What “Familiar” Means

So with this book being called The Familiar and every time the word is mentioned it is written in a different color, we can suspect by now that it is a word we need to pay attention to, but why? What does Danielewski want the reader to know by doing this? Of course I can’t simply call him up on the phone and ask, so I did the next best thing: googled the definition of “Familiar.”

1. Adjective- meaning well known from long or close association

or

2. Noun- meaning a demon supposedly attending and obeying a witch, often said to assume the form of an animal

After doing my research, I came up with the hypothesis that at some points of the book (Pg 135) Danielewski uses “familiar” in the sense of the first definition, but for the most part uses it in the sense of the second definition. For example, Tian Li is known for her mystical healing powers and she is always accompanied by her white cat, though there is no direct evidence claiming the connection between them, JingJing hints at it through his narration, saying he will never search Tian Li’s room for her money if the cat is home because he feels as if it will tell his aunt.  Yet, when Xanther runs to find the kitten in the rain instead of it adding a demon-like presence into her life, it seemed to finally allow Xanther to have some serenity instead.

So there are some parts of the plot that does not necessarily allow my idea to make complete sense, but I do think it is important for the reader to know the two different definitions of “familiar” in order to try and understand the message Danielewski is trying the communicate.

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One response to “What “Familiar” Means”

  1. prestontaylorstone says :

    Reblogged this on Discussion board for Mark Z. Danielewski's THE FAMILIAR, Volume 1 and commented:

    I completely agree that Danielewski wants to make this connection between his characters and these animals. It reminds me of the His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass), in which each of the characters has a dæmon that stays with their human counterpart. The dæmons represent the inner-selves of all the characters and while the characters are children they can change shape at will. Eventually, they settle into a permanent state of being and is supposed to be a reflection of a person’s personality.

    This being said, I think that’s what is closer to what is going on with Danielewski’s familiars. They are demons, yes, but that doesn’t mean they have to be Satanic in nature (that’s only a Christian belief). In fact, by not calling them demons and by calling them familiars, he is deliberately displacing them from that connotation. The ‘abiding a witch’ part can also be void of Christian negative connotation–witches or witch doctors were perceived gloriously as shamans (communicators with the spirit world) before being condemned in burnings like at Salem or during the Middle Ages.

    Also, at mention of ‘witch’ specifically in this definition, it reminds of Luther at one point calling Lupita a “bruja mágica” (trans. “magic witch”) – pg. 595. I’m not sure if this correlates, but something tells me it has to with Danielewski.

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