Roger. Just as chaotic and ec­cen­tric as the rest of the Dur­rells, Roger makes a spec­ta­cle of him­self from the mo­ment they land on the Greek is­land, in­sti­gat­ing a canine riot from the cab by bark­ing at the lo­cal street dogs. But it’s Ger­ald’s last­ing bond with the pooch that’s the most touch­ing: “He was the per­fect com­pan­ion... af­fec­tion­ate with­out ex­u­ber­ance, brave with­out be­ing bel­liger­ent... and full of good-hu­moured tol­er­ance for my ec­cen­tric­i­ties.”

Baloo the bear in The Jun­gle Book by Rud­yard Ki­pling

Un­like the fun-loving, Bear Necessities-singing cartoon bear of the Dis­ney film ver­sion, the Baloo of Ki­pling’s orig­i­nal book is a se­ri­ous, sleepy old soul, who helps to save lit­tle man-cub Mowgli from Shere Khan the tiger and teaches him the Law of the Jun­gle. Baloo is a strict mas­ter whose voice rum­bles “like thun­der on a hot night” when he scolds Mowgli. The two have a tem­pes­tu­ous re­la­tion­ship, with Baloo’s bad-cop rou­tine prompt­ing a grumpy Mowgli to openly favour the more le­nient Bagheera, the black pan­ther, over “fat old Baloo”. The bear’s feel­ing are hurt by Mowgli’s churl­ish­ness but, as with any par­ent-child dy­namic, he’s will­ing to put up with more than a few bruises while look­ing af­ter his ward. And, as he tells Mowgli in the quaint lan­guage of the 1894 text, “One day thou wilt re­mem­ber me”.

Cheshire cat in Alice in

Won­der­land by Lewis Car­roll

The smil­ing Cheshire cat is one of the most en­dur­ing im­ages from Car­roll’s topsy-turvy non­sense world, and the fe­line is both a source of so­lace and a puck­ish cause of mis­chief for Alice. A cu­ri­ous out­sider fig­ure, the cat ap­pears and dis­ap­pears at will, in­ter­mit­tently teas­ing or vex­ing Alice with baf­fling philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions and rid­dles. His un­set­tling habit of fad­ing away into noth­ing but a grin has made him one of the lit­er­ary world’s most iconic crea­tures.

Mr Toad in The Wind in the Wil­lows

by Ken­neth Gra­hame

With­out the jolly, ram­bunc­tious and im­pul­sive Mr Toad, the ac­tion of The Wind in the Wil­lows would never have pro­gressed be­yond Mole and Ratty shar­ing a few pic­nics on the river­bank. The in­cor­ri­gi­ble am­phib­ian con­vinces his wood­land friends to join him on all sorts of reck­less ad­ven­tures, un­til his ob­ses­sion with cars even­tu­ally leads to his im­pris­on­ment for danger­ous driv­ing. Toad’s dra­matic es­cape from jail and the re­cap­ture of his man­sion from the weasels con­sti­tute the cli­max of the novel. Vain, nar­cis­sis­tic, but with a heart in the right place, Toad is the epitome of a lovable rogue and the most charis­matic char­ac­ter of this clas­sic chil­dren’s book.

Black Beauty in Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

There aren’t many au­to­bi­ogra­phies penned by a fic­tional horse, and this is with­out a doubt the most fa­mous. It be­gins re­count­ing Black Beauty’s life as a colt, de­scrib­ing how the bit feels and get­ting his first horse­shoes, and goes on to de­lin­eate his treat­ment at the hands of var­i­ous own­ers. Writ­ten by an­i­mal-lover Anna Sewell in the late 1800s – a time when horses were used in in­dus­try and of­ten mis­treated – it was in­tended to in­duce “sym­pa­thy, and an un­der­stand­ing treat­ment of horses”. Her vivid de­pic­tion of the painful bear­ing rein, which used to el­e­vate a car­riage horse’s head, led to it be­ing abol­ished in Vic­to­rian Eng­land and, with nu­mer­ous film adap­ta­tions and 50 mil­lion copies sold, the novel is one of the best­selling books of all time.

