Tag Archives: Forest

Animals threatened by humans

Many books explore the relationship between humans and animals. Pleasantly, in Emily Rodda’s Dog Tales and Dodie Smith’s The 101 Dalmatians, dogs keep pets. Human pets. Very happily.

Cover of Emily Rodda's Dog Tales

In Watership Down by Richard Adams and Toad Rage by Morris Gleitzman, careless drivers offer great threat to innocent animals by accident. (Flattened and dried cane toad relatives are stored like old vinyl records.)

The rats and the bandicoots are having a war over scarce food in Patricia Wrightson’s Moon-dark. The animals have to call on the moon spirit to help them. The human threat is short sightedness and ignorance – clearing a forest has caused a food shortage for animals already crowded by habitat loss.
In The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell, the human threat is greed. The very day her foal is born she knows

…her son would be hunted as she was and as her own cream-coloured mother had been before her. (Pg 5 Brumby)

Forest by Sonya Hartnett is about a cat and two kittens; lured into a cardboard box and abandoned by a mean human in the forest. They find they are surrounded by feral cats and have to learn the ways of the wild cat tribe. Kian cannot relinquish his hold on his old tame ways and sets out to lead the kittens in a return to domestic life. They have finally left the dark forest, crossing fields towards more heavily populated areas, when they find a path and coming toward them, down the path are two men.

It seemed to Kian there was no reason to run: running was the reaction of a wild cat, a frightened cat, a cat who had no need of the human’s respect, but Kian was not wild, and he would not let the kittens be wild. Soon he would bring them home, and the siblings’ lives would be misery if they learned the wild cats fear. (Pg 201 Forest)

But he was wrong. He should have been afraid. Very afraid, because the humans kill him. For fun. Similarly in The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Dodie Smith explores human cruelty.

Cover of 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith

            They went through the open gate and up the cobbled path, wagging their tails and looking with love at the little boy—and the bread and butter. The child smiled at them fearlessly and waved the bread and butter. And then, when they were only three or four yards away, he stooped, picked up a stone and slung it with all his force. He gave a squeal of laughter when he saw the stone strike Pongo, then went in and slammed the door. (Pg 67 Dalmatians)


Missis said: “The bad little boy was only bad because he had never known dogs.” And she was probably right. (Pg 131 Dalmatians)

In Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White about a pig called Wilbur and The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith about a pig called Babe, things are a bit more deliberate. Animals are dinner.

“That was a pig.”

“What will the boss do with it?”

“Eat it,” said Fly, “when it’s big enough.”

“Will he eat us,” said another rather nervously, “when we’re big enough?”

“Bless you,” said his mother. “People only eat stupid animals. Like sheep and cows and ducks and chickens. They don’t eat clever ones like dogs.” (Pg 17 Sheep-Pig)

The fact that humans can threaten animals: subdue them and have dominion over them, means that humans must be different to animals.  We’ll explore this idea in my next post.

Cover of Charlotte's web by EB White

How do they know? Epistomology.

Millionaire writer, Joe Eszterhas once wrote that audiences are no longer interested in character, pointing out that two of the biggest grossing films in the USA over the last few  decades have starred a giant ape and a mechanical shark. He’s correct about the shark, that being only glimpsed, but surely the ape had personality? His statement raises other questions, too. Do animals have a character or merely characteristics? Do humans impose personality upon a creature or can the animal be perceived to have its own interior life? Can animals demonstrate a theory of mind? Could we suppose, like Herman Melville that a whale could have ‘the rare virtue of a strong, individual vitality?’ (68.7 Moby Dick)

There are many issues at play with human relationships with animals. This is what lies behind my books, The Ektek Trilogy. I have pondered upon the different aspects of what it is to be animal – not only for humans.

One aspect of animal character, epistemology, is fascinating. What do animal characters know and understand, and how do they come to know it, especially about the human world? Are things named at all in the animal kingdom? Certainly they are in fiction but then, fiction is written by the human animal.

…the other lifted a dark stick — a stick, Kian saw, that must not be a stick, for it uttered a boom of noise. The noise struck a raven and the bird somersaulted, its great wings spread wide. (pg 202 Forest by Sonya Hartnett)

How do some animal characters know the names for stick, trees, sheep, and yet not know the names for other things, like gun? How can their perceptions appear consistent in the world of their books? In the world I have created for Ektek, the animals use computers but they cannot understand the sounds of human speech.

Dogs can never speak the language of humans and humans can never speak the language of dogs. But many dogs appear to understand almost every word humans say, while humans seldom learn to recognise more than half a dozen barks, if that. And barks are only a small part of the dog language. A wagging tail can mean so many things. Humans know that it means a dog is pleased, but not what a dog is saying about his pleasedness. (Really, it is very clever of humans to understand a wagging tail at all, as they have no tails of their own.) Then there are the snufflings and sniffings, the pricking of ears—all meaning different things. And many, many words are expressed by a dog’s eyes. (Pg 52, 101 Dalmatians)

How can we know what an animal knows?

We’re animals. We know what we know!