We all love our furry (or not furry) companions, but how should they be used in stories? What separates animal companions from traditional side characters? Is R2-D2 an animal companion? We answer these bold questions and more on this episode of the podcast – plus we decide that Spot is the superior animal companion of Star Trek. When will someone write us An Android and His Cat?
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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.
Astromech Spy, the story of R2-D2 with subtitles
Shadowfax, Gandalf’s horse
To Build a Fire by Jack London
Spot, Data’s pet cat
Fawkes, Dumbledore’s Phoenix
And, as a special bonus, Bella the rat. She’s totally an animal companion, and Lillian had to retrieve her from the recording space before Oren could start this episode.
Generously transcribed by Perspiring Writer. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
Intro: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast, with your hosts: Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle. [opening song]
This episode is brought to you by our patrons: Ari Ashkenazi, and: professor of Political Theory in Star Trek, Kathy Ferguson.
Chris: This is the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Chris, and with me is…
Chris: And we’re going to be talking about those cute, furry things that follow your hero around.
Oren: You mean the pet rat that I had to get out of this room before I could start recording? Are we talking about my pet rat? Cause that’s a good podcast; I would do a topic on that. [Chris and Wes laugh]
Chris: This is about your pet rat, but the fictional version of your pet rat.
Oren: ‘Fictional version of my rat’ is amazing. [Chris and Wes laugh] So, we’re talking about animal companions, right? If I understand correctly?
Chris: Yes, yes. And we should probably start by defining what an animal companion is, because, I think, when we talk about it, we’re not quite- we’re meeting it as a very specific term for a specific type of… kind of a semi-character, I suppose we could debate how much of- they are characters, that appear in stories.
Oren: I’m pretty sure an animal companion is the creature that a druid or a ranger gets when they hit a certain level. I think any other animal companions are not real animal companions. We should use that definition, very specifically. [Wes laughs]
Chris: That’s funny you say that, though, because I think- I would guess that, in most roleplaying campaigns, a druid animal companion would actually be exactly like the type of thing we’re talking about, just in a roleplaying game instead of in a… you know, a fiction story is usually where we talk about them.
Oren: Right, absolutely. My general definition of an animal companion is that it doesn’t talk, usually; it isn’t really a character in its own right: it doesn’t have an arc, and it’s not very proactive, and it mostly is there to support the protagonist.
Wes: Yeah, I’m all on board with that as well, and I think it’s kind of nice to bring up the ranger and the druid part, cause the other thing that I would add is kind of my criteria, is they’re like, by- they’re there for support, but they’re also there to actually tell you something about the character that they’re with. Like, I think that they need to have that purpose.
If they don’t have that purpose, they’re not really a companion; they’re just… I don’t know, some animal hanging out in the story.
Oren: They’re not really pulling their weight at that point, right? Like, why did you include them?
Chris: I mean, I would- we can divide between what makes them qualify as an animal companion under our definition, and what makes them a good animal companion. Because I would say that a good animal companion provides assistance to the protagonist. Not all animal companions actually provide assistance to the protagonist. [laughs]
Oren: This is true. [laughter]
Chris: But they probably all should.
Oren: And like, you get- you’ll get exceptions. Like, I’ve talked about the dog in Lirael before in my posts, and I consider that to be an animal companion even though the dog does talk, because it doesn’t have a character arc of its own, and its doglike traits are super emphasized, even though it does talk.
Chris: So, the dog is weird, because the dog is not just a- I think you could- yeah, it’s like, both an animal companion, but it’s also a mentor. And a mentor figure is a character role, so it definitely does provide a role that it usually goes to characters by being a mentor, but it also has some distinctly animal companionish traits. Like, it really emphasizes dog- I don’t know if I want to- I would say the dog is more like a character, but it definitely crosses that line.
Oren: Chris, I already have the dog in a post about failed animal companions- [Chris and Wes laugh] -so like, Mythcreants’ stance on the dog’s character- like, definition is firm. We can’t go flip-flopping on that now. [laughs]
Wes: It’s true.
Wes: I remember-
Chris: I mean, I guess- go ahead.
