Okay, for Z I’m taking liberties and actually titling with a career choice, not an actual archetype, but the zoologist or animal loving character has a few tropes to work with.
For the real zoologists out there, forgive me. But here we will talk about the fictional animal fanatic, and some of the purveying symbolism in using animals in our stories.
The Zoologist (Animal Lover)
“I trust my pets more than I trust you” ~ Animal Lover’s Motto
The animal fanatic as a character is easily recognisable. Their house is filled with animals, and they probably get on with animals more easily than human beings. Stereotypically they are anti-social, but incredibly competent (almost magically) at understanding and communicating with animals, either of a specific species or overall.
We’ve seen this fictional persona take hold in reality with certain people branding themselves as horse, cat, lama, elephant or dog “whisperers”.
Fictionally there are derivatives where such animal lovers are actually brought up outside of human society by animals – Tarzan of the Jungle and Mowgli of the Jungle Book are two. In real life we are absolutely enthralled by tales of wild children who have been brought up by wolf packs, large cats or other wild animals.
Then we get into a few of associated archetypal tropes which make for interesting studies of literature –
1. Animals Who Talk
Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to something else (usually animals)—language, clothing, housing, food, behaviors, relationships, thought processes. Anthropomorphism has very old roots as a literary device, often used to help convey a message or lesson, like in fables and fairy tales or other juvenile literature. In fantasy we often see anthropomorphic animals as characters, who may even wield magic. Anthropomorphic characters may be protagonists or the companions of a human protagonist, but to really be a part of this sub-genre, they must be key players in the story.
~ Best Fantasy Books Genre description
There are a couple of types of this trope. The first is the literal talkers – animals who are personified as humans, and can tell their own story – often in English, complete with human dialects and accents from where they come from. Disney and Pixar does this popularly as cartoons, Movies like Cats and Dogs use the trope in real live action. Many stories also include actual humans amongst the population.
The other permutation of this trope is animals who talk only to each other, and remain animalistic and (reasonably) true to their nature. In fiction, these animals still go on a hero’s journey. The lovely books Watership Down and The Incredible Journey are examples.
Many of these stories of animal talkers are for children. Animal stories make up a large proportion of children’s literature, and there are many literal studies of this sub-genre. Often in this format, a child reading of an animal character can relate to the character more easily than a human or adult character.
2. The Female Rescuer
The female rescuer is a somewhat derogatory stereotype of the Caregiver Archetype (see below). In the female rescuer we find a nerdy or antisocial girl wall-flower who spends her time rescuing animals and caring for them. Her house is normally filled with her pets. From this we may find the further trope of the “cat lady”, often apportioned to single older women without a family.
Why are Animals so Important in our Stories? The Caregiver Archetype
1. Animals as Worthiness Judges
“You can judge a man’s true character by the way he treats his fellow animals.” – Paul McCartney
“Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.” ― Arthur Schopenhauer
Looking into the psychology a little bit, one of the all-persuasive sayings across our world is that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he treats animals.
We also tend to trust that animals (somehow) have an innate sixth sense towards how good or bad a person really is, and that they are choosy in giving their unconditional love to just anybody. Somehow our domestic pets at least have been imbued with the ability to judge human beings as being worthy or not.
Not to mention that many folk stories tell us that animals like cats have the second-sight ability to see spirits, ghosts or angels or other beings outside our human range of vision.
We find the derivatives of this in our stories all the time – villains seldom have pets and even when they do, somehow only certain types of animals (fluffy grumpy persian cat, or vicious doberman dog) are allowable pets (because they are equally evil) for criminal masterminds. Ala Dr Evil’s cat Bigglesworth in Austin Powers, which was a parody of the cat found in Jame’s Bond’s You Only Live Twice, but we also find the same fluffy evil cat parody through many other films.
Then we have the stories of a man on a first date entering the house of his girlfriend and being assessed towards his trustworthiness by her cat or dog. If the pet takes an instant dislike to a man who’s wooing the heroine, we will later find out the pet was right. TV Tropes calls this ‘Animals Hate Him.’ Further derived we have the common trope that animal haters or those who want to harm animals for their own profit, are our true villains. Disney’s Cruella in 101 Dalmatians is one of the most masterful renditions of a supreme villain encountered from this trope.
We also have the stereotype of the Friend to All Living Things – often a female character like Snow White, who makes friends easily with all the cute little creatures in the woods. This shows us how wise, trustworthy and wholesomely good our character is.
And then there are the animal wars. Even if we trust animals to judge us for our worthiness it seems that some animals sit higher in the pecking (petting?) order for some humans. Some of us are cat lovers, some dog lovers, some are dog haters…and if we find somebody who disagrees with our love, we distrust them!
Taking it back to the purely affected zoologist or animal lover archetype in this post, we should know that a true zoologist would not allow themselves to be pinpointed down to choosing only one type of animal – they love them all. And as for distrusting other humans, the zoologist hates only the types who kill or harm animals, so hunters or bullies or psychopaths who kill little animals are the true enemies of this archetype. Borderline enemies may exist in meat-eaters or animal farmers or corporations who destroy natural habitats. Obviously a shadow of the animal lover may be the extreme animal activist.
