Started by Fantasy Review Barn, now run by Fantasy Faction. Tough Traveling is back my friends! Yes, the best fantasy specific meme around is finally up and running again. So join us every week as we tour the fantasy genre. From high to low, from classics to new releases, from epic to urban; each month, we will guide you in search of a different trope, theme or cliché. For a history of what came before check the tag above.
This weeks topic is Non- Human Protagonists
The Tough Guide assures us that HEROES are ‘mythical beings, often selected at birth, who perform amazing deeds of courage, strength and magical mayhem, usually against all odds.’ Furthermore, ‘if you get to meet a so-called Hero, she/he always turns out to be just another human, with human failings, who has happened to be in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time, more likely)’.
HOWEVER. For good or for evil, some of fantasy’s most memorable Heroes are not human at all. Some look human, but aren’t. Others may look monstrous, but be ‘human’ on the inside. Others still never pretend to be anything other than what they are – and why should they? In nearly all cases, we are likely to Learn Something from them – usually that appearances can be deceiving, or that the concepts of both ‘Human’ and ‘Hero’ are entirely subjective.
This week’s list proved a bit tougher for me to fill. I had two examples leap immediately to mind (well three, but I have never read Redwall). Then I had a few that I went back and forth on a bit more; is a fantasy creature that acts human but looks slightly different really non-human? It caused me troubles as I looked at Hobbits, Dark Elfs, and even Angels. As you will see, eventually I decided to include a few of these else my list would be a bit short. So here it goes.
Rabbits – Watership Down by Richard Adams – Rabbits! Definitely non human and if I have to guess they will probably be the most represented non-human protagonist on the list.
I will be honest, I have not read this since high school so my details are a bit fuzzy. I believe Hazel helped rescue some lady rabbits from the bunny version of Prince John. Was Watership Down the place they settled or the place they ran from? I don’t remember. I think I cried though. Probably. Oh well, it had rabbits. COUNT IT!
Maurice – The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett – How many books come from a throwaway joke? The first YA adult book Pratchett wrote from the Discworld series was a delightful take on the Pied Piper tale. Say you are a cat chasing a mouse and when you go for the kill your prey starts talking to you. What can you do? Eating it is no longer an option for a cat who never wanted to have a concience.
So Maurice took it upon himself to find a talented young orphan with a pipe, organize the mice, and run the most impressive scam Discworld has ever seen from town to town. A quick invasion of mice followed by a boy leading them to river; wash, rinse, and repeat. Nothing can go wrong, right?
Mr. Fox – Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl – A childhood favorite and one of the first chapter books I read to my own son. Mr. Fox is a clever little guy but upsetting three greedy farmers finally costs him. After getting his tail shot off he hunkers down as the farmers lay siege to his hole and attempt to starve him (and his family) out.
Did anyone watch the movie? Was it any good? I was afraid, too many other childhood memories ruined by bad Hollywood.
Maia – The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – I struggled with this one because the elves and goblins act so human; there was more of a race allegory here than true aliveness. But it is a beautiful book so I am including it.
A simple story of a young man unprepared for a position he was never supposed to have. But making the most of it the protagonist quickly endears himself to the reader. A great book for someone not afraid of darker tones but not wanting a truly dark book. If you missed it a few years back do yourself a favor and get back to it.
(Name Withheld) –We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – Another one I almost didn’t include because it would involve spoilers. And I guess (name withheld) isn’t really the protagonist but is still a major character. And this book isn’t a fantasy book in anyway. So why I am I including it? Because sometimes when you love a book you have to give it a shoutout and it does loosely fit with this list so consider this a shoutout.
As in, go pick up this book.
Aziraphale and Crowley –Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett – An Angel and a Daemon of hell, always working against each other but coming to a certain understanding. And as they share page time almost equally that should count as TWO examples for those keeping score.
It is almost time for a reread of this one. It has been way too long.
Breq – Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – Breq is a spaceship. Specifically she is the last bit of the spaceship living in the body of just one zombie soldier when she used to have an almost unlimited number of ancillary eyes.
A spaceship. I think that is the least human thing I could end a list on.
As always, thank you for stopping by and please check out the other travelers this month.