Wes: No, I was just- I remember editing that post, so clearly, it has my tacit approval as well, so I think that’s two against one. [Chris and Wes laugh]
Chris: I think a good example is that you couldn’t take a character like Samwise Gamgee and just give him- make him into a talking dog, and- he would be close to an animal companion at that point. I think the reason he wouldn’t actually- you couldn’t qualify him as an animal companion is that he has his own scenes, and he actually does have his own kind of arc at the end in like, Return of the King.
Oren: Okay, so- just to everyone listening: I’ma need you all to go home and write the fanfiction of Goodboy Gamgee- [Wes and Chris laugh] -the dog companion. But no, you’re right, because- like, Samwise has his own arc. At least, he does in the movie; it’s been brought to my attention that there’s a lot from the book that I don’t know because I’ve only seen the movies.
But in the movies, he has a very clear character arc, where he grows and becomes kind of a badass, and like, literally carries Frodo, and is- so, I would say that’s clearly a character role. Even if he was a dog and did all of those things. [laughs]
Chris: So, in the book- I think that the movie tries to give him more of his own life, like, it gives him a love interest at home- although, I feel like it was- maybe they were just trying to get rid of queer implications by doing that.
Chris: In the books, he doesn’t have that love interest at home, and he’s- the book is very into the role of the servant and master and the loyalty and devotion of the servant to the master, and the master’s sort of wisdom and also responsibility towards the servant to a certain extent; it’s very- [laughs] -very into glorifying hierarchy, the book is. And so, his arc is about loyalty, and a lot of times, animal companions, that is their- one of their primary traits, right, is loyalty.
And I feel like the only reason why he would- wouldn’t qualify as an animal companion if you just turned him into a dog- [laughs] -is that, towards the end of the last book, we actually move- I mean, it’s in omniscient, but omniscient, you can still- it kind of feels like being in a certain person’s viewpoint if you focus on them; there’s some chapters that focus on Samwise and actually leave Frodo, because Frodo is- looks like he’s dead, and just go with Samwise for a little while.
And Samwise has to like, go through his- think about like, what he’s going to do now that he thinks Frodo is gone, and he kind of- that includes a kind of arc, where then he sort of renews his loyalty to Frodo. But- [laughs] -otherwise, Samwise- and I think the proactiveness- I think Samwise is more proactive than an animal companion would usually be. I don’t- sure, through most of the book, he’s actually more proactive than the dog from Lirael. [laughs]
The dog from Lirael is not- it follows them around, but like, decides when it will and won’t tell them information and stuff. It’s not…
Oren: I mean, the dog from Lirael also solves their problems for them a lot. So, like, that is also a question. It’s certainly more proactive; that’s actually one of its problems, is how powerful it is, and how it just is like, ‘yeah, whatever, this very tense scene where they’re being assassinated and having to cooperate to track down the assassin; or I could just use my mind-control bark and just knock the assassin right out of the window.’ [Wes laughs] ‘This is a thing I can do.’
Chris: Anyway… but that’s- I guess that’s sort of the different- most animal companions, when we’re talking about, we’re talking about something more like Hedwig in Harry Potter, where Hedwig clearly doesn’t really have- provides utility to Harry; does not really have an arc, is not proactive.
Wes: It’s basically a mail service.
Chris: Doesn’t talk. [laughs]
Wes: I don’t know. Like, Hedwig is basically just a postal service. That’s kind of all that owl does for me. I kind of had it on this list of ones that I didn’t particularly care for, because I- I don’t know, I felt like other- there are far better elements for like- I don’t know, helping Harry out, showing who Harry is, and- yeah. Hedwig was a little too bland, sorry, everybody, but- [laughs] -it was just an owl that kind of hung out with them, and that was about it.
Chris: Yeah. Okay, but here’s who I do think are animal companions: I think R2-D2 and BB-8 are both animal companions. [laughs]
Oren: Uh… shock and surprise?