2. The Animal Spirit
Many cultures have spoken mythically of animals having a guiding spirit within them. Native Americans are a well-known example of denoting animals with totem archetypes. Several zodiac systems also use animal characters to denote certain behaviours and associate these with birth dates of humans.
World-wide certain traits are associated with specific animals – the wolf, horse and dog, for instance, is spoken of having a “noble spirit”, the owl as being “wise”, lions and other big cats are associated with royalty and ruling, crows and doves provide messages or omens.
Related to this is the common archetypal belief that, as TV Tropes says, Humans Are the Real Monsters, and animals are truer in spirit. From this we get some subverts of the trope, in shadow characters like the naive animal lover, who believes so much in the spirit and good nature of animals that he forgets that some animals are just plain dangerous by nature.
Another common thinking for wild and larger animals is that such animals are a worthy adversity for the human. Here we get the shadow aspect of the big game hunter who goes out there to prey on animals who could, as he believes, prey on him, in a competition of some sort. From this is derived the animal trophy collector as another shadow.
Then we have the extra-sensory aspect spoken of already in the ghost-seeing cat above. Trope wise, one associated stereotype is the evil-detecting dog.
Specific animals have been from ancient times related to witches, as witch’s familiars – black cats have many superstitions associated to them; frogs, lizards and wolves also have witchcraft and pagan Witch Goddess associations.
But common real life tales of dogs who go missing from their homes and years later make a return appearance having somehow navigated hundreds of miles make appearances in our media all the time. And heroic animals and journeys are popular genres for not only children but adults too. Those are the stories of Lassie, or in Australia, of Red Dog. So perhaps there are animal senses and abilities we will never understand.
As writers when adding animals into our story we should always be aware of the associated archetypes and tropes.
For more on animal characters see D for Dolphin in this series.
3. Unconditional Love
“Animals are such agreeable friends ― they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” ― George Eliot
This belief seems almost contradictive to that nominated in number one above. At the same time that we can believe that an animal can somehow sense how good or bad a person is, we also very much want to believe that animals will love us unconditionally. At least for dogs, that is. Cats don’t have the same reputation, and are free-er spirits with their will.
In actual fact, in real life, even dogs don’t love unconditionally. In real life, they are reliant on humans as a source of food and shelter. The many horrible stories of rescued dogs who are fearful and aggressive shows that bad ownership does not beget love. Dogs in this example are symbolic of the parent-baby relationship of need and behaviours to get what we want when unable to get it for ourselves.
In our modern times when many people are left lonely from nuclear family breakups, divorces, modern travel and employment movements, or simply the longer lifespan afforded our older generations, is there little wonder that many of us are looking for a simple reciprocated and (un)conditional love from animal companions?
However, this aspect does relate to the fact that through all of this, to acquire the “unconditional” love we seek, many of us, including our fictional characters, may return to an ancient archetype, that of the caregiver.
The Caregiver Aspect
Animals, especially domestic pets, have taken the mantle of being in need of our protection and love, and of being incapable of protecting themselves. As pseudo-children, we often see loved pets being “baby”, being personified with human needs, talked to with baby-talk and even being taken around parks in backpacks or prams, when they should be walking. Pet accessories are a billion dollar industry across the world.
More realistically (yes, even in fiction), many of our animal lover characters (Dr Doolittle, Charlotte the spider in Charlotte’s Web, Mr Popper and his penguins) are portrayals of the caregiver. And the caregiver is a portrayal of Jung’s archetype, the Mother.
The caregiver archetype represents selflessness and generosity.
Caregivers, even as animal carers, have many associated shadow archetypes. Animal lovers can become obsessed with one specific type of animal (the cat lady),or can choose animals over humans and become extremist in their practices (the activist or terrorist). In real life we have stories of beloved pets inheriting huge family fortunes and leaving human family members without anything.
A word of caution. When dealing with animals, animal lovers and animal haters in fiction, writers must be wary of the real life aspects of a couple of polarising beliefs associated with animals.
The belief that animal haters are bad people is very polarising in the real world. With dogs in particular increasing in urban populations, there are studies now out showing how one becomes an animal lover.
It’s been found that being an animal lover is partly inherited and partly based on not being menaced by an animal in our childhood. Specific and very common fears are created out of childhood encounters with particular animals. I, for instance, have a morbid fear of spiders, but as I was not brought up in a country with snakes, I don’t have the same scare with them, even though I now live in a country containing very venomous ones. Worms I can’t stand because in my early school years some boys thought it funny to stuff them down our tops.
However, as an animal lover myself, my household has always been full of various animal menageries. Currently we have two dogs – one very large, two cats and a bunny. And with a teen daughter I am mindful of her inviting friends around who may be scared of the dogs, particularly the large one. He’s the kindest most gentlest dog I’ve ever had, but he’s big.
