Weekly Geeks 2009-15: Critters in Literature (and film, too!)

This Weekly Geeks theme comes from animal lover Wendy of Caribousmom:

How many of us remember a favorite pet from our childhood? Or have enjoyed visiting the zoo? Or relish in walking in the woods and hearing birdsong, or seeing a deer leap away through the brush? How many of us have been thrilled by a soaring eagle? How often have we sought the comfort of a dog or cat, or wept tears of loss when forced to say good-bye to a furred friend?

We are surrounded by our fellow creatures and often our lives are enriched by their presence, whether it be sharing our homes with them or simply being blessed to see them in passing.

This week you are asked to share books (fiction or nonfiction) and/or movies which center around an animal or animals.

  • Which are your favorites?
  • Which touched your heart the most?
  • Which have found their way onto your wish lists or TBR stacks?
  • Is there a childhood favorite?
  • Have you ever named a pet after an animal from a book or movie?

As an adjunct to this post, consider sharing photos of animals (domestic or wild) which have inspired or thrilled you, or graced your life with their presence.

I’ve had pets for most of my life. As a young child, I was scared of dogs; I was a particularly small child, and most dogs were just so big, or noisy, or sometimes both – and since my family had cats, dogs seemed especially daunting. But perhaps as an outgrowth of the fact that I never seemed to like guys who liked cats, I tried warming up to dogs as I got older, and now I don’t hesitate to call myself a “dog person.” Cats fall way behind dogs on my preferences list these days.

in any case, though, I usually prefer being around animals in real life to reading stories about them, and that’s become even more pronounced in adulthood. I’ve found that books about animals all too frequently get sentimental, and I don’t particularly enjoy sappiness or emotional manipulation. There are exceptions, of course, but animals haven’t really played a big role in my reading.

Unlike many I’ve known, I was never a girl who was into horses – scared of them for similar reasons to dogs – but I read Black Beauty several times during childhood. As an adult, however, I find that I prefer reading about real-life animals – and real-life humans’ relationships with them – over fictional ones.  While I’m still not into horses, and I’m definitely not a fan of racing them, one of the most riveting books I’ve read in the last decade was Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand. That horse was far from a perfect specimen, and yet he dominated his game and his story, although he was never anthropomorphized or sentimentalized in the telling.

My fear of sentimentality and sappiness made me shy away from reading the hugely popular Marley & Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog, by John Grogan, despite rave personal recommendations about the book from a couple of unsentimental fellow dog fans (my stepdaughter and her mom), as well as from someone who has more patience with sentiment and far less patience with dogs than I do (my sister). I still haven’t read it – but I did buy a copy of it after seeing the movie at Christmastime, and…well, I loved it. One of the reasons I did is that, like Seabiscuit, Marley was never anthropomorphized – he was always unquestionably and genuinely a DOG. The movie’s authentic portrayal of dog ownership was praised by Entertainment Weekly and on NPR.com, and it certainly rang true to this dog owner.

For twenty years, I’ve had a name picked out that I still want to use for a pet, and I found it in a movie:

Dr. Jones, to his father: Don’t call me Junior!
Dr. Jones senior: But that’s your name. Henry Jones, Junior.
Dr. Jones junior: I like Indiana.
Dr. Jones senior: We named the dog Indiana.
 – from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

My ex-husband (who eventually decided that the critters were tolerable after all) named his cat Indiana – and he knew I was saving it for a dog! I’m more likely to name a pet after a human character from a book or movie, really, as opposed to an animal; I guess if I do ever get to use Indiana, it will count for both.

I didn’t get to name this dog; she was already used to “Gypsy” when I adopted her ten and a half years ago.

Do you have a favorite animal story, or story about an animal, to share in the comments? Please do!

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  1. I’ve always loved animals (I’m a cat person) and I grew up on the Herriot All Creatures Great and Small books. There’s actually a children’s version from them, now, entitled Animal Stories.

    I’m one of three people who once loved a cat who was so ornery that you just had to love him or die of exasperation, much like Marley.

  2. Jeanne – My stepdaughter has a cat like that (at her mom’s house – not ours :-)).

    I never read any of the Herriot books, but I think my mom did, and she enjoyed them.

  3. Fantastic post… I thoroughly enjoyed it. And Gypsy is adorable (she looks like a friend of mine’s dog who is part german shepherd, part golden retriever). I don’t like a lot of sap either, but occasionally I get sucked into a book or movie like that and after I’ve wiped away the tears, I realize I enjoyed it 🙂

  4. Of course, if you are a visitor to my blog, Planet Books, as you are Florinda, you know that my fur-baby is named Rocky and he is a gorgeous, silver/buff colored Cocker Spaniel. He is our pride and joy, even when he is acting like a little jack ass. 🙂

  5. Wendy – I’ve had that same experience; sometimes I’m just a softy, I guess :-).

    Gypsy is some sort of shepherd mix, as far as we can tell. We think Aussie, since she’s smallish. She does have a lovely coat, in any case, and hardly any gray hair in it.

    Kathy (Bermudaonion) – Thanks. She does put up with a lot from us 🙂 – but we put up with quite a bit from her at times, too!

    Karen (PlanetBooks) – Gypsy definitely has her jackass moments too (although we usually call them something else) :-).

    I’m waiting for The Art of Racing in the Rain to be released in paperback, because I definitely plan to read it then!

  6. how about the “Air Bud” movies? My kids love those. It probably helps that we have had two Golden Retrievers; it’s the only type of dog they know! 🙂

    I haven’t seen “Marley and Me” yet, but I know Jenn wants to rent it. I’m sure we will soon.

  7. Mike – I think that the only time Jenn has ever commented here was on my review of Marley and Me. It’s out on DVD now, so definitely rent it! Just don’t let it give Quincy any ideas :-).

  8. Florinda: I haven’t read either of the two books you mentioned or seen the movies, although I think I saw part of Seabiscuit. However, my wife can relate to not liking horses and probably is why she hasn’t read that particular book.

    Myself? I guess when I think of animal stories, I think of childhood favorites, especially the Big Red series by Jim Kjelgaard, about which I wrote for my Weekly Geeks post this week. My wife mentioned Clifford the Big Red Dog, which also was one of my favorites.

  9. Terri – I like to say she’s a good dog, except when she’s not :-). She’s getting a little quirky in her old age, but I love her just the same.

    ReadingFool – Nice to see you here again – it’s been quite a while!

    I actually didn’t remember too many animal books from my own childhood, but my son had a few favorites, like Make Way for Ducklings. Does One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish count :-)?