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Fantasy Familiars: Choosing One’s Animal Companions

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Yash Kesanakurthy

Staff Writer

Somewhere between starting her schooling in Saudi Arabia and finishing high school in Singapore, Yash Kesanakurthy realized that she disliked school. It was the fateful move to Vancouver, Canada for a BA in Economics (which, surprise, didn't pan out) that led her to the MA program in Children's Literature at UBC. She had fun immersing herself into the academia of children's literature but nothing beat the joy of writing for The Book Wars, being able to set aside classics and pay attention to the culture of contemporary YA. And now, everything is PB/MG/YA and nothing hurts. Well, some things hurt but nothing her bookshelf can't fix. Currently, she is working on her own YA fantasy novel and an all-ages picturebook. Her life goals include: getting a pet dog, getting published, and presenting you dear readers and Rioters with posts that engage and entertain. (Maybe not in that order?) Blog: The Book Wars Twitter: @SeeYashTweet

If you’ve every been whisked off into a magical land—either through the pages of a book or in real life (lucky you)—you know the importance of a good animal companion.

Used to be that adventurers could get by with a dependable stead, but these days, the dragons are more dangerous, the woods are much more wily, and you might need a bit more than a nervous animal and a fire-extinguisher to complete your quest. 

Whether the magic comes to your world or you head out to where the magic is, these are the kinds of traits that I feel you should look out for when picking a familiar:

The Real Boy by Anne UrsuCatty: Not like that. Well, maybe like that. But mostly, I mean … being a cat is a quality, right? They are smart and warm and can mostly care for themselves. Once you understand their behaviours and they understand yours, it’s like having companions that are a) adorable and b) won’t rat your hiding place out to your enemies. And when there is no human you can really confide in, these cats will probably be your preferred option. There’s just something very comforting about their presence.

Besides, if they can’t talk, they won’t be snarky and if they aren’t snarky, you don’t have to doubt your abilities any more than you already do, right?

Communicative: Except, if a cat (or any other animal) can actually talk, it is in your best interest to garner the animal’s trust! (Unless it’s the Cheshire Cat. You approach that one with caution.) Talking cats tend to be incredibly knowledgable about the world you are unfamiliar with. It’s also very likely that they have something on that arch nemesis of yours. So, be very, very respectful and the cat may just return the favour.


Fair Warning: sometimes the cats that talk may actually be demons in the form of cats, but if Sabriel can use that to her advantage, well, you could give it a go too. You may be faced with a wall of snark, but at the end of the day, talking cats want whatever non-talking cats want too—food, shelter, warmth, scratches behind the ears—most of which are things you value too, yes? Wouldn’t hurt to share.

Low-Maintenance: Okay, so maybe you don’t want a real animal at all? Too much work and/or stress for you? Well, do as Sophronia from Etiquette & Espionage does and unofficially adopt a mechanical dog. Since it isn’t a real one, cleaning up its poop won’t be a smelly chore, it can cause a distraction for you without much risk of being killed, and it can probably store items that you don’t want be caught with on your person. Low-maintenance and invaluable!

Loves Travel: Maybe you don’t choose the familiar. Maybe the familiar chooses you. With any luck it has some not-so-hidden powers. Transportation, in particular, would be a highly desirable ability in one’s animal companion. Ms. Marvel’s giant bulldog Lockjaw, for example, can teleport. Very handy. Especially when flying on a hippogriff isn’t the most ideal option. (Am I the only one scared of hippogriffs? I’d take thestrals any day.) All you have to do is not freak out when you first meet your familiar. It’s really very rude. As Kamala says, “[W]hen you decide not to be afraid, you can find friends in super unexpected places.”

half world by hiromi gotoCompact: If you’re ever handed an inanimate jade rat before you head off on a journey, make sure to keep it close. Chances are, like Melanie from Half World, you’ve picked an object that can periodically turn into a real animal, whisper invaluable advice to you while hiding in your hair, and dive into your pocket when things get too intense. There are definitely perks to having familiars that can carry you, but one of the downsides is that they tend to be conspicuous and difficult to hide/park.

A rat can ride on your shoulder, in your coat pocket, in your lunch box—portability is one of its super powers! 

Cuddly: Noble steads are so passé. Cuddly steads, like the one that is attached to Princess Pinecone, disarm with sheer adorableness. Who could possible think mean thoughts–let alone do mean things–while looking at those large shiny eyes? (If you answered my rhetorical question with a “Welllll …” you haven’t looked at that pony for long enough, okay?)

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

So, what traits would you value in a familiar? Let me know in the comments! And good luck in your questing! 🙂