The Familiar and Wild Seed – Animals as Aids
Within Danielewski’s The Familiar and Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed the interactions between animals and humans lead to animals serving as possible aids for or to humans in a variety of ways. While there are plenty of instances in The Familiar where animals are mistreated, misused, or abused, the silver lining of the novel comes out in the collaboration between a couple of the characters and their animal companions. Likewise, while Wild Seed doesn’t capitalize on such a wide range of characters or designated situations of animal cruelty as ostentatiously, it certainly capitalizes on the positive and even helpful relationship that Anyanwu has with not only the animals she encounters, but the animal essences that she embodies and becomes.
A couple of the storylines and characters in The Familiar deal with poor or subpar treatment of animals as well as relationships with them, such as Luther and his dogs and Isandórno and the animals he sees in crates. Quite opposite to this, the relationship between Tian Li, Xanther, and the cat that seems to pass between them is definitely one based on an animal providing them with some kind of aid. Tian Li is a healing woman of some sort and while she takes the credit and is the one known for having such powers, Jingjing makes it clear through his narrative that he suspects that the cat actually might be the source of her power. This is even more reinforced through the instance of Tian Li losing her life when the cat “leaves,” allegedly to pass on to Xanther. The nature of this cat as both a source of healing power for Tian Li and also a life force in some capacity shows the irrefutable aid that this cat brought Tian Li throughout the course of their relationship.
This helpful nature continues in the case of Xanther, whose main plot point involves the attempt to provide her with an animal that will specifically give her aid with her seizures. While the plan to procure such a dog never fully comes through in this a respect, the cat that Xanther saves does provide an aid to her, and she to them. In the process of finding and taking in such an animal, Xanther actually saves the cat’s life before imploring for the animal to be kept. While this is an obvious display of aid, one of the last quotes in the novel involves Xanther admitting that in the presence of such an animal “even if nothing has changed everything suddenly feels manageable” (Danielewski, 837). Xanther and the cat in question both save each other in different respects; Xanther ensures the survival of the cat, and in turn the cat aids Xanther in managing the weight that she’s been dealing with for a majority of the novel.
Similar to these instances of helpful human/animal relationships in The Familiar, Anyanwu’s relationship with animals in Wild Seed is also one whose nature stems directly from the position of one providing aid to the other and vice versa. Any time that Anyanwu feels threatened, endangered, or wants to escape from the one person that she feels is dominating her in a suffocating and abusive way, she relies on her animal forms to get her out of the situation. Animals are the only beings within the novel that do not fall under the all-encompassing and offensive power that Doro yields. Anyanwu makes a kind of unspoken pact with the animals that she ingests and becomes in order to utilize both the strengths of their individual forms and their collective immunity to Doro overall. She then in turn requests on some occasions that a sort of protection be given back to them, considering the way she asked for dolphins to be spared while on the ship traveling to America. While she does ask this because they seem more human than other animals, this does present a clear example of a way that she reciprocates the aid she gains from these animals who she also receives help from.