Posts Tagged ‘hedgehogs’

immediacy3 Thanks to author KJ Hannah Greenberg for stopping by and sharing her thoughts about anthropomorphized animals and other pretend friends.

Of Hedgehogs, Komodo Dragons, and Other Anthropomorphized Friends by KJ Hannah Greenberg

My readers and writing students, alike, tend to point to my narratives as being populated by entire, strange ecologies’ worth of pretend friends. They are spot on.

Striped and otherwise stippled beasties, both of this world and of places found only in imaginations feed by bits and things that include kale, butterscotch and attitude, especially attitude that is borrowed from two-headed wildebeests and gelatinous monsters, are important to my writing. Playfulness, in my esteem, has the ability to change polished, but hollow assemblages of words into irregular, and hence evocative, texts.

It seems to me that poetry and prose, which sport with the wits of their audiences, become vehicles for engaging those viewers in critical thinking. Truth be told, people give the impression of being more open-minded to “new” ideas when their guard is down than when they are feeling defensive.

Just as most of us science fiction/fantasy/horror writers employ outlandish settings and look to populations of weird critters, rather than construct yet more literary fiction, when we want to push political correctness or elsewise when we want to proffer questions about beloved cultural norms, so, too, do frolicsome authors, in general, intentionally employ personification of fauna, toward the end of prying people away from their comfort zones of social needs and aspirations. Soft cuddly objects can and do remain ideologically dangerous whether they wash up in mainstream, bizarro, or other forms of storytelling. Some writers realize this fact.

Said differently, there are several ways in which writers can invite audiences in for a cup of arsenic or for a ride on a wampus cat. Nuanced rhetoric, gratuitous sex and violence, thinly disguised hyperbole, and repeated injections of low brow humor all are proven methods for catching others’ attention. Sadly, these days, folks appear willing to think hard on matters only if they are tricked into doing so. Thus, throwing wombats, many tentacled aliens, or inebriated dodo birds into stories makes rhetorical sense for any writer seeking to produce an impact on readers’ values, attitudes or beliefs.

In short, it behooves us lovely children of literature to consider that waggishness in writing, above all, as that quality applies to scaly or skin-covered filaments of our psyches, is to be admired. When taking ourselves a whole lot less seriously than we currently do is attractive, using animals in our narratives becomes a necessity.

A second, and less important, reason why I embrace anthropomorphized characters is because this choice enables me to insert scientific pieced of information into tales that might otherwise be full of figurative fluff or feathers. Most modern denizens fail to care, for instance, that the way in which we refer to woolies depends on their count. That is, twenty to fifty sheep constitute a bunch, one hundred to one thousand makes for a flock, and more than one thousand of those ruminant mammals equal a banel. Likewise, not all tiny birds, which come equipped with long tongues and with the ability to stay suspended while gathering nectar, are hummers. The Great Writer penned a large number of species that, although accordingly endowed, are passerine flyers of a different nature. To boot, sunbird and spiderhunters not only sip from plants’ nectaries, but eat insects and arachnids, too.

Deliberate on the concept that most people would rather read a horror story about vampire bees, bats and small, airborne singers than read a white paper about why dumping hazardous wastes into estuaries generates a toxic environment for skyfish living in wadis, scrub and savannas. Similarly, few among us would voluntarily spend time perusing articles about present-day shepherding, whereas we might be willing to read a steampunk account of the same. If writers don’t hide data about our fostering, or lack thereof, of our planet’s well-being into their plots, most of us will never evidence those notions.

One of my earliest texts, written when I was a third grader, was a haiku about migrating geese. Those gallant birds, those exotica that slummed, during summers, in southern climes like my city of Pittsburgh or like my pen pal’s hometown of Detroit, before returning to their permanent homes located near Toronto or Quebec, represented, to me, the epitome of proper habit, of native self-determination, and of beauty. Their formations were as supreme as were their migratory ways. Their aerial movements were at least as majestic as was those found in human performances. It was impossible for me not to embrace those waterfowl with words or to delve into an elementary school kid’s level of research about their lives.

A third reason why zoology’s representatives tend to show up in my work is because I find that nature, in all of its wondrous and terrible manifestations, is an awesome teacher and because I am the sort of gal that likes to pass along what I’ve gathered. Granted, my epistemology is not that of The Enlightenment; I get hot and excited about limited kinds of “scientific” revelations. Nevertheless, I insist that there is much to be learned from all living creatures.

