Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Original Paper

Here is the original paper I wrote for my Advanced Creative Writing Class. I've
already begun developing this further, but I'd still welcome any additional

Excerpts From A Modern Bestiary
By Brian Hamilton
I would like to begin by explaining what a bestiary is and what it is not. Bestiaries are not encyclopedias on animals. For one, they are not limited to the animal kingdom, but can contain entries on plants and rocks. Secondly, unlike encyclopedias, they should not be read as sources of factual information. Most of the descriptions in a bestiary are not based on the author’s personal experience, but rather on older texts, rumors, and unreliable witnesses. Many of the creatures featured in these books are wholly imaginary; those that aren’t are often ascribed fictional attributes. This is not a result of ignorance and superstition; at least, not completely. The truth is, accuracy was not very important. To say a bestiary is a study of nature is only partially correct. It is simply a matter of whose nature is being studied. Like most books in medieval literature, bestiaries were meant to teach moral lessons. The supposed behaviors of animals were used as allegories for human values. Thus, inaccuracies were often useful in bestiaries, just so long as they fit the general population’s viewpoints. They were books designed to help people learn about people; the animals just made it more interesting.
The following is my attempt to create a modern bestiary, one that uses creatures more familiar to today’s world and relevant to the values of contemporary society.

A Modern Bestiary
The Dog
Dogs are kin to wolves and companions to humans. They have many uses, acting as hunters, protectors, workers, playmates, and so on. To better fulfill such functions, they have been carefully bred, resulting in many varieties that bear little resemblance to their wolf ancestors. Some may be small enough to be carried in a large pocket, or large enough to carry a small person; their legs can be long or stubby, their ears pointed or floppy, their faces stretched or stout. A number of people put a great deal of time and effort into maintaining these numerous and varied breeds, tracing pedigrees and carefully controlling the mating of their pets. The dogs themselves tend to be much less picky; males will mount anything that doesn’t put up a fight, it need not be female, canine, or even animate. In one incident a small dachshund enthusiastically engaged a full-grown lioness, who regarded his efforts with, mild annoyance.
Dogs are characterized by paradoxes. For example, the very large ones behave as though they are small, attempting to sit on laps and being easily intimidated by smaller creatures; meanwhile, the smallest dogs tend to bark aggressively and pick fights with animals that can swallow them whole. Dogs are considered to be loyal, courageous, and cheerful. As pets, they are often regarded as family members. In the case of seeing-eye dogs, they effectively become a part of the owner’s body, acting as a substitute for vision. As close as this bond is, however, calling another person a dog or a bitch is considered offensive. This may be due the fact that some dogs are not above eating cat feces. This shows that, regardless of how noble and important one may be, as soon a disgusting habit is discovered, a person will immediately become an embarrassment to others.

The Cat
Cats, like dogs, are descendents of wild animals that have been modified to be pets. Their eyes glow and their bodies are elegant. They possess very sharp claws, and will frequently remind their owners of this fact. Cats hate water, dogs, curtains, small children, each other, dry food, loud noises, people who don’t feed them, mirrors, and Mondays. They have good reason for such a sour temperament; sullenness distracts them so they do not become curious, a condition that is fatal to cats. It is true that kittens are very curious, and for this reason they have nine lives, most of which will usually be lost before they reach adulthood.
One can find many pictures of cats on the series of tubes that is the internet, usually doing something clumsy or silly. Cats are gifted with a natural grace and athleticism; seeing their follies is therefore particularly pleasing. So it is with humans: the smugger a person is, the more enjoyable it is to see them fail.

