Matthew Bennardo (@mbennardo) asked on Twitter:
Besides White Fang and Call of the Wild, does anybody know any good books told from animals’ perspectives? (Either first or third person.)
Which is a very good question, I think, and worthy of a list of books. I used to love reading stories from the perspective of animals when I was in grade school particularly. Those books do seem much more scarce as an adult.
I put his question to my lovely friends on plurk and they helped me come up with a book list so excellent I feel compelled to share it. Note, these are books with animal protagonists that are not anthropomorphised. They don’t wear clothes or wield swords; as good as the books are, Redwall is right out, and the Guardians of Ga’Hoole.
If you have any suggestions, I’ll add them to my list!
Please note, I have not personally read all these books, so I am trusting you guys to stick to the criteria as laid out. (And let me know if you have hit on one of those rare books that doesn’t even anthropomorphise to the point of giving the animals language.)
Young Adult/Middle Grade
Bunnicula (and the rest of its series) – Deborah and James Howe
Black Beauty – Anna Sewell*
Roxanne, the Blue Dane – Alice Kingham-LaChevre
The Fox and the Hound – Daniel P. Mannix
The Incredible Journey – Sheila Burnford
The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book – by Rudyard Kipling
Fire Bringer – David Clement-Davies
Ratha’s Creature (and its series) – Clare Bell
Silverwing (and its series) – Kenneth Oppel
Charlotte’s Web – EB White [Maybe a bit of a stretch, but it’s such a lovely book]
Pigs Might Fly – Dick King-Smith
The Animals of Farthing Wood – Colin Dann
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents – Terry Pratchett
Dogsbody – Diana Wynne Jones
101 Dalmations and The Starlight Barking – Dodie Smith
I, Houdini – Lynne Reid Banks
War Horse – Michael Murporgo
Beautiful Joe – Marshall Saunders*
Call of the Wild – Jack London*
White Fang – Jack London*
The Biography of a Grizzly – Ernest Thompson Seton*
Wild Animals I Have Known – Ernest Thompson Seton*
Animal Heroes – Ernest Thompson Seton*
Wild Animals At Home – Ernest Thompson Seton*
Anthill – Edward O Wilson [viewpoint split between human and ant colonies]
The Plague Dogs – Richard Adams
Watership Down – Richard Adams
Wish You Were Here (mystery series starting here) – Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown
I Am a Cat [吾輩は猫である] – Soseki Natsume
Dog On It (and the rest of the Chet and Bernie mysteries) – Spencer Quinn
Raptor Red – Robert T. Bakker [This one is really cool because it’s about a dinosaur!]
Tailchaser’s Song – Tad Williams
The Heavenly Horse From the Outermost West – Mary Stanton [Okay, this one might be a stretch.]
The Grizzly King – James Oliver Curwood*
The Family Tree – Sherri Tepper
Solo’s Journey – Joy Smith Aiken
Duncton Wood – William Horwood
The Kindred of the Wild – Charles GD Roberts*
The Watchers of the Trails – Charles GD Roberts*
The Haunters of the Silences – Charles GD Roberts*
The Song of the Cardinal – Gene Stratton-Porter*
Forest Neighbors – William Davenport Hulbert*
I also wonder if maybe books from the His Majesty’s Dragon series by Naomi Novik could be counted in here, since some of the books are partially from the perspective of Temeraire, the dragon in question. But that might be stretching it a bit far.
ETA: Matt clarified he was looking for books where the animals don’t talk at all, not even for each other. Those are much, much harder to find! I’ve marked the few I know definitely fit that narrower criteria by bolding them.
ETA2: Added several more books, thanks to an e-mail from Matt (posted with his permission):
I’ve read snippets of most of these books [RA: I have marked the ones he’s referring to with a *], and they are more or less from the animals’ points of view. (Some have a human observer as intermediary, who drifts in and out, but each of them attempts to “get in the heads” of the animals in some way.) Many of the books (especially those by Seton and Roberts) are collections of short stories, each about different animals. Roberts even eventually attempts stories from the POV of deep sea critters, which is pretty audacious.
As to how successful these writers were… This article is interesting (and in-depth) reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_fakers_controversy
It boils down to this: Many naturalists in the early 20th century criticized writers who tried to tell stories from animals’ points of view, believing the stories were deceptive and painted a false picture of animal behavior and psychology. They considered even these non-talking animals as dangerously anthropomorphized. Eventually, this controversy led to then sitting President Theodore Roosevelt mucking it up with Jack London, trading insults via magazine articles.
I suspect this controversy explains the drop-off of these kind of stories as the years go on. (Of the 14 books I found, 9 of them were published in a flurry between 1898 and 1907.) Though, of course, my list is not comprehensive, so there may not have been any real drop-off at all.
Also, I’ll note that there isn’t really a clear YA/Adult split in the books Matt listed, so I kind of took my best stab at them. If I misclassified any, please let me know!