Best friends: Animal-human partnerships in SFF

May 27, 2014 fantasy, science fiction, Top Ten Tuesday 14


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s topic is free – it’s the blogger’s choice. 

For this Freebie TTT, I decided to feature my favorite animal-human partnerships in fantasy and science fiction. Many of the “animals” in fantasy novels are intelligent or at least semi-intelligent beings, not “mere” animals, so these partnerships are often friendships or bonds between true equals, rather than the type of relationship we often have with our pets.

As usual, these are in no particular order.

Cover art by Michael Whalen for Dragonwriter: A Tribute to Anne McCaffrey and Pern

  • Pernese dragons and their riders. Anne McCaffrey’s dragons and dragonriders were probably my first introduction to the now-popular trope of nonhuman-human partnerships. I loved the idea of these smart, totally loyal dragons and their dedicated riders — especially white dragon Ruth and Jaxom.  I’m also rather fond of the dragons’ smaller, less intelligent cousins, the firelizards. While many are simply rather flighty pets, Harper Menolly has hers well-trained.
  • Kazul and Cimorene, particularly in Dealing with Dragons (Patricia Wrede.) Princess Cimorene runs away and ends up working for Kazul. In a fun twist on the usual humans-in-charge thing, Cimorene is more Kazul’s human than Kazul is her dragon.
  • Daine, Cloud, and the wolves. In Tamora Pierce’s Wildmage series, Daine, a shapeshifting wildmage who can speak to (and alter) any animal, is befriended and protected by her pony, Cloud. In the second book in the series, she spends a great deal of time with the wolf pack who took her in after her mother was killed; she, her teacher Numair, the wolves, and the other animals of the valley team up to overcome a dangerous magician.
  • Kel, Peachblossom, Jump, and the sparrows. (Tamora Pierce, the Protector of the Small quartet) Knight-in-training Keladry Mindelan can’t speak to animals like Daine can, but she befriends them anyway – particularly those whom no one else wants, like the abused warhorse Peachblossom and the one-eared dog, Jump. Although they are essentially “just” animals (albeit smarter than their fellow horses, dogs, and sparrows simply by virtue of living around the Palace where Daine, the Wildmage, lives), they each forge mutually beneficial partnerships with Kel.
  • Dolphins and humans.  I have two favorite SFF novels involving humans and dolphins in partnership. In Arthur C. Clarke’s Dolphin Island, dolphins save Johnny’s after an airship crash, carrying him to an island where a scientist is researching and learning to communicate with the dolphins. When disaster strikes, the dolphins again help Johnny when he goes to seek help.  In Anne McCaffrey’s The Dolphins of Pern, dolphins of enhanced intelligence — descended from those brought to Pern by the original colonists — try to reestablish the broken partnership with the humans who have forgotten them, by befriending and training young Readis.
  • Rosie and her animal friends. In Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s End, Rosie is able to speak with animals, and the animals in that world are, while definitely animals, also smart in their own ways, and usually interested in helping Rosie. This is crucial to the plot, as it’s the animals who mainly help Rosie defeat the evil fairy, Pernicia, in order to save both her own life and that of her friend Peony.
  • Beka Cooper and Pounce, Achoo, and the pigeons.  Beka, a policewoman in Tortall’s capital some 200 years before Daine and Kell, can speak to pigeons, who carry the ghosts of the dead. She also has a black cat, Pounce, who is more than he seems, and Achoo, a mistreated scenthound whom Beka rescued from an abusive handler.  Achoo is all dog — nothing supernatural about her — so theirs is one of the few fantasy animal-human partnerships that could and does exist in the real world.  
  • [ETA] Laurence and Temeraire.  The partnership between Capt. Will Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire (or between Temeraire and his Captain, as Temeraire sees it) is really a partnership of equals, even more so than is usual among the Aerial Corps. They share a bond of deep, mutual love and respect, and in Temeraire’s case this is magnified because he essentially imprinted on Laurence in the weeks after hatching. But they don’t see eye to eye on every issue, and occasionally they even disagree, though not usually for long. Many other Captains in the Corps, and no few of the lower ranks, also see dragons as partners, but not equals:  the humans are always in charge; the dragons are, in essence, slaves or indentured servants, though most are respected and even loved by their captains and crews.  Chinese society, on the other hand, offers a different and far more equal relationship, where dragons are a valued and revered part of society, earning salaries and owning their own property.

    Cover art by Jody Lee for Mercedes Lackey’s Owlflight

    Mercedes Lackey really loves the human-nonhuman/animal partnership trope, and uses it frequently in a number of her series. Most notable are the Velgarth books (the Valdemar books and related series), which feature:

