Familiars in Other Forms

For the most part, The Familiar does not actually discuss familiars in Volume I. We do know, though, that the cat is a familiar, but we don’t know yet what that means to MZD. Since we have more questions than answers, I’d like to discuss—as others have—Pullman’s His Dark Materials and the dæmons that appear therein, especially in relation to We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler. For those unfamiliar with the book, the main character (Rosemary) had a “sister” (Fern) who was actually a chimpanzee. They were raised together as part of an experiment and, in many ways, Fern is a familiar to Rosemary.

In Pullman’s works, according to Wikipedia, “dæmons are the external physical manifestation of a person’s ‘inner-self’ that takes the form of an animal. Dæmons have human intelligence, are capable of human speech—regardless of the form they take—and usually behave as though they are independent of their humans. Pre-pubescent children’s dæmons can change form voluntarily, almost instantaneously, to become any creature, real or imaginary. During their adolescence a person’s dæmon undergoes “settling”, an event in which that person’s dæmon permanently and involuntarily assumes the form of the animal which the person most resembles in character.” For purposes of clarity, I will use “dæmons” to refer to my interpretation of familiars.

Rosemary, in addition to having a chimpanzee for a sister, also had an imaginary friend (Mary) who was also a chimp. Both the real and imaginary chimps echo Pullman’s ideas of dæmons in the following ways:

  1. Fern knew ASL and could communicate through human speech.
  2. Fern operated independently of Rosemary, as does Mary.
  3. The form of Mary as a chimpanzee, “the form of the animal which the person most resembles in character,” also reiterates the trauma Rosemary experienced by being raised with a chimpanzee. (In addition to Fern learning human behaviors like ASL, Rosemary presents animalistic behaviors like defensive posturing, a misunderstanding of how humans physically interact [specifically with how much touching is acceptable], and explosive reactions to unpleasant events.
  4. Fern disappears before Rosemary’s adolescence, as does Mary. Mary taking the form of a chimp (a real animal) echo the ability of a dæmon to take any shape. Since both the real and imaginary familiars disappear before the “settling” period, it causes a lot of psychological issues for Rosemary in addition to those mentioned above.
  5. Once the human dies, the dæmon disappears. Rosemary doesn’t die once her familiar goes away, but she is unalterably changed. The girl who had a chimpanzee sister is not same person once she is the girl who used to have a chimpanzee for a sister.

It’s doubtful that Fowler intended these similarities (though, as a sci-fi and fantasy writer, she was surely familiar with his works), but I think this view of the character relationship adds an interesting interpretation to an already complex relationship. I’m interested to see how the cat in The Familiar will be presented. Already, I think it’s form represents Xanther well. Judging by its teleportation into her bed, it also has her caring nature, which is fitting.

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