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Different Relationships with Animals

In The Familiar, we see Xanther experience a very mutualistic relationship with the kitten she saves. In other words, Xanther and the kitten both benefit from the relationship that forms between them. The kitten’s benefits from the relationship are quite obvious. The kitten is saved by her and nursed back to health in a very loving home. Xanther also experiences a complete transformation from how we see her at the beginning of the book. Danielewski writes that “ Xanther feels fine, feels better than fine: the kitten is here at her side and even if nothing seems to have changed everything suddenly feels manageable. Or better: answerable” (839). She no longer feels anxious and does not have a million pestering questions running through her head. The animal relationship we see in Wild Seed is quite the opposite. Anyanwu has a very parasitic relationship with the animals she deals with. In order to transform into the animal shapes, she must first eat the animal. The best example is when she becomes the most beautiful dolphin and feels at complete peace escaping Doro while swimming in the ocean. The only reason she was able to do this was because she actually ate the dolphin… In other words, while Anyanwu is benefiting from the relationship with the dolphin, the dolphin is suffering tremendously by dying. These relationships between the two novels is as different as night and day and are very clear examples of mutualistic and parasitic relationships.



Fantasy fiction usually designates a conscious breaking-free from reality. The term is applied to a text that takes place in a nonexistent and unreal world, such as fairyland, or concerns incredible and unreal characters, or relies on scientific principles not yet discovered or contrary to present experience, as in some utopian fiction. Speculative fiction, on the other hand, appears to be a term coined by Robert A. Heinlein in an essay written in 1948, “On Writing of Speculative Fiction,” where he explicitly used the term as a substitute for “science fiction.” Once the term went into popular use, editors, readers, academics and some writers developed a tendency to think of speculative fiction as an umbrella term covering everything from science fiction and fantasy to magical realism. Under this definition, every novel that is not highly invested in “realism” could be called “speculative fiction.”

I’m interested in discussion of The Familiar as speculative fiction and fantasy in relation to how how the human/animal/posthuman relation is treated, particularly in relation to other fiction (and vice versa). In texts as wildly different as, for example, Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City, Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, Spiegelman’s Maus I and II, Karen Emshwiller’s The Mount, or Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore–or even in realism such as J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, Linda Hogan’s Power, or Karen Joy Fowler’s We are all Completely Beside Ourselves–we see the human/animal relation centralized in relation to themes, narrational style and technique, and posthuman ethics. How does The Familiar converse with and speak to these kinds of texts and rejoin, reframe, reject, and/or resituate their perspectives? How might putting these and other texts in conversation elucidate key differences in The Familiar in terms of style, theme, and politics?