The Rat
The rat is a rodent, resembling an oversized mouse, too big to be cute, too common to be interesting, and too cunning to be likable. Their fur appears thin and diseased; their tails are bare and reptilian. Of the species, the Brown Rat is the most successful. It is also called the Sewer Rat, which is accurate, the Norwegian Rat, which is not, and ironically, when sold in pet stores, the Fancy Rat. They prefer processed food, but there is little these rodents will not eat. Their teeth are sharp and grow constantly; their jaws are strong enough to gnaw through any substance weaker than steel. Being good swimmers, climbers, jumpers, and diggers, there are few obstacles they can not overcome. By smelling a sick or dead rat, they can learn what food is poisoned and will avoid it. They can be killed by traps, but ultimately, its effective as two raccoons and a rubber football, for they breed constantly. Cities contain more rats than any other non-human urban mammal, and yet they are so stealthy that they are rarely seen.
Rats are persistent, adaptable, and intelligent. They live where man lives and eat what man eats. They have followed man into new lands and populated the world. While chimpanzees are most genetically similar animals to humans, it is rats that have the greatest resemblance in behavior. They are hated because they are reminder that humans are little more than large vermin.

The Squirrel
Squirrels are rodents that can be found where ever there are trees. They are not hated as rats are, in part because they can generally be trusted to stay out of human homes, but mostly it is because squirrels are more pleasing to the eye. Their tails look softer than any cat’s fur, and their eyes reflect more meekness than any dog. The temptation to catch and hold a squirrel is hard to resist, and for this reason they are particularly nervous in the presence of people. Little do they know, this shyness only makes them more desirable.
Often, a person can hear a loud, shrill, and hoarse screeching when walking outdoors in the morning. It sounds like a cross between the caw of a crow and the squeek of nails on a chalkboard, and this is the territorial call of the squirrel. It sits high in the trees, puffing its little chest to repeatedly scream at those below it. Once satisfied that every creature in the vicinity is awake and aware of to whom the tree belongs, the squirrel goes about the rest of its daily business. This involves foraging for food in the trash, bickering with other squirrels, and searching for seeds. It buries nuts in a frantic manner, its hands moving like a typist’s over a keyboard to pat down dirt and arrange dead leaves to cover the morsel, keeping its head raised to watch for potential thieves; it looks almost like a man trying to find porn on the internet while at work, anxiously keeping an eye out for his boss. Its vigilance is necessary, because others will not hesitate to steal from it.
Despite its quarrelsome ways and irritating bark, it remains popular with humans. While most people would not like to admit it, attractiveness makes flaws of others easier to overlook. While the beautiful may be allowed to irritate others for a while, if they push their luck too far, they may encounter and owl, who will tear them apart, devour them, and later regurgitate a pellet of hair and bones.

The Bald Eagle
The Bald Eagle is a large, predatory bird. Its body is brown and its head a clean white. Its large talons, hooked beak, and glaring eyes are yellow. The eagle is a skilled fish catcher and can snatch impressive sized prey with ease, much to the chagrin of any nearby fisherman.
Bald eagles are vulnerable to pesticides. If the poisons to not kill the eagle, they will cause it to lay eggs that are too fragile to survive. It is not uncommon that future generations are forced to pay the price of carelessness.

The Pigeon
Pigeons are a type of bird frequently seen in cities. They come in a variety of colors, but the most familiar is a solid gray body with black stripes along the wingtips. The head is iridescent, shifting from purple to green depending on how the light hits the feathers.
Pigeons are comfortable living in close proximity to people. Many see this as a sign of stupidity. With their wide, round eyes and comical strut, it is easy to view pigeons as the dullards of the sky. In truth, they are quite intelligent. They are excellent navigators and adaptable enough to flourish in an urban environment.
They are closely related to doves, symbols of peace, love, and sanctity. Pigeons, however, are generally seen as vapid. It is not surprising that they seem to take pleasure in defecating on statues, cars, and pedestrians. If one judges another to be crap, then crap can be expected in return.

