Talking Animals

I will admit it right here — I talk to my cat. The day he says anything more than “meow” or “purrrrrrr” in response, I will get myself some help. But for now, I think I’m safe in the assumption that, although he communicates quiet well — scratch behind my ears, I’m lonely, I’m in pain, I want to sit on the newspaper, where’s the cat food, tickle me under the chin, etc. — he does not speak. His plaintive yowl when he was having digestive problems was VERY articulate, but it did not include any of the words a human would use to describe his discomfort.

In fiction, talking animals are most often surrogates for human beings. This applies to both children’s literature and books aimed at adult audiences, In fantasy, magical or otherwise invented worlds in which animals speak, they may speak to humans or replace them entirely as protagonists. In mysteries, I’m not overly fond of talking critters, as some of this devolves into parody or is simply too cute for me.

On the other hand, the animal aspects of a monstrous creature — like a werewolf or a dragon — should inform the creature’s spoken words as much as claws and teeth would shape the sounds of those words. Just thinking out loud here — what kind of vocabulary would suit a dragon?

Umm… something to ponder, or Roaaaaaaaaaah, something to poaaaaaaaaaander…



  1. I think it depends on the situation. There have been video games I have played where they add the animal mannerisms into the monstrous character’s speech patterns. In the end it tends to annoy the hell out of me more than add flavor to the character. By golly convey the information so I can move on. I have monsters to kill!

    • Candy Korman

      Interesting. I”m not a video game player, but I think I can imagine how a werewolf interrupting his train of thought by barking would annoy me not end. On the other hand, I think a werewolf might use metaphors referencing aromas and a dragon might have a lisp caused by this forked tongue — or something equally weird — that would make his dragon-speak his own. I think this is one of the situations where different media have different requirements. Books V Movies V Games V Graphic Novels… they all may cover similar territory, but the storytelling requirements may be different.

  2. Do either of you remember the Disney animation of the Jungle Book?
    The only animal completely in ‘character’ was the huge python, Kaa. His lisping, hissing voice was just perfect. 🙂

    • Candy Korman

      I don’t remember it. But a python’s hissing, lisping voice sounds right on target. It fits the physical aspects of the talking creature. I’ve seen an unbelievable number of cute cat videos, but the ones the few “talking cat” ones that work are the ones that sound like the cats look. There was one with a serious looking cat suffering through some great ennui. It was very French and felt like a French film. The other one where the voice & the visuals worked was a frenetic kitten video. They really do run themselves into a frenzy and a ADD-ish little kid voice, jumping from subject to subject is kitten-ish. Don’t you think?

  3. I can still here the song he sung to Mowglie. Maybe this will freak you out or maybe it will just give a new spin on things, but the person who voiced Kaa was also the same man who voiced Winnie the Pooh. Imagine the same words and song coming from our ever loving Pooh Bear.

    Just a little creepy…