Talking animals are a mainstay of fairy tales, fantasy, legend and film. They look cute, sound real and are amusing in the way they ape humanity.
That to me, is the problem. Talking animals in fiction are almost always just human characters in a different form. An animal with the power of speech would certainly not see the world in the way that we do, and they would look askance at the society that human beings have constructed for their convenience.This is why I created the character Jackanapes, the monkey star of The Adventures of Siskin and Valderan. He is a talking monkey with a caustic sense of humour who hides a traumatic past.
Here is a taste of his philosophy. Siskin and Valderan have been sent to reclaim the bones of Guixols, an ancient sage. Unfortunately, another pair of adventurers got there first and whipped the bones away from beneath the noses of our heroes. All that Siskin and Valderan have left are the fragments of an urn which once held the bones of Guixols:
“There is … another way,” said Jackanapes. “We don’t have to go back empty-handed.”
“No?” Asked Valderan.
“No. Well, I mean to say… Guixols has been buried in that chapel for many hundreds of years, yes?”
“True,” Valderan agreed.
“And your species doesn’t live very long?”
“A hundred years at most, if you’re very, very fortunate.”
“We won’t be reaching that age, Napes,” added Siskin.
“So … that means that no one has ever seen the bones of Guixols. No one knows what they look like. Maybe they know what the urn is supposed to look like … but I doubt it, when you think of how long the chapel has lain hidden beneath the waves.”
“Napes, I don’t like what you’re saying …” said Siskin.
“Surely, you can’t possibly be suggesting …” said Valderan.
“I can and I am. All we need to do to satisfy Babaroussa is dig up someone else’s skeleton, and say it belonged to Guixols!”
“Monstrous!” Said Valderan. “And probably blasphemous,” he added for good measure.
“It does sound a bit bad, eh?”
“What’s wrong with it?” Said Jackanapes, warming to his theme. “We’ve already become grave robbers, because no matter what Babaroussa says, we had no right to take those relics. We also don’t know for sure that they are Guixols’ bones. They could be anybody’s. So we’re not doing anything new that’s bad …”
“Oh, Jackanapes, who would have thought that such a little body could harbour such diabolic thoughts?”
“Don’t be so precious, Valderan! You’re just seeing this through human eyes. Look around you!” The monkey made a theatrical gesture with his arm. “Death is everywhere. Hundreds of those turtle things are lying here, dead. At the end of the summer, they’ll just be bones, picked clean and white. Shortly afterwards, they’ll be dust. Why are human bones so different?”
“We have a soul,” Valderan replied.
“What’s the difference between death and life? Only that at the moment of death, the soul leaves the body. The flesh and bones are left behind. They’re not the person. They’re not the soul.”
“But, still, substituting someone else’s bones for those of Guixols. It goes against the grain. It doesn’t seem right.”
“No, no, Napes has a point,” Siskin said. “What makes Guixols so special? Only that he was some holy man. Well, if he was chosen by the Gods, lucky him. But his bones are no more important than anyone else’s. They toss the corpses of the paupers into a common grave.”
“You see! Siskin agrees with me!” Said Jackanapes triumphantly. “Trust me, Valderan. A person’s bones are no more important than his toenail clippings.”
“Where do you suggest we obtain this … alternate corpse?” Asked Valderan. His face had turned quite grey.
“There was a ghost town we saw on the way in. It had a graveyard. I saw it,” said Jackanapes. “We’ve got a spade. We could dig someone up.”
“Aye, and if you’re nervous about which one to take,” Siskin added, “we could raid the murderer’s graves under the old gallows. You can’t desecrate a grave like that.”
“Replace the relics of holy Guixols with the bones of a common killer?” Spluttered Valderan. “I hardly think that’s appropriate.”
“Well, if you hadn’t wandered off with the horses, leaving us to chase after you, we wouldn’t have to do any of this at all!” Siskin retorted.
“That’s not fair,” said Valderan. “Anyway, if we do go down that road, what happens if the thieves with the real bones take them to Lirara? Then we’d be in a pretty pickle, if two sets of holy relics turn up at once, … especially if someone happens to notice that our corpse was decapitated before death! Hardly the end of a holy man.”
“Relax,” said Jackanapes, now with a cunning gleam in his eye. “We have the fragments of the urn remember? That’s our proof that our bones are the ‘real’ ones. Without those, it’s just one man’s word against another. But we’ve got proof of our claim!”
“Gods above protect us! If there is a god of grave robbers, of course.”
“I don’t see why there shouldn’t be,” answered Jackanapes. “You humans seem to have a god for everything else.”
(c) Alastair Savage, 2013
My next blog will have to be Talking animals in reality….