Wes: You said that they had to be furry. I remember that from the beginning. [Chris and Wes laugh]
Chris: No, what I said is that, if Samwise Gamgee was furry and a dog, that he still wouldn’t be an animal companion. I don’t think they have to be furry. Like-
Wes: You said that in the opening: ‘those furry little people,’ or whatever. Critters that hang out. [laughs]
Chris: Well, most of the- okay, but like, if you had a cat, like, a Sphinx cat that wasn’t furred, it would still be an animal companion. [laughter] We’re not going to start discriminating against animals that don’t have fur. [laughs]
Wes: Well, those are- yeah, okay. Shock. Those are- I mean, they’re intelligent droids, and R2-D2 clearly gets them out of lots of jams on its own, so…
Wes: Okay, that’s a lot of agency, right? I think it’s-
Chris: I don’t think R2-D2 actually has very much agency. So- okay, let me just make my argument here about why they’re animal companions and not full characters:
First of all, neither of them talk. They make noises, and a lot of times, they’re specifically cute noises. A lot of times, animal companions, again, the cuteness is supposed to be part of their actual appeal factor, and both- BB-8 is specifically designed to be cute, and while R2-D2 is a precursor that is less cute, a lot of the noises are kind of cute-ish and almost like the whines of a dog in their expressiveness.
They are both incredibly loyal and offer basic assistance to the protagonist; so, R2-D2, for instance will do ship driving and ship repair when Luke is in his X-Wing. Like- R2-D2 also actually mostly follows the directions of the protagonist. When he doesn’t, it’s almost always because of an almost instinctual negative reaction, the same that you would expect from a dog.
So, for instance- like, you know, ‘no, I’m fearful and reluctant to do that,’ or like, even when R2-D2 has a problem with Yoda when they first go to the swamp, it’s a kind of a very- it’s not like, a contemplative thing, it’s a very reactive ‘no, don’t take that.’ Like, there’s- it’s very incredibly simplistic.
BB-8, again, does this loyal dog thing, where, when BB-8 is with Rey, and Rey’s like, ‘go,’ and BB-8’s like, ‘no, I want to stick with you,’ you know- [laughs] -it’s a very doglike thing. Probably the most nuanced, intelligent interactions that BB-8 has is the ambiguous lighter that looks- we’re not really sure if it’s a thumbs-up or it’s a finger. [Chris and Wes laugh]
Chris: But yeah, they’re super loyal; they offer assistance, but they don’t actually make choices that drive the plot.
Wes: I guess I- when I think of R2-D2, I guess I think of like, the banter that R2-D2 has with C-3PO. And like, they’re clearly talking, cause of the way C-3PO is responding to what R2-D2’s bleeping at him. And like, R2-D2’s clearly telling C-3PO what they need to do. I mean, yeah, he’s delivering a message, like, in A New Hope, he’s delivering a message, he’s trying to find Obi-Wan Kenobi, so he’s clearly operating under loyalty to somebody.
But like, that’s, I guess, my sticking point, is he clearly does talk to other droids who can understand him and like, banter with him.
Oren: So- okay, so, I get that. But when I look at those scenes where C-3PO is talking to Artoo, I know that like, in the canon, C-3PO can understand him, but those scenes are pretty identical to scenes where Aang talks to Momo in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Wes: That’s a good point.
Oren: Like, Artoo could be saying anything. I don’t know what it is he’s saying. I mean, I have as much fun as anybody else watching those cuts of the films where Artoo is subtitled, and those completely change the story- the character of Artoo. If Artoo had subtitles, and like, everyone else could understand him, that would be very different. But like, he doesn’t. So, what Artoo is saying is, I think, almost irrelevant in its specifics. So-
Wes: Similarly, then, have you ever seen anything with subtitles for Chewbacca?
Oren: Same thing, actually. I mean, I’m more hesitant to label Chewbacca an animal companion, just because Chewbacca is like, a person in the story. So, that’s a little hazier, right? It’s a little easier to do with Artoo, because he’s a robot, and like, robots can be built to be anything. My brain has a much more- has a much easier idea understanding Artoo as a robot that is built to be an animal companion- [laughs] -than it does with Chewbacca.
Wes: That makes sense.
