Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Ricky and I have developed some daily rituals which usually begin with him coming by my bed and putting his cold nose somewhere on my skin to prod me up in the morning.   He usually has the courtesy to wait until I show signs of life, but not always.   The other day I quickly emerged from a pleasant slumber because he placed his cold nose directly onto my lips.  Some sputtering did ensue but I did oblige him with his morning butt scratch before he headed around to my wife’s side of the bed to repeat the process. 

In my youth I used to read a lot of fantasy fiction with main characters of wizards and warriors.  One of my favorite series is the Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin.  Often in these books, great wizards have animals, otherwise referred to as ‘familiars’.  For example in  Earthsea, Ged had an a small animal named Hoeg,  Merlin had an owl named Archimedes,  Harry Potter had an owl named Hedwig, and Dumbledore had a  phoenix named Fawkes.   These animals are bonded to their people very tightly.  Some wizards seem to draw their power directly from their familiars where others seem to share a small piece of their souls with them and in some ways are dim reflections of the person.  The animals are both a weakness and a strength.  They represent a vulnerable area that needs protecting as well as something linked but external that can draw the wizard back from the depths of darkness.  They are a friend when you have no others.

To an extent I think fantasy fiction largely imitates life.  True wizardry in books usually results from study and understanding how things work.  In our society, there are wizards all around us with varying degrees of skill and understanding.  Scientists, Medical doctors, Engineers, Computer Programmers, martial artists and musicians all study and work to master their fields.  What they do can seem like magic to those who have not undergone their training. 

People who make their field of study a priority over all other aspects of their lives often keep pets, and even those of us who are lower down the pole from mastery involve animals in our lives.  Animals in this world often perform similar roles to those in the fantasy realms.  I remember when my grandmother passed and I was sitting by myself, Kassa came and sought me out and lay down at my feet.  This, and Ricky’s wakeup nudges remind me of Ged’s Otak drawing Ged out of the dark spirit world and back to a brighter place.  My dogs always seem to be in orbit about us.  When food is involved it is a tight orbit and when not, it is a loose one.  They want to be in the room and will move room to room with you.  Like the ‘familiars’ in books, animals can also empower us.  Certainly some can be physically imposing, but they can also empower us socially.  Mrs Tale teller at often talks about how her dogs give her confidence in social situations.  They create instant conversation bridges and seem to thrive on the attention.  In situations where we may feel shy, they are confident.  When we feel closed off from the world, they seem to open it, and you end up talking strangers whose circles you would normally not enter.  Unlike human to human relationships, human to animal relationships are uncomplicated.  Their needs are generally basic. Food, water, health and exercise and structure are the basics.   They don’t complicate life with opposing opinions and political views. 

In many ways our animals are a reflection of ourselves.   Although I have no statistics to back it up, it is reasonable to assume that people who like to be fit and active will do physical and active things with their dogs.  People who like the more fancy things of life will be more likely to dress their dogs in nice collars and pay great attention to their dog’s grooming.  (Of course those prior two items are not mutually exclusive.)  At the same time, people who are neglectful and self-oriented by nature are more likely to have that reflected in the care of their animals and the bond will be weaker.

So as you enjoy your next fantasy novel, consider that perhaps we are all wizards in this world of varying degrees of skill and talent, bonded to our families and our familars, wandering through life both in pursuit of the mastery of our crafts and the betterment of our souls.