Thursday, May 31, 2018

Killer Companions

GIF via Tenor
We’ve spent the month discussing the many ways that animals, both domesticated and wild, can add wonderful color and layers of emotionally satisfying richness to a short story or novel. We’ve talked about how animal companions may become even more popular than the human protagonist who was supposed to be the star of any given series. But we have not explored how animals—that readers expect to always be warm and fuzzy—may in fact, be killer companions instead.

Two instances jump immediately to mind. Sir Arthur Conon Doyle used animals as killers in two of his Sherlock Holmes titles. His third novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, featured a large, spectral dog, the hound of the title, that was so eerie and terrifying in aspect that its mere appearance was enough to frighten victims to death.

In Conon Doyle’s short story, The Adventure of the Speckled Band, the villain used a venomous snake trained to respond to his whistles. The snake slithered down a bell pull into the unsuspecting victim’s bedroom when she was sleeping and bit her. The story opens with the dead woman’s twin sister seeking Holmes’ help as she now has reason to fear her own life is in danger. It created a sensation when it was first published in The Strand in February of 1892. Naturally, greed was at the heart of the plot, but the use of a dangerous trained animal to kill on command was something new.

Our own Elle Carter Neal pointed out that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, continued Holmes’ tradition of employing deadly animals to good effect, with his villains using everything from sharks to piranhas to dispatch their victims. Somehow, the quick-witted and slyly humorous Bond always managed to narrowly evade the snapping jaws of death, but others weren't so lucky. In The Spy Who Loved Me, (1962) villain Karl Stromberg does away with his double-dealing assistant, Marilyn Galsworthy, by dropping her into a tank with a Great White shark. In You Only Live Twice (1964) the evil Ernst Blofeld got rid of Spectre Agent Number 11 by tipping her into a pool full of hungry piranhas, serving to prove that one should endeavor to never displease an ill-tempered boss.

Have you ever read a novel or short story featuring a killer animal? Did it make a lasting impression upon you? Share your favorite works featuring beasts gone bad in the comments below.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook or Linked In.

9 comments :

  1. I've also just remembered the polar bear and wasps from the TV series Fortitude - truly full-on killer fauna. (Did you know that polar bears don't bother to kill their prey before they eat them; they don't need to - on the ice, there is no possibility of escape for a prey animal (or human) - and killing wastes energy and time that is better expended on eating and digestion.)

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  2. Yikes, I did not know that, Elle. But I have read that polar bears are considered the deadliest of the bears They just don't mess around.

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  3. Since I am not a fan of meticulously described gore and resist any temptation to inspire recurring nightmares, I don't read stories that make me uncomfortable. However, I do remember a movie I saw on television when I was a teenager in which 2 Great Danes (protectors of the movie's female lead) were avenging their deaths by seeking out their killer. The dogs' huge size, ghost forms, and impact on my sensitive nature convinced me this was not my kind of entertainment. (I can still envision the 4-legged ghosts coming down the stairway to seek revenge.) Yet, I understand the effectiveness of using animals as antagonists or co-antagonists with their evil humans. On a final note, if the gore is not depicted in all its bloody detail, I would definitely read a great mystery or suspense novel in which the reader is kept guessing about the non-human killer's identity. This is a great post, Pat. You have me thinking about how I could incorporate homicidal creatures (other than man) in a story that intrigues rather than terrifies sensitive readers. Hmm.

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    1. Ugh, you've just reminded me of the zombie Dobermanns in the Resident Evil movie and the alien/vampire Pomeranian in Blade. Shudder.

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  4. Now I have visions of the snakes in Indiana Jones and that shark in Jaws and might just have nightmares tonight. But also you've given me an idea for my work in process. Thanks!

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    1. Well, darn. You stole the two examples that quickly came to mind, Pat. LOL I'm more like Linda. I don't like gore or horror. My kids all loved reading Cujo by Stephen King, and seeing the movie, but I passed. I prefer my dogs to sit at my feet. Go for a walk with me. And otherwise act like normal dogs.

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  5. I'm with Linda and Maryann when it comes to gore. I don't want to read about it, hear about it and I definitely don't want to see it on the big or small screen. I am happy the post inspired several of you in regard to works in progress or about to be started. Now I'll have to start thinking along those lines for my own work as well.

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  6. I have used killer animals in books I wrote, but they were fantasy novels and the animals fantastical creatures.

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  7. Cujo and Pet Sematary by Stephen King will make you afraid of dogs and dead cats. Then there is King Kong, Tarzan's allies, and Jungle Book. Who can forget Shere Khan? The yeti/sasquatch has made numerous appearances in stories, though it has yet to be captured. The Legend of Boggy Creek terrified me as a kid. And Snakes on a Plane, although funny, tapped into my horror of snakes. There were killer spiders in numerous movies and books including Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. I know they too are beneficial ... outside!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.