Chris: Yeah. But we can recognize that, even if we don’t want to call Chewbacca an animal companion, Chewbacca does kind of play a very similar role, certainly. Although, I think just the fact that Chewbacca- I think Chewbacca does do more stuff on his own. I think he actually has- is actually in some- at least in Force Awakens. In Force Awakens, he definitely- I feel like there’s some scenes where he actually goes off on his own and does his own stuff in an independent manner, right?
Wes: But prior to that, he’s very much meeting that loyalty criteria that you said. I mean, granted, it’s- they- how do they dress that up? The ‘Han Solo saved his life and that’s why Chewbacca’s bound to stay with him?’ Am I remembering that correctly?
Oren: I mean, that is accurate, but that’s extended universe backfilling, right? None of that’s in the film. Like, we- you know that if you’ve done a lot of EU reading. But yeah, no, I- in the end- I agree with Chris; even if we didn’t specifically want to call the- Artoo and BB-8 animal companions, they serve a functionally identical role in the plot.
Wes: Let’s go to, maybe, an animal companion- a potential animal companion that doesn’t feature as prominently. You brought up Lord of the Rings. What about Gandalf’s horse, Shadowfax? [Chris hmms] Right? It’s like, ‘king of the horses!’ and it’s supposed to understand speech, and it’s like, it’ll only let Gandalf ride him, or something like that.
I mean, it doesn’t really feature a whole lot in the story, but as far as what I remember reading about Shadowfax- there was a lot more about it in the books than in the movies, is, that horse was kind of like a physical representation of Gandalf the White. Like, what Gandalf the White had become, as opposed to like, what Gandalf the Grey was.
It’s like, if you didn’t buy that he’s like, not dressed like- he’s much cleaner-looking now and he’s wearing white robes instead of grey robes, he also has this amazing horse, and this animal companion should tell you that Gandalf the White is super powerful and influential now, because ‘look at that horse, it’s amazing!’ [Wes and Chris laugh] Right?
Oren: Which is weird, cause I was pretty sure paladins gain an angelic mount when they level up, not wizards. So, I don’t really know where that came from. [laughs]
Wes: And there’s like, some article up there on the internet about how Gandalf is not a wizard; he’s like, a level nineteen fight with a level of wizard in there. [Wes and Chris laugh]]
Oren: That would be-
Wes: He’s just a multiclassed wizard. [laughs]
Oren: That would certainly be a more accurate depiction of what we see on screen, but regardless- in the movies, I think Shadowfax is just a horse, because he doesn’t really do anything, he’s just a horse that Gandalf rides. But in the books, he could certainly be an animal companion. I haven’t read far enough in the books to get to where they introduce him. Chris, what do you think?
Chris: Shadowfax- yeah. So, I‘ve read Lord of the Rings relatively recently, and I don’t- I think that he’s not covered in any depth. So, like, it does explain how Gandalf- I think he’s mostly just an explanation for how Gandalf managed to travel so quickly, because he’s like, super-fast, and has amazing stamina. Other than that, it’s almost hard to say, because there’s- I think he’s covered so little that you don’t really see- you don’t see him interacting- the horse interacting with anyone very much. So, yeah, it’s hard to say.
Oren: Although, there is the horse in Tangled, which is on the lists of animal companions, and like, it’s actually-
Chris: That’s a character. That’s definitely a character. [laughter]
Oren: As I was saying, it’s an animal antagonist; is that a thing? We’ll create a whole new category for it. [Chris laughs]
Wes: You know, it’s funny you bring that up; I was thinking about animal companions as like, telling us more about the character that they’re connected to, and I was thinking about this short story that Jack London wrote, and it was called ‘To Build a Fire.’ Have either of you ever read that?
Chris: Yes. Yeah, a long time ago.
Wes: Yeah. So, in that story, it’s a man who’s basically in the Yukon in winter, and, spoilers, everybody: he freezes to death.
Oren: Oh, no!
