The Pale (SO excited! very close to publication day!), as you might know, features dog/wolf-like creatures who can think, talk, debate, take action, and make decisions about how best to live in the damaged post-Cataclysm world they have inherited. These characters are called canini and they are very close to my heart.
Talking dogs is not such a new idea, I know, but I am forced to ponder my protagonists in the light of two books I have just read. (And in considering the canini’s part in the two planned sequels to The Pale!)
These two books are separated in genre (philosophy vs fantasy) and in time (2002 vs 2017), reflecting quite different understandings of the place of sentient non-humans in our lives and in the physical world.
In one, JK Rowling, channeling that delightful wizard Newt Scamander, wonders about the status of ‘beasts’ versus ‘beings’:
“We now ask ourselves, which of these creatures is a ‘being’ – that is to say, a creature worthy of legal rights and a voice in the governance of the magical world – and which is a ‘beast’?”*
In the other, philosopher Raimond Gaita outlines his thinking about the consciousness of animals, dogs in particular. Gaita avers that one fundamental difference between human consciousness and that of dogs is knowledge of death:
“Because animals have no reflective knowledge of death, they cannot dread it and if they could, they could not take comfort from the fact that they are not alone in their mortality. It is a fact utterly basic to human life that we are consoled by the knowledge that others suffer as we do and die as we must.”**
I know that the canini function more as beings than as beasts in The Pale, because they are certainly worthy of rights and of a say in their future. They also think about the value of their lives, the work of a good life, and the inevitability of death. The human-ish characters in The Pale – at least some of them – are perhaps more beastly. I need to ponder and reflect a bit more. The fundamental beast/being contrast is an idea that I am already exploring.
*Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander (JK Rowling), Bloomsbury, London, 2017, p. xviii.
**The Philosopher’s Dog, Raimond Gaita, Text, Melbourne, 2002, p. 72.