Nana in Peter Pan by JM Bar­rie

If you thought the canine nanny in the cartoon ver­sion of Peter Pan was artis­tic li­cence on be­half of Dis­ney, you cer­tainly aren’t alone. But the pooch em­ployee is in both Bar­rie’s orig­i­nal 1904 play and the 1911 novel – a New­found­land hired as a nurse­maid by Mr and Mrs Dar­ling so that they can keep up with the Jone­ses, while also sav­ing a bit of cash. Nana sleeps in her ken­nel in the nurs­ery with­Wendy, John and

Michael, and al­though she doesn’t talk or do any­thing be­yond the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of a dog, she acts with ap­par­ent un­der­stand­ing of her du­ties. It’s fiercely pro­tec­tive Nana who catches Peter Pan’s shadow when he flies into the nurs­ery, which is the first step on the chil­dren’s jour­ney to Nev­er­land.

Eey­ore in Win­nie the Pooh by AA Milne

While the slow and silly Pooh might seem the ob­vi­ous an­i­mal to choose from Milne’s books, Eey­ore the old grey don­key is a de­light­fully off­beat char­ac­ter for chil­dren’s fic­tion. An out­sider fig­ure, he writes po­etry, his pinned-on tale is al­ways fall­ing off, and his gen­er­ally cyn­i­cal at­ti­tude is an amus­ing con­trast to the hy­per­pos­i­tiv­ity of the other char­ac­ters. Liv­ing in an area of the Hun­dred Acre­Wood that’s la­belled as “Eey­ore’s Gloomy Place: Rather Boggy and Sad”, he might be mopey, but he’s also kind, and lovable, in a prickly sort of way.

The whale in Moby Dick by Her­man Melville

This 1851 mas­ter­piece is classed as one of the Great Amer­i­can Nov­els, and tells the story of a sen­si­tive sailor, Ish­mael, who embarks on a whale-ship voy­age com­manded by the mono­ma­ni­a­cal Cap­tain Ahab. The Cap­tain is ob­sessed with the idea of killing Moby Dick, a leg­endary gi­ant white sperm whale that in­jured him on a pre­vi­ous voy­age, and whose fa­tal at­tacks on other ships over the years have been seen by many to be con­scious acts of vi­o­lence. Al­though we have no ac­cess to the whale’s thoughts or feel­ings, he sym­bol­ises many things to dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters, re­veal­ing hid­den as­pects of their per­son­al­i­ties. At the end of the novel the whale kills ev­ery­one ex­cept for Ish­mael, and read­ers are left to make up their own mind as to what the enig­matic crea­ture rep­re­sents; vast and un­know­able, all-per­va­sive and in­vin­ci­ble, he’s seen by some to be an al­le­gor­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of na­ture, fate or even the uni­verse it­self.

The cat in The Cat in the Hat book se­ries by Dr Seuss

The epony­mous cat of the Dr Seuss rhymed chil­dren’s books is an­other mis­chievous fic­tional fe­line. Cre­ated by Dr Seuss – aka Theodor Geisel – as a re­sponse to a US pe­ri­od­i­cal’s 1954 ar­ti­cle com­plain­ing about the limited il­lus­tra­tions in stu­dent read­ing books, it uses rep­e­ti­tion, rhyme and vivid pic­tures to help ex­pand chil­dren’s vo­cab­u­lary. The cheeky, chaos-caus­ing cat in his iconic striped hat has since cap­tured the hearts and minds of chil­dren every­where, and was even quoted in the US Se­nate when a politi­cian com­pared an im­mi­gra­tion bill with the mess cre­ated by none other than the cat in the hat him­self.

Al­though he doesn’t talk, Richard Parker, the tiger in Life

of Pi, is a com­plex char­ac­ter

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