Bald Eagle

An Excerpt From Hamilton’s Modern Bestiary
Bald Eagle
The Bald Eagle is one the world’s largest species of raptor,[1] with a size similar to that of a Wild Turkey’s. Coincidentally, Benjamin Franklin suggested adopting the latter as the national bird for the United States of America, but the inventor-statesman was ignored[2] and the eagle was chosen. The decision was largely based on the bald eagle’s appearance; it’s formidable talons, hooked beak, and glaring golden eyes embodied the strength the forefathers hoped to imbue in their new nation. A lesser known reason is that the clean white head feathers reminded people of powdered wigs so much that it was originally named the wigged eagle and considered to be the politician of the bird world. This name did not last long, however, as the price of high quality wigs led to several very literal-minded men to attempt to steal these supposed eagle-wigs. After receiving a fifth report of an eagle-related maiming, it decided that the name should be changed, and so it became the bald eagle.[3]
Many consider a bald eagle in flight to be an impressive display of grace and power. This is especially true of their courtship behavior, a series of complex aerial maneuvers that includes grasping one another’s talons while falling to the ground. They will not let go or spread their wings until the last possible moment. The eagles are not unlike some humans in this respect; the realization of what has not yet been experienced in life can turn a brush with death into a powerful aphrodisiac.[4] Unfortunately, I have very little first hand experience with bald eagles; my only sighting of one was on a fishing trip in Minnesota. It was an impressive sight, although the feeling was reduced since the eagle had, in a single attempt, plucked from the water a fish twice the size of anything I had caught that entire week. In general, eagles are very difficult to spot; I suspect this one allowed itself to be seen by me in order to mock my unskilled fishing. In any case, a wild bald eagle is not a common sight, due in part to the endangerment of the species in the middle of the past century. This was not the result of jealous fisherman, finally fed up with the smug eagles,[5] but was caused the use of pesticides. Many eagles were killed by the poison, and those who survived would lay eggs that were far too fragile. This is a sad reminder that all too often, it is the future generations who are forced to pay the price of carelessness.

[1] That is, a bird of prey. Not a dinosaur. Although, that would be pretty cool.
[2] Historians believe that if Franklin had succeeded in his attempts to create a lightning gun, not only would the turkey be the national bird, but he would be King Benjamin I of Franklinopia. Also, there would be no bifocals.
[3] Benjamin Franklin wanted to call it the Acne Buzzard, due its white head. Most experts agree that he was still angry about the turkey.
[4] I do not, however, recommend attempting to use this while on a date.
[5] Except for one case. The fisherman immediately regretted his actions, however, and vowed to raise the chicks of the dead eagle alongside his own. Incredibly, this unusual family succeeded, and the eaglets made it to adulthood. Two of them returned to the wild, while the third chose to attend college and is currently a legal secretary.

Welcome to my Modern Bestiary

Welcome to my Modern Bestiary. When I picked up my first bestiary, with the intention of finding the perfect research paper topic to get me into graduate school. I was hoping to combine my major, English with a concentration in medieval literature, with my love of animals. Before long, however, the research paper was put aside, replaced with a desire to write a modern bestiary. I finally began it through an assignment for a writing class, and the entries I wrote seemed to have been positively recieved. This blog is the next step, a place to store my developing ideas and hopefully get some reader feedback so that, someday, I can finally publish it.

Some of you may be asking why I would want to do such a thing, when we already have zoological encyclopedias, biology textbooks, and so many other writings on animals. As I learned, however, a bestiary is something quite different. It is not a simple catalog of animals. First of all, it also contains plants and even rocks. Secondly, a bestiary is not a source of factual information. Many of the animals are imaginary, and those which are real are given fictional attributes. This is not because of superstition and ignorance from the writers. A bestiary, just like an animal encyclopedia, does contain observations of nature. However, it is the nature of man that is being studied. This is the most important distinction of the bestiary. They use animals as moral allegories to teach human values. The descriptions of the creatures may be inaccurate because the real lessons of a bestiary concern virtue and sin. They are books that teach people about people; the animals just make it more interesting.

My goal is to make a bestiary that uses creatures significant to modern society to show contemporary values. Today, with cities and technology, it is so easy to feel disconnected to the natural world. If we look close enough at it, however, we can still find our reflection. With this bestiary, I hope to share what I see. I hope that readers will respond with feedback, so that I can find what works and what doesn't. I hope to raise interest, so that one day I can publish this bestiary and know that people will read it. Most of all, I hope that you will gain a new perspective on the world around us, and strengthen the bond between man and nature.