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?