Wes: I know, sorry. But there’s a dog with him the entire time, and the dog’s role… it’s not a character, it’s like, a foil, like that literary foil to the man. It’s like, the man’s hubris and belief that he can just do this even though he’s inexperienced is juxtaposed by this dog who’s a part of the natural world and clearly very aware of the cold. So, it’s not like an antagonist, but it’s still a foil for the main character and telling us more about this guy and his lack of real ability to survive, because he’s compared with the dog.
So, I thought that that was an interesting example of dog-as… like- more like to reveal the character better. I thought that that was a cool use of an animal companion.
Chris: That is neat; I’ll have to read that story again.
Oren: Kind of reminds me of the was that they use Spot in The Next Generation with Data. Not as extreme a situation, clearly, but like, it’s interesting- it’s a duality, because Data is super-logical and straightforward and predictable, and he has a cat for a pet, and cats are known for not being any of those things. [Wes and Chris laugh] And like, that’s an interesting duality, and- you know, it’s super low-stakes.
Like, when they have a scene with Data hanging out with Spot, it’s almost always a filler scene that they needed to round an episode out. But I think it still contributes to Data’s character development that he, like, as part of his- part of his understanding humans is getting a cat so that he can like, experience the opposite of him.
Chris: It definitely makes his character more- feel more complex and rounded out to have that kind of contradiction. Similarly, with him, he does painting too. But I remember one scene in particular, where he’s- you know, Worf has agreed to care for Spot while Data is away, and he’s like, ‘okay, you have to tell him that he’s a good cat, and that he’s a nice cat.’ [laughter] Something like that; and Worf is like, ‘I’ll feed it.’ [laughter]
Oren: And Worf is allergic to cats, of course. [Chris laughs]
Chris: But anyway, so, it does definitely- just the very act of caring- and I think, to me, that’s what struck me about the Data-Spot relationship, is actually the fact that you see Data as a nurturer. And there’s some other episodes where you also see Data otherwise as a nurturer, like, Data has a kid for one episode, but I think that Spot is there to sort of bring out that warmer side, even though Data is otherwise emotionless.
Oren: Okay, so, here, riddle me this: why doesn’t that work with Archer and Porthos from Enterprise? [Wes laughs]
Wes: It’s a dog? [laughs]
Oren: Well, it is a dog. For reference, Archer is the captain of the Enterprise in the show of the same name, and Porthos is his beagle that he brought along. And like, I don’t hate Porthos; he’s a dog, but he definitely feels like a waste of time.
Chris: Okay, so I have an explanation: toxic masculinity.
Oren: Oh, that’ll do it. That’ll do it.
Wes: There it is. [Oren and Wes laugh]
Chris: Okay, so, the difference between Data’s relationship with Spot and Archer’s relationship with Porthos is that Data, when he is caring for Spot, he takes a warm, nurturing role that would generally be considered more feminine, and- but, you know, maybe the writers of TNG just weren’t afraid of that, or maybe it was simply because he’s a cold robot, they weren’t afraid of making him too soft.
Chris: But Enterprise has a- kind of a- has a toxic masculinity problem, and the writers clearly wanted Archer to be super-masculine. And so, when we see Archer interacting with Porthos, it’s more like the authoritarian, judgmental father figure, than it is an actual nurturing, caring figure.
Chris: And so, the things that he says about Porthos, like, ‘don’t give him cheese.’ You know? Like, that’s- you’ve got the disciplinarian there. Or like, getting mad when his dog is poisoned because he recklessly took a dog onto a planet. [laughs] It’s the protector, it’s a disciplinarian, it’s those traditional bad father stereotypes-
Chris: -is what we see when Archer interacts with Porthos. Not an actual caring, loving- like, he’s done like, hog Porthos- you don’t see- I’m sure he does petting and stuff like that, but you don’t see that same warm, nurturing-ness.
Oren: Alright, that’s good; I’m glad, cause I was having trouble with it. Like, I had some thoughts, and I was like, ‘okay, what is going on with Porthos, and why does it bother me so much?’ [Oren and Chris laugh] Alright, so here’s a question for both of you: should a storyteller ever kill an animal companion, and why?’
Wes: I think I have, possibly, a good answer.
