Friday, December 3, 2010

Animals in Literature

I have a friend on Live Journal who does dog rescue. She posted the other day that she has, at this moment: Blind dogs, deaf dogs, incontinent dogs, dogs with heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, hyperthyroidism, neurological damage and epilepsy, dogs who are missing fur, teeth and toes, dogs with luxating patellas, hip displaysia and arthritis. That's a lot of problems. And a lot of dogs. And a lot of compassion on the person caring for animals that otherwise might have been euthanized.

Dogs have been kept as pets for centuries. They've been found in graves, surrounded by items intended to help them in the next life. They've been pictured in drawings, following humans, feasting with humans, hunting with humans. They've protected us, loved us, been loyal to us. How could we kill them off in literature?

And, yet, it's been done dozens and dozens of times. I'm one of those readers who dislike reading of animals of any kind dying. Sure, I can see something being mentioned briefly about getting meat for food, but I don't like to focus on the life and death struggle between man and animal. And I certainly dislike having an animal die for gratuitous reasons only. Especially an animal that I have come to care about in some way.

So, I avoid using them in that capacity. I do find it odd that I can watch a show or read a book where humans die, but I get angry and upset if an animal dies. Maybe it's because I realize that humans have the intellect to understand what is happening to them, while animals don't.

I rarely put animals into my writing. Why? Several reasons, really. I get too attached. I forget they are there. And...I don't want them to die. And I'm not the only one, from what I've heard. Readers don't like to see animals die. I remember being in a critique group once and the manuscript being read had a pack of dogs. The dogs didn't perform as their owner desired and he had the entire pack put to death. It was done to illustrate the characters lack of compassion or sympathy. But you should have heard the controversy and upset over that!

Kill the dogs? Never!

So, what about you? How do you feel as a reader when animals die? Do you use animals in your writing to convey a plot point? Or do you protect them at all costs, and allow them to live long, healthy, happy lives?

JennaKay Francis


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  2. I can't handle animal cruelty at all. I've walked out of movies and also have put books down if they describe in detail animal cruelty. A couple years ago I was aske if I'd read this one MG book that everyone was talking about. In th story a poor dog had been shot and left under a house. I couldn't stomach reading anymore yet the book went on to win another of awards.

    Once in a writing class, this one writer described in detail the killing of an animal. My writing mentor told her to stop as it was too much for her too.

    I might show dead animals as a part of the aftermath of war but never will I show cruelty

  3. I'm with you. A couple of my books have animals in them because I love animals. In Rebel in Blue Jeans, Rebel wants to be a vet and she rescues abandoned dogs and has horses and a cat. In Secrets I Have Kept, Jennifer has a dog that goes everywhere with her. She also has a horse. You'll be happy to know that all my animals survive very nicely. I read The Underneath which was a Newbery Honor Book, I think. I cried.

  4. Yeah, I've been known to leave a movie or drop a book because of the same thing, Kim. Course, I don't like cruelty in humans either, but for some reason animal cruelty just hits me in the core. I think it is because they are helpless, just trying to please their human in any way they can. Even horses in battle aren't there by choice. In my first book The Triskelion, the war stallion dies after running the Crown Prince to safety. But we had never met the stallion, it didn't have a name, etc. And the prince gave it last honors, as well. But even that bothered me. In another book in the series, I had a small dog that originally died trying to protect its mistress, but I changed it and that dog actually became a plot point. So, it all worked out for the best anyway.

  5. Since I'm not a dog person they usually don't figure in my books. I do write about cats and some of them are large cats. I do not like cruelty to animals unless it's a plot point. I did kill a war steed we knew in The Henge Series because I needed to show the evil actions of a pair of bullies. Also something belonging to a main character had to be destroyed to further the plot. Thera rea a pair of forstcats one of the main characters rescues when the mother dies.

  6. I'm also more of a cat person than a dog person, but I love all animals. I would never depict an animal being torture, yet I have battle scenes in my books.
    Now in my first book, Seabird, the heroine is barked at by a guard dog when she and her party first approach the stable of an inn. She laughs at the sweet interaction between the dog and her master.
    That night, the inn is attacked by people after the heroine. She discovers in the morning that the dog was killed defending the stable from the attackers. One of her companions takes time to sympathize with the owner over his loss.
    The scene is sad, but it is plot-relevant since it marks the first loss that the heroine experiences in that world. And we see nothing of the death itself.
    I wonder how you all feel about that.