    • Companions and their Heralds.  While they look like white horses, Companions have human intelligence and (usually) more wisdom than the young teens they usually Choose to be Heralds. As their Chosen grow and mature, the relationship moves to a more equal partnership, but the deep bond of love between Companion and Chosen remains. As for why they have the form of horses, well, it’s transportation and fighting partner in one. Most Heralds can mindspeak with their Companions; a few cannot do so well or clearly.
    • Hawkbrothers and their bondbirds. The secretive Tayledras, or Hawkbrothers, often pair with bondbirds, birds whose ancestors were bred and magically altered for greater size and intelligence. Though not generally as intelligent as adult humans, the bondbirds can reason and communicate with their bondmates telepathically, and a few are capable of rudimentary abstract thought.
    • Hawkbrothers and hertasi. The Hawkbrothers often share their Vales and territory with hertasi, intelligent lizard-like beings. Hertasi love to make things and be helpful; in return for serving in the Vale, they get the Hawkbrothers’ protection and creativity as well as safe places to live in a wilderness full of dangerous magical creatures. It’s clearly a partnership based on mutual respect, there’s no exploitation or lack of respect, and the hertasi are not “servants”.  
    • Gryphons and humans. In later books, intelligent gryphons are team up with Hawkbrothers and their long-lost kindred, the k’Leshya — not through psychic bonds like the bondbirds, but through friendship and for mutual benefit.
    • Amberdrake and Skandranon are human and gryphon, respectively, and they forge a friendship as tight as close siblings. Their story is told in the Black Gryphon trilogy, which takes place thousands of years before the other books in the series — not many generations after the gryphons were created, and while their creator is still living (in the first book, anyway.)
    • Tarma and Warrl. In Oathbound, Tarma’s oathsister Kethry tries to call a familiar, only to have Warrl, a neuter kyree, turn up and choose Tarma instead. Kyree are another intelligent species of Velgarth. Built like a cross between a very large wolf and one of the great cats, kyree are born male, female, or neuter. The neuters are respected in the pack, and often become scholars, storykeepers, etc., but sometimes they choose to roam alone. Warrl and Tarma can speak mind-to-mind; actually, he can mindspeak pretty much anyone he chooses to. He becomes a third partner in their little mercenary band, and a firm friend.

    I’m sure there are tons I’ve missed, so what are some of your favorites?

    14 Responses to “Best friends: Animal-human partnerships in SFF”

    1. Katherine P

      I don’t read too much fantasy so I don’t have any personal favorites but this gives me some great places to start. Spindle’s End has been on my radar for a bit for reason I can’t remember but it definitely sounds like a good one to pick up.

    2. JaimeLH TheWorldfortheReading

      I love this topic. Tamora Pierce always includes excellent human/animal friendships. I had read many books in the Pern series but I wasn’t aware of the one about dolphins, that sounds great.

    3. Cheryl @ Tales of the Marvelous

      Wow, I’m not sure I’ve ever agreed with SO many of someone’s top ten Tuesday list… 🙂 I’m not very familiar with the dolphin examples or the Mercedes Lackey books, but on all the rest, YES! Although I have to say, as cool as Pounce is, he was even better when he was Faithful and hung out with Alanna…he was a little more cattish and just a bit more fun!

      • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

        I love Pounce/Faithful! And the fact that he hung out with Beka was cool; she wasn’t destined to change the world, just make a small part of it a little better. It said, without saying so, that sometimes the gods of that world were just as interested in the little people as the world-shakers.

        Cheryl, you might enjoy the Mercedes Lackey books… but start with some of her older or mid-career ones, because recent ones have felt a bit “dashed off” and they wouldn’t be a good introduction. I love the Arrows of the Queen trilogy, but you can tell it’s her first series by the idealism. In later books, she keeps the ideals but her worldview becomes a little more pragmatic. Still, they make a good starting point for introducing the country of Valdemar and the world of Velgarth.

    4. Stephanie Shepherd

      I LOVE this topic and I don’t think I’ve read a single book on your list! Such a treasure trove to explore:) I like the dragon-Human friendships in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. I also like all the animal human friendships in the Chronicles of Narnia.

      • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

        Aaaaggghhh! I KNEW there was a partnership I’d left out! And I had it on my handwritten draft list, too! Well, I’ll edit it back in, since it was supposed to be there in the first place. Yes, absolutely, Laurence and Temeraire. I hadn’t thought of the Narnia ones, but of course you’re right — particularly Bree and Shasta.

    5. Angela's Anxious Life

      I have been so busy this week I forgot about TTT. I love your list. Personally, I really love animals and their human companions even in real life. I play Dungeons and Dragons and have a minion which is a cat mirrored off my real life cat Pippin (of course I am a sorcerer).

      • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

        I’ve been so busy, I probably should have forgotten about TTT! But it was fun, so I’m glad I remembered. I played D&D in college, but don’t have anyone to play with around here. It was fun; I wouldn’t mind getting back into it. As I recall, I played a halfing thief character.

    6. Bea

      I haven’t read most of these but I do read and enjoy the Pern books and agree with you about the dragons and firelizards. I would have liked to see more of the dolphins in later books.

      If you like horses, you should give Sabaska’s Tale by J.A. Campbell, about a teenage girl and her horse who’s more than a horse.

      Fun topic. 🙂

      • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

        Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll definitely look into it! Since you read the Pern books, I’m curious: how do you like Todd’s books in comparison to Anne’s? I’m behind on his, and had been finding the shift in style and approach a bit jarring. I’m wondering if I should keep trying.

    7. Becki @ The Flutterby Room

      That is a really great list and a really cool topic. Tamora Pierce really does write some great animal/human relationships – though I have to confess I have a soft spot for Alanna and Faithful’s, probably because it was the first I read. And yes, Princess Cimorene and Kazul’s relationship was brilliant!