Chris: Go for it.
Wes: One- I’m just going to say it; I don’t really like it when they die at all. Period. [laughs] I just- I feel like it’s cheap, and it’s a way to just kind of exploit an emotional bond. But- I don’t know, I guess I was thinking back- because I’ve talked about how I don’t really care that much for Hedwig.
But Dumbledore’s animal companion, the phoenix, is pretty spot-on for kind of what we’re talking about here in terms of like, representing Dumbledore and rounding him out, and that bird’s willingness to die kind of, in a way, sets up Dumbledore’s willingness to sacrifice himself. So, I feel like, ‘yeah, it’s a phoenix, it can come back to life every time, sure.’ But like, it dies- I remember vividly one time, but probably more than that in the books. You guys can correct me. But those deaths really served a purpose, and they were impactful.
And sure, you get to see a phoenix be reborn again from the ashes, but like- I feel like those deaths always served a purpose to like, raise stakes, and maybe to tell us a little more about Dumbledore’s view. At least when Dumbledore does sacrifice everything, that didn’t seem to actually come from nowhere; that seemed very well in line with him. And I always wondered if maybe that was this animal companion maybe reinforcing that for me.
Chris: So, I have to point out, just as a side thing, that actually, the first time that the phoenix dies, Harry has gone in- it might be in book one; I’m not sure. Maybe book two. I think book two, actually. Harry goes into Dumbledore’s office, and the phoenix is just really, really old and just spontaneously combusts. [laughs]
Wes: That’s a good point. I’ve read about that.
Chris: I think for- but for the purposes of storytelling, that’s not an actual death. Like, technically, the animal dies, but you haven’t actually gotten rid of the character in any way, and it’s just a natural- like, pretty soon, there’s a new hatchling, right? So, when you’re saying- I think that the phoenix does die more than once; the first time doesn’t really count as far as a death goes.
Oren: Although, at first, he was contributing to the cause of freaking Harry out about magic, and like, that’s my favorite part of the books. [Wes and Chris laugh] So, sounds good to me. It’s like, ‘oh my god, a bird just exploded. What?’
Wes: ‘What is this place?’ [Chris laughs]
Oren: ‘Why am I in this madhouse?’ [Wes laughs] Excuse me. But, staying on Harry Potter, then, we have Hedwig dying in a way that like- like, in the movie, it was- Hedwig gets a heroic sacrifice, which-
Wes: But that’s not in the books.
Oren: No, it’s not in the books. I was actually confused that Hedwig was dead when I listened to the books; I was like, ‘did Hedwig just die? I’m a little unclear.’ [Wes laughs]
Wes: I remember that too! It seemed like I missed something, like, ‘oh, that bird’s not around anymore?’
Oren: Yeah. Whereas in the movie, at least Hedwig like, protects him from a Killing Curse, or whatever. But like, either way, that, to me, felt like- it was weird, because it was like, ‘okay, I don’t have any- on the one hand, I don’t have a super-connection to Hedwig.’ Hedwig doesn’t really have any personality and is just a mail-delivery system for all I know. And Harry doesn’t really seem to feel particularly strongly about Hedwig either, because it’s a mail-delivery owl.
But I don’t like animals dying. Like, that’s just not something that I am likely to enjoy, so, it seems like it was- it seemed like Hedwig dying was really preying just more on my innate desire not to see an animal hurt than anything relevant in the story.
Wes: We’re like, conditioned at this point now, if like, there is an animal that belongs to a character, it’s like- you’re always like, ‘uh-oh. Are they just going to kill this animal?’ [Oren laughs] ‘Is this animal just going to die?’ I know I hate thinking that, I don’t like it either. It’s not fun.
Chris: That- I know, when I’ve been roleplaying and thought about having an, just for the purpose of flavor, animal companion; I think one time, I was playing like, Call of Cthulhu…
Oren: Oh, no.
Chris: And I was just thinking about having an animal companion, cause it like, asked you what your- something that’s valuable to you is, or something, and I made my character a dog, and I was like, ‘wait…’ [Chris and Wes laugh] ‘Do I really want to have a dog unless I’m absolutely sure that nothing is going to happen to this dog?’
