Exotic Pets in Fantasy: Raise Your Hand If You Just Imagined a Dragon

Gizmo from Gremlins

Something that comes up from time to time in fantasy is heroes or villains having unique pets.  These can be real animals or monsters, but it really comes down to it being something you don’t normally see.  For example, Lost’s decrepit flying rabbit in War of Nytefall: Eradication may count as one even though we’re not sure it’s alive or not.  I mean, people do have rabbits, but this one is odd.  This brings me to one of the biggest challenges here: what really constitutes an exotic pet?

This is a really challenging question for something that could be nothing more than window dressing.  You have to factor in the following:

  • Personal experience and opinion on pets.  For some, a ferret is exotic while others think they’re rather basic.
  • Uniqueness of species in the world.  A place where goldfish are rare would have them as an exotic pet.
  • Useful on the road.  Self-explanatory here.
  • Would an intelligent creature that talks to others in various languages be a character or an exotic pet.  I’m looking at you, Fizzle.  Yes, some people have called him Luke Callindor’s pet instead of friend.

All of this needs to be considered by the author and the audience when it comes to the ‘exotic’ definition.  Not that characters say it, but it will play a factor.  I’m doing a 7 Tips post on Wednesday, so I don’t want to horn in on that one.  The point I’m making here is that this is a very versatile and flexible area.  After all, you don’t really see a focus on it and people really don’t pay full attention to a pet unless they serve a bigger purpose.  Familiars and steeds get more fanfare because of their role while a dog that follows along may be ignored.  That is unless you do one thing:

As I learned at one point, people will pay very little attention to a dog and might even forget they are around.  Once you kill the animal as a way to make the owner suffer, people go berserk.  Didn’t matter that I thought long and hard about this decision instead of doing it on a whim.  There was a long term plan, but you can learn all of that by reading Legends of Windemere.  This may be a little spoiler-y, but the first book has been out for nearly 8 years. I’ve learned to be more careful here, but it is curious that these types of inclusions are minor until you try to remove them.  I’d say pets both exotic and mundane get a secret fan-base over the course of an adventure if you put enough effort into making them.

Will I be doing a lot with exotic pets?  Some of my series will have them, but I can’t be sure of what will count or not.  I have a future character with a horse that has a strong personality and another that carries a kleptomaniac ferret around.  Familiars will be appearing for some casters because of their specialties.  Overall, I’m going to use this concept when I think it works out.  Having pets on grand adventures can be very difficult because they can be seen as a distraction or crutch.  That’s if you remember they’re even in the story.  At one point in Beginning of a Hero, I realized that I’d forgotten about Luke’s dog and it had simply disappeared from the story after its first two scenes.  This forced me to go back and add more.  So, if you’re going to give a hero a pet then you need to use it.

What do you think of exotic pets or pets in general in fiction?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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29 Responses to Exotic Pets in Fantasy: Raise Your Hand If You Just Imagined a Dragon

  1. ospreyshire says:

    Interesting points there. I haven’t used that many pets in most of my stories and most of them are certainly normal. In my Revezia series, I have the leader of a treasure hunter/pawn shop crew (it makes sense in context) own two snakes and she talks to them as if they were puppies or kittens much to the chagrin of the rest of her team. I’ve had ideas of mythological animals being around humans, but more so as familiars than pets.


  2. L. Marie says:

    Wow. You’ve given us lots to think about. Great tips!
    I usually think of dragons as companions, mentors, or villains though they have been pets in some fantasy books. I’ve also seen unicorns and other mythical creatures as pets or companions.
    I can’t help thinking of Hedwig and Crookshanks in Harry Potter. The Wiki listed them as pets, though they had a purpose beyond copanionship.


  3. I liked the tidbit about remembering Luke’s dog. So many times I have introduced a character then realize I dropped them into some kind of black hole. Some are worth bringing back, some not.


  4. I’m a huge lover of the pet character. Some are intelligent, some not so much, but I’ve written a bunch of them. Most recently a robotic cat, so it can work in SF, too. I’ve written a fox familiar, a cockatrice, a dog, a vile horse, Fu Dogs, and there are more planned. Can’t wait to see what you bring up.


  5. V.M.Sang says:

    I have dogs in 2 of my series. In my Wolves of Vimar one of the characters has a dog, Bramble, and in one chapter I look at things from his POV. He does take a part, deliberately, in what the people do, and helps them.
    The other series that has a dog is my Elemental Worlds where the dog is very important, especially at the end. I won’t give any spoilers here.
    One thing I think you can think of as ‘exotic’ is a small dragon-like creature called Muldee. He is not a pet, though, although people often think of him as such. He has psi powers and is telepathic, although some people don’t have enough of the power themselves to allow him to either read or communicate with them.
    In the fourth book, (undergoing writing now) he plays a big part.


  6. Your comment about nobody noticing the dog reminds me of a D&D story. The GM rolled a random encounter and had us all jumping up to battle when something rustled in the bushes. But then a stray dog came out. Imagine her dismay when we adopted the dog, cleaned it up, and she was forced to put her planned adventure aside in order for us to track down the owner.


  7. Love the idea of an anonymous dog that pops into a scene now and then, stretched out in front of a roaring fire, or padding quietly along a wooded track, quiet and unassuming, a companion perhaps, or a tavern hound, licking the slops off the floor and sniffing out friends and foes…you got me thinking! My last tale had an intelligent talking cat who had a pet mouse (who thought himself quite the swords-mouse) so to take an animal and make it ordinary…there’s my challenge!


    • That could work for a background animal. It’s when they get very close to a main character that one has to be careful about forgetting them. Ordinary can be a challenge though, especially for fantasy.


  8. ✋ I imagined a dragon 😂


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