Mull over the actuality that we can be taught industry from ants, fidelity from doves, and fastidiousness from tigers. It continues to be the case that real animals, though deprived of humans’ free will, model desirable traits. It also continues to be the case that it’s foolish to toss away free-for-the-taking instruction.

As for those brutes that get conjured in writers’ heads, they, similarly, as aforesaid, can be looked to for archetypes of human characteristics. Sometimes, it’s better for a protagonist, for a stand-in for the rest of us, to plight one’s troth to a vapid, six-limbed cucumber-shaped monster from the Andromeda Galaxy than it is for him or her to get mixed up with the likes of criminally-minded earthlings. In studying the emotional composition of intelligent spores, we can grapple with grater efficacy with our own inner workings.

Regardless of why I employ things that yap or roar, I have been doing so since I became habituated to writing. Sure, as a young writer, I could no more espouse why I featured animals in human situations than I could explain the subtleties of dating, mating and separating, yet I was attracted both to the entire array of beasts and to information about negotiating interpersonal communication.

As a result, early on, I filled my stories with furry fiends that quested for love, or, failing to find full blown acceptance, sought places where they would at least be free from collective persecution. For decades, I’ve written about all manners of organic beings.

These days, I persistently enfold downy darlings into my tales. One newish collection of my stories features chimeras. A more recent work trills about Komodo dragons. As well, my “brand,” as an author, is built, in part, on my hibernaculum of make-believe hedgehogs. A current novel, Ten Kilo and One Million, looks at life among Furries. A chapbook of narratives, Cryptids, too, refers to human veracities visa via animals’ realities. Plus, recently published individual short pieces of mine have titles (and related content) stretching from “The Lemur Cage,” “Puppies’ Playful Stance,” “A Thing for Small Fish and Bendy Invertebrates,” to “McCragherty and the Livestock Exchange,” “Hatched Loved Ones,” and “Ode to a Cockroach.” Above and beyond, “Ah, the Aardvark: Classifying Chaos in an Urban Zoo” sits among my latest favorites.

With pen and paper organisms, there’s little to clean up, even less to wash or to feed, and much from which to be inspired. My nonhuman sweethearts always, unless I bid them to the contrary, “leave only footprints” while pulling me and my audiences higher and higher. To wit, I hope to incorporate their hooves and wings into my writing forever and ever.”

dpst-cover-300 To learn more about KJ Hannah Greenberg and to purchase her books: http://kjhannah.greenberg.net or http://www.bardsandsages.com/speculative_fiction/greenberg

Thanks again to KJ Hannah Greenberg for her guest post. Watch Whimsical Words for more guests, blogs from me, and Readers & Writers Recipes. Have a magical day! – Vonnie

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It’s February 2nd, and that means Punxsutawney Phil and a plethora of other groundhogs have looked for their shadows. Some of the critters have seen their shadow when they crawled or were hauled out of their burrows – thus predicting 6 more weeks of winters. Other groundhogs (or in the case of Alaska, marmots) didn’t see their shadow – so they’re predicting an early spring. But where did this groundhog weather prognostication skill come from?

As usual, my fascination with folklore sends me back to Europe. Ancient Roman, Celtic, and Early Christian beliefs all seem to contribute to the importance of February 2nd as a weather-predicting date. But whether Candlemas or Imbolc or the Feast Day of Sretenje, a furry animal and the amount of sunshine seem to hold great importance.

Various sources say groundhogs (and Alaskan marmots) are substitutes for the hedgehogs, badgers, and sacred bears of Europe. As for me, I’m pretty sure I’d be willing to watch a hedgehog creep from his burrow and look for his shadow. A badger seems a far more formidable creature, and I don’t think I’d want to be too close when he clawed his way to daylight and checked out the shadow-casting abilities of the sun. And I’m quite certain, I’d leave the “checking for a shadow” duties to the professionals in the case of a sacred bear.

I must admit to visiting Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania a few years ago. I drove to Gobbler’s Knob and walked down to the hut that Phil is placed in prior to his prognostication appearance. Then, visited the famous groundhog in his library home where he lives in a climate-controlled environment eating dog food. And, by the way, there is a back-up groundhog living right next to him – just in case Phil the First isn’t quite up to snuff on his big day.

I was disappointed to learn that the movie, “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell was not filmed in Punxsutawney. It seems the snowfall in the area was too unpredictable. Nevertheless, the little town in Pennsylvania was a charming place to visit.

Charming is perhaps the right word for Groundhog Day. There’s a charm to the customs brought by the hodgepodge of immigrants that settled the United States. And for me, those charming customs that wind back to olden times in far places, are the beginning places for my fiction.

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