If you’ve ever felt a connection to a favorite animal friend—an adorable pet hamster, a beloved dog, or the nervous possum who lives under your porch but will sit just outside of the circle of porchlight on summer evenings while you watch fireflies and nurse a beer—you know there’s something magical about it.
Fantasy fiction often makes this magic explicit, in the form of characters who can speak more or less directly to creatures great and small—we’ve gathered up a few of our favorite SFF animal lovers (and their familiars) below. And if we missed your favorite, come howl about them in the comments!
FitzChivalry Farseer, Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
In Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, the ability to communicate telepathically with animals is a unique ability known as Wit. Most people in the Six Duchies are extremely bigoted against those with the Wit, and some believe that developing the deep communication called Wit-Bonding chips away at your humanity. When the series’ protagonist, FitzChivalry, Wit-Bonds with a puppy named Nosy, his Master takes the dog and gives him away, breaking the bond and leaving Fitz distraught. As Fitz gets older he learns other Skills, but he continues to bond with animals, and eventually meets a wolf cub who insists on becoming his companion. The two Bond, and “Cub” shares his true name, NightEyes. Once Bonded, Nighteyes takes up residence in FitzChivalry’s head, providing a caustic lupine perspective on human society, but as the series continues it is this Bond that saves Fitz’ life far more than any human connection.
Daine, The Immortals Quartet by Tamora Piece
While many inhabitants of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall have the magical Gift, Daine Sarrasri is rare in her possession of wild magic: the ability to speak to animals and even eventually shapeshift into them. Over the course of the Immortals quartet, Daine learns to harness her wild magic in order to play, work, and fight alongside the creatures that she gets along with better than the “two-leggers” who turned on her after tragedy; and to battle such nightmarish immortals as Stormwings (human/bird hybrids embodying war and death) and spidrens. In her adventures, Daine runs with wolves, swims with dolphins, encounters a kraken, raises a dragon (named Kitten!), and even briefly resurrects some dinosaur skeletons. Yet even as she meets the king, the famed lady knight, and a powerful mage, it is her pony Cloud who helps coax her from her grief and rage to rejoin her own kind again, so she can act as a bridge between the wild world of animals and human “civilization.”
Cerúlia, A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff
All the Queens of Weirandale possess a special Talent, granted to them by the water spirit Nargis. Queen Cressa’s mother had a supernatural knack for strategy that served her royal family well, and Cressa’s own is the ability to manipulate memory, also quite handy. But the family assumes that the Princella Cerúlia is making her skill up: she claims to be able to speak to animals. But when the 8-year-old uncovers an assassins plot after a warning from her because her network of animal friends, the court has to take their youngest member more seriously. Cressa springs into action and flees with her daughter, but finally decides that hiding her with a common family is the safest path. A few memory tweaks later and he Queen leaves on a quest to root out the conspiracy, Cerúlia safe and her new “parents” believing the girl is their own adopted daughter. But when Cressa fails to return to her Queendom, Cerúlia finds it far easier to live among her animal friends than to fight to reclaim her throne. Will the girl be able to return to human society, and save her birthright from an oppressive neighboring kingdom?
Atticus O’Sullivan, The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne
When Atticus O’Sullivan finds Oberon at a home for rescued dogs, he realizes he’s found a soulmate. Oberon is an Irish Wolfhound who’s living at the rescue facility because he still hasn’t found a human who understands his needs. Once Atticus adopts him, however, the two bond telepathically, and Atticus learns what those needs are: if you want Oberon to allow himself to be bathed, you have to entertain him with a story. If you want him to be happy, you have to give him room to hunt—or, if you’re Atticus, you have to shapeshift into a fellow canine and hunt alongside him. Maybe most important: if you want to keep his respect, you have to honor Oberon’s passionate beliefs about breakfast meats. Is that so hard? In return for these basic courtesies Atticus gains a friend who will launch himself at enemies without hesitation. And in return for this loyalty, Atticus feeds his fren a special concoction called Immortali-Tea that keeps the 15-year-old dog in the shape of the three-year-old, and in return for him being a great character, Kevin Hearne maintains a Twitter account on his behalf.
Firekeeper, Firekeeper Saga by Jane Lindskold
Firekeeper is a human girl who was adopted and raised by wolves in the far north of her country. She can communicate with her family, and loves them, but when a human expedition ventures into her territory looking for a long-lost heir to the royal family, she chooses to leave her home and go with them to the kingdom of Hawk Haven. A wolf, Blind Seer, and a falcon, Elation, come with her, and she can talk with both of them. Much of the book follows Firekeeper’s attempt to assimilate to unfamiliar human society. She’s helped by a man named Derian Carter, who, essentially, becomes her humanity professor. But of course as in many books of this subgenre, it’s Firekeeper’s ability to commune with animalkind that ends up being her greatest strength, as she ends up entangled in court intrigue and her animal companions, who don’t fall for human guile, come to her aid.
Nakata, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (Translator)
Haruki Murakami tends to use cats the way Martin Scorsese uses swooping camera angles and obsessively detailed food preparation. They show up in nearly all of his work in one way or another. And also like all of his work, Kafka on the Shore reads like a dream someone’s relating, but, to try to sum up the cat-based plot points: an elderly man named Nakata, regarded as “simple” by most people who know him, has an intense and ongoing psychic communication with dozens of cats. The reader slowly understand that he can talk to much more easily with them than with people, and, probably, that the cats understand him as well and are trying to pass information to him. Meanwhile, a possibly mythical bad guy named Johnny Walker stalks through the book, murdering the cats, possibly tailing Nakata, and looming over the book’s main character, Crow, like a metaphor of every evil that could possibly mar the young man’s life.
Red Peter, “A Report to an Academy” by Franz Kafka
An inverse of this trope appears in Kafka’s short story, “A Report to An Academy”, in which one Red Peter delivers a lecture on his former life as an orangutan, and his current life as a human. Having been shot and caged during an expedition in Africa, Red Peter began to go mad, because for the first time in his life he had no freedom of movement. In order to keep his mind together, he studied the ship’s crew and his other captors and began imitating them. Five years later, as he gives his speech, he announces that he can’t actually talk about the topic the audience wants—his time as an ape—because he’s pretty much forgotten his old life. After five years of playing human, his past is a blur that he can’t really inhabit anymore. And, well, this is Kafka, so the whole scenario is alienated and elegiac AF.
Perrin, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
When Perrin meets a man named Elyas, he learns in short order: the man is a Wolfbrother, meaning he has a telepathic bond with wolves; He has a wolf pack; that wolf pack is pretty sure Perrin is also a Wolfbrother. Perrin gradually learns to communicate with wolves under the tutelage of a wolf named Hopper, who becomes a close friend to Perrin. Hopper is the one who instructs Perrin in the ways of The Wolf Dream, or Tel’aran’rhiod, where the man learns to respect his inner wolf nature, and to balance it with his humanity. The communion with wolves transforms Perrin. His eyes take on a gold sheen, and he realizes his senses have sharpened to the point that he can “smell” emotional shifts in other people.