One of my daughter’s best friends is a dog hater. She won’t come inside this house if she knows our dogs are here. When I inquired why, she had no reason. She’d never, from memory, been menaced by a dog. But somehow she’d formed a morbid fear of all of them, regardless of nature or size. I can only put this down to her parent’s influence – both she says hate dogs, and have brought her up to mistrust them herself.
When I have my small dog in the car to pick up my daughter after school, the best friend often accompanies my daughter out to the car, but draws back when she sees the dog. The dog senses this, and acts wary and mistrusting around her. He would welcome her with licks and wags if only she patted and greeted him, but she refuses to be encouraged to try that. So the two are at a stale mate – the dog acts like she’s untrustworthy, and she acts as a hater.
If she were a fictional character, she’d be a dog hater at least, and the way a dog reacts to that would find her earmarked stereotypically as a bad person, perhaps even a villain. So beware of the possible stereotyping of bad people as animal haters here.
Don’t Kill an Animal
Because of the symbolism of animals as characters of good spirits, their unconditional love and trust of their humans, and the fact that we believe anyone who has a pet or is an animal lover is a good person, if we as writers dare to kill off an animal in our stories (much like killing a child) we must be ready for hate-mail from disappointed readers.
This is one of the odd rules of writing – never kill off a [beloved] animal or child.
Of course, technically it makes no real life sense. Children and animals are killed or have accidents as readily as adults. Crime fiction and disaster action fiction would be much more realistic if it were allowed to impact both sets of characters.
Recognising the Animal Lover
- The true animal lover will be surrounded by animals – their home will have a lot of them
- They will often be anti-social, or shy, and struggle to form or maintain relationships with humans, or in less drastic terms, be more comfortable around animals than humans.
- They may work in zoological-related jobs – vets, animal welfare officers, zoo keepers, animal charity organisers, pet store owners, conservationists, scientists who study animals in the wild
- They may have a magical ability to understand animals and their needs, to calm wild animals down, to heal animals, and get animals to do what they want
- They may confine themselves to one particular species (ie the cat lady) but a true animal lover will not want to choose and will love all types, regardless of how cute or dangerous they may or may not be.
- Particularly, injured, rejected, endangered, or scared animals in need of help or protection will be an attractive to the animal lover who has a rescuer complex.
- The animal lover’s sense of responsibility and care for their animals means they may have to give up or miss more human activities.
- Animal lovers are often considered strange, odd or crazy by other humans. This is often used for comical effect.
- Any animal lover story or story which includes animals as main characters will prove the point that animals can behave better than many people, and ultimately make the animal lover character more human and accepted in society.
- Healthy animal lovers as metaphor are inclusive, accepting, kind, selfless, considerate, and passionate human beings; contrasting with racists, bigots, selfishness, me-only, me-first and other bad archetypes. The animal lover story will always have a heavily humanistic moral premise.
- ‘Old Yeller’ – boy and dog (realistic dog)
- ‘Ratatouille’ – cartoon personified rat who wants to be a chef
- ‘Babe’ – the pig and other animals remain moderately realistic and talk amongst themselves
- ‘Gorillas in the Mist; – the true story based on scientist Dian Fossey, and her relationship with African gorillas
- ‘Marley and Me’ – a movie based on an autobiological book telling the story of a family and real dog
- ‘War Horse’ – a real horse who has a tear-jerking journey
- ‘Black Beauty’ – a classic horse story
- ‘Charlotte’s Web’ – a classic children’s story about several farm animals, with Charlotte being a spider. The animals can talk to each other.
- ‘Dr Doolittle’ is the father archetype of the human who can talk to animals.
- ‘Mr Popper’s Penguins’ is the story of a firstly reluctant caregiver to a group of penguins. The penguins succeed in making Mr Popper more human.
- ‘Lassie’ and ‘Skippy the Kangaroo’ – heroic animal on adventures
- ‘Red Dog’ – an Australian example of the heroic dog who has some mystical abilities to make huge journeys.
- ‘We Bought a Zoo’ – the based-on-a-true-story journey of one family into the world of true animal carers, and a happier life.
Other Names, Associates and Origins
- Other names: zoo keeper, animal-lover, Dr Doolittle, animal spirit, animal talker, dog whisperer
- Associations: caregiver / mother, helper; humans raised by animals (Tarzan); Cruella Villain type; talking/personified anthromorphic animal stories (kidlit)
- Sub-archetypes / stereotypes: naive animal lover, female rescuer; Disney types- friend to all living things, and fluffy tamer (a friend to dangerous living things); animals hate him.
- Shadows: extremist animal activist; female rescuer as cat lady; big game hunter; animal trophy collector; metaphor of token racist (an animal lover who chooses or selects only one species of animal and classifies others including humans below them)
Part of 2016’s Character Archetype Series (A-Z) @ Hunter is Writing.