Oren: I really don’t want Cthulhu to devour 1d3 dogs per round, okay? [Wes and Chris laugh] That’s just not okay.
Chris: But yeah, it’s true, they are used for that a lot. I feel, with Harry Potter, the issue is probably just that like, Rowling knew that the big conflict with the dark wizards needed to have some casualties. And so, I bet she went and looked, and was like, ‘okay-’ I don’t think she wanted to have a lot of casualties, but I think she was looking for like, ‘okay, what people can I kill off that will make it feel like there was an actual war where people died?’
Chris: And I think Hedwig was just one of- was part of that. It’s like, ‘okay, now, if Hedwig dies, now I don’t have to kill off Harry or Ron or Hermione, but like, it feels like somebody died.’ You know? [laughs]
Wes: Alright. Interesting.
Chris: And I wouldn’t- so, are you saying that it’s just way overused to ever have an animal companion die for the purpose of creating tragedy, or making the threat seem real, or like, emphasizing the desperateness of the situation, that kind of thing?
Oren: Well, I don’t know. Like, I know that that’s the general consensus- I mean, we even have a post on the site called like, ‘How To Use Pets in Stories Without Killing Them.’ [Chris laughs] But like, I can’t actually think of that many stories where the pet dies. I know it happens occasionally, but like, when it does, it always strikes me as being really odd.
And like, it’s almost the other way around when like- it feels like, ‘you know, that dog probably should have died,’ but doesn’t because the audience doesn’t want to see a dog die; like, I’m thinking of Independence Day here.
So, I’m not suggesting that it’s too used; I’m just wondering like, under what circumstances is it appropriate for an animal companion to die? And like, is it worth doing? Are there benefits it can have for your story?
Chris: I mean, I think in any tragedy, an animal companion dying can kind of create drama. So, here’s an interesting- and I think this would actually qualify under Wes’s criteria of having an animal companion that actually says something about the protagonist; so, The Neverending Story- [Oren and Chris laugh]
Wes: Ohh, here we go.
Chris: Which is- it’s a kid’s movie, and watching it as an adult, it’s really bad and funny- [laughs] -but it has this heroic character that rides a horse named Artax, and- [laughs] -and he- you know, it’s a boy, cause it’s a children’s movie. And they have this situation where they go through the like, [scary voice] ‘Swamps of Despair.’
And this scene, where like, it was really tragic and tearworthy when I was a kid, but as an adult it’s just hilarious, where we watch the horse supposedly give in to despair and slowly sink into the swamp because it has given up on life.
Oren: Yeah, fight the sadness, Artex. [Chris laughs]
Chris: And the- but like, I feel like the purpose- point of the scene is to emphasize the difficulty of the quest, to add a low point in the story, and also, I think the point is that the character- I don’t know why I can’t remember his name.
Wes: It’s Atreyu, right?
Chris: Oh yeah, Atreyu. Is to emphasize the fact that he is a person who will persist past this. The fact that, ‘okay, the swamp was so bad that he lost his horse; but not only did he not fall victim with the horse, but he also kept going,’ right?
Wes: Cause like, right after that is when he goes face-to-face with that wolf that had been hunting him, and he just casts all caution aside and is like, ‘I’m Atreyu; let’s do this.’ [Chris and Wes laugh]
Chris: I wouldn’t say it’s not appropriate to- I think you could do it.
Oren: Alright. Well, unlike that particular story, our podcast is not neverending. [Wes laughs] So, we are out of time.
Chris: Wow. We don’t even have time to talk about annoying animal companions.
Oren: We did not.
Chris: Other than the dog, of course.
Oren: It’s always- and Porthos. The dog and Porthos, really. [Wes and Chris laugh] Alright. Well, thank you both for joining me again to talk about animal companions. Those of you at home, if anything we said piqued your interest, feel free to leave a comment on the website at Mythcreants.com. And otherwise, we will talk to you next week. [closing song]
Outro: This has been the Mythcreants podcast. Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton.
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