I've never been hugely enamored with animals. I like them if they like me and aren't too rowdy, but I was afraid of big dogs up until a couple of years ago, and my only experience with animals thus far has been with a beloved, spunky, opinionated cat we had for almost seventeen years.
Now that our kitty is gone, our contact with animals has mostly become theological debates on whether or not animals go to heaven (I'm inclined to think it's highly possible, but we have strongly divided opinions, and always end up saying we simply don't know.) and occasional cuddles with some kittens whenever we happen to see them.
Even though I never surrounded myself with animals, I recognize and treasure the intrinsic friendships that animals and humans can have. It's a special bond; and some of the animals in literature are heroes just as much as the humans are.
These are the animals I love the most in the books I've read. If you want to help me expand this list, I would love to hear your favorites as well. :)
The Black (The Black Stallion)
I put him up top because The Black is my favorite animal ever in the history of literature. I read the whole series (some books towards the end I wouldn't recommend) and loved every horse race he won. It didn't matter how many. It didn't matter that I knew he was going to win them. He was a wild, free spirit, and I love Alec's friendship with him. I've lost count of how many times I've read The Black Stallion, and though I haven't picked it up in years, I would read it in a heartbeat and live all the magic over again.
Strawberry/Fledge (The Magician's Nephew)
The London cab horse in The Magician's Nephew that got to see the dawn of Narnia, and become, not just a tired old cab horse, but a mighty fellow with powerful wings. He had the privilege of taking Digory to get the apple. Without Strawberry, the tree in Narnia would never have been planted, and Digory would never have been able to take the apple home to his mother; the wardrobe would never have been built--and the four Pevensies would never have gone to Narnia. So many things wouldn't have happened without this trusty old fellow. He deserves his meed of praise.
Jewel (The Last Battle)
While Jewel is a unicorn and not a horse, he really belongs in the horse category. Besides, I like unicorns. I like to think they could have existed, even though they don't, and I'm happily deceiving myself. He and Tirian made the best of friends, and they stood valiantly together in The Last Battle, and said goodbye to each other like old comrades.
"Dear King... Farewell. We have known great joys together. If Aslan gave me my choice I would choose no other life than the life I have had and no other death than the one we go to."
-The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis
Shadowfax (The Lord of the Rings)
Gandalf's horse. The beautiful white stallion that can gallop across the plains and take his master on important business--who comes at a whistle, and stands with Gandalf in the epic battles for Middle Earth. He deserves to be remembered, for he helped save Faramir, stood before the Nazgul when all other horses fled, and *spoiler* according to LOTR Wiki, accompanied Gandalf into the West. *end spoiler*
He's the best big black dog that ever kept an elderly Episcopalian priest company. As big as a refrigerator and only controlled by quoting Scripture verses, he brings spunk and love and heartache and new beginnings to Father Tim's routine existence. He also eats practically eats dollar bills.
Top (Mysterious Islands)
The loyal sidekick of Cyrus Harding, Top escapes with the five Union prisoners in this Jules Verne classic, and keeps them company as they make a life for themselves on the island they shipwreck on. He is a noble dog, one of the few that doesn't die half-way through the story, and is never happier than when he is with his master. Where Cyrus Harding goes, there Top shall follow--into all comfort or danger. A worthy fellow.
Colin (Prester John)
Another well beloved dog. Davie Crawfurd meets Colin when he arrives in Africa, and the two quickly make friends. In the midst of a dangerous native uprising, Colin follows Davie through capture and peril and walks miles to find him when Davie is forced to leave him behind.
Bran and Sceolan (The High Deeds of Finn MacCool, by Rosemary Sutcliff)
They were Finn's reward for rescuing the young babies of a warrior from a giant, and he treated them well. Another layer of epic wonder in the Irish legends of Finn MacCool.
Nugget (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, by Andrew Peterson)
He's fun. The little dog who became a giant, he's the beloved companion of Tink and Janner and Leely, and gets them in and out of trouble a million times. Invaluable help in battling the Fangs of Dang, and crippled Leely's special companion. The book leaves me rather befuddled, but Nugget is sure to delight any young dog lover.
1st Peter and 2nd Peter (Jane of Lantern Hill)
The Christmas Day Kitten (James Herriot's Animal Stories)
This was Junior B's favorite story when we read aloud to her, which threw the rest of us for a loop because it was such a tear-jerker. She would be sitting there in rapt attention, perfectly enjoying it, while the designated reader teared up and got a tight throat from the sadness of it. A lady loses her pet cat, and finds special redemption in this little kitten. (The kitten was the happy part). This tale is probably in the adult James Herriot books as well as the children's version, but I can't remember which one.
Jup (Mysterious Islands)
Jup the orangutan. He is not a talking animal, just a regular one, and when the five manly explorers wrestle him down and tame him, they train him to perform different tasks for them, and take a great liking to him. He has a simple-hearted loyalty and honesty in his animal way, and he's a wonderful animal companion.
Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo, and Still-Mo (title the same name)
The five red squirrels--these little fellows were our first introduction to Sam Campbell and his real-life adventures in Wisconsin. We loved them. We laughed over their antics, hoped that they would all stay together, and loved how their stories brought comfort to a group of young soldiers wrestling with the horrors of war. I highly recommend their acquaintance.
Badger (Wind in the Willows)
I loved Badger. He's an introvert of sophisticated tastes. A wise old fellow who knows how to help with problems, and has no nonsense about him. He saved Mole and Water Rat in the Wild Wood, and they spent a cozy night in his tunnel.
“Badger hates Society, and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing.”
-The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
Tolkien's eagles (The Hobbit)
How could we have a post about literary animals without Tolkien's eagles? Technically they're birds and not animals, but a post on The Best of Literary Birds is a little beyond the scope of this blog. :P The eagles annoyed me in The Hobbit because they stole all the thunder in the high intensity scenes, but I loved them in The Return of the King, and they grew much more lovable throughout my acquaintance with Tolkien. Now in The Hobbit I smile at them, because they save everything. And I must confess that when I watched the movies, more than once I was on the edge of my seat clinging to the fact that the Eagles must be showing up soon.
These are some of my favorite animals. All loved, and ones I have read about over and over again.
And I'm not averse to pets in real life either, far from it. I think they're a beautiful gift that God has given us--something that can bring great joy to our lives, and constant sources of love and fun. Someday I hope to be a happy writer with a husband and a rag-tag bunch of children, one cat, and one bearded dragon. The bearded dragon might never happen--but then again, you never know. It might.