The Wolf and the Raven

Interesting little video on the relationship between wolves and ravens, which scientists apparently still don’t really understand.

Classic animal motifs and pairings can be a powerful storytelling tool, if you know how to use them right. Wolves and ravens, for instance, match the archetypes of the strong, straightforward warrior or hunter and the quick-witted, cunning spy or thief, respectively; different approaches to problem solving that often complement one another (or, potentially, lead to interesting conflicts).

On the other hand, an ill-chosen animal motif can lead to the whole thing falling flat. Like, I remember hearing about one YA book where a leader character turned into a panda (I think). But a panda is not a good ‘leader’ animal; it’s a fat, lazy fuzzball that sits around eating bamboo. Pandas would work as ‘pudgy aristocrat’ or ‘pampered rich person’, but not as a commanding leader or warrior (Kung Fu Panda worked because Po starts out as a fat, completely unathletic nerd – a perfect ‘panda’ image who grows out of it through hard work).

Also make sure they fit the setting. I saw a trailer recently for a show called ‘Samurai Rabbit’, and while there were some things I liked about it, one thing that stood out as off is that one of the characters is a rhino. What is a rhino doing in a feudal-Japanese-style story? (There were rhinos in ancient China, but never in Japan to my knowledge).

Anyway, the point is that animal motifs are a subordinate art of their own; one worth taking the time to look into.

6 thoughts on “The Wolf and the Raven

  1. Well, a samurai rhino could work if the show had a sufficiently off-the-wall, anything-goes kind of tone – the same way that a platypus in Wyoming works in “Phineas and Ferb”. (Which also had a rhino in one episode, didn’t it?) But I gather that “Samurai Rabbit” doesn’t appear to be going for that?

    As for fat, lazy leader-figures who spend all their time eating… well, I can’t resist noting that I mentioned Nero Wolfe in this space not long ago. Not that Wolfe as a panda would really work – if there’s one thing the employer of Fritz Brenner could never be, it’s a univore – but the precedent is there. (And now I’m wondering what kind of animal a panda Nero Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin would be. I’m thinking a black-winged kite.)

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    • Regarding ‘Samurai Rabbit’, they were clearly going for a very ‘Japanese’ aesthetic, in terms of the backgrounds, setting, character designs, etc. Which is what made the rhino stand out as thematically jarring.

      Nero Wolf would probably be an actual bear. Pandas just don’t connote *force* or resolution (though they can of course turn nasty in real life, but the impression is what counts for more than the facts in cases like this). A panda leader would be an elected official who ascends to office during a long period of peace and economic prosperity with a mandate to ‘keep doing what we’re doing’. Which, of course, could be an interesting story if he finds himself suddenly called on to exercise real leadership…

      (Dreamworks Pictures presents: Politician Panda!)

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      • A pander bear, in fact? Sure, I can see that.

        I can’t quite see Wolfe as a bear, though. Bears just spend too much time out of the den; it doesn’t fit. A badger, now, that might do: he could keep the orchids under sun-lamps in heated tunnels of his burrow, have a stoat for an assistant, take cases from wealthy field-mice… yes, I think this is the way to go.

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      • (Replying to Nicholas Arkison, though there’s no reply button below his comment.)

        So wait… Nero Wolfe as a character in the world of The Wind in the Willows? Although that’s a very different setting…

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