Recently, I was reliving my childhood by watching Xena: Warrior Princess, and while I was watching Xena try to broker peace between the centaurs and the Amazons, I was struck by a curious thought: How do centaurs feel about horses? Do magical beings who are mostly human but have physical characteristics similar to certain animals feel differently about how those specific animals are treated?
In Xena: Warrior Princess, one of the Amazons demonstrates how to kill a centaur by pointing out weaknesses on a horse. I wonder if the centaurs would have viewed her demonstration as barbaric, especially considering that they would feel the exact same physical pain as the horse. In many movies and books that incorporate centaurs, the centaurs also object to being ridden like a horse. In the Harry Potter series, in particular, the centaurs find it offensive that Firenze would allow Harry to ride on his back, and so I have to wonder if they would feel the same way about humans riding horses.
Let me give another example. In Teen Wolf, certain werewolves can literally turn into wolves, while others just share certain wolf-like features. How would born werewolves like Derek view regular wolves, especially when his mother could literally transform into a full wolf (and now he can as well)? In a Teen Wolf fanfic I read a while back, Derek adopts two wolf pups whose mother had died. In the context of the fic, Derek explains to his pack that in the same way werewolf packs have human members, they also have wolf members. He warns his new pack not to treat the wolves like pets. Now, obviously this isn’t Teen Wolf canon, but it’s still an interesting thought.
You might be thinking that comparing a centaur to a horse, or a werewolf to a wolf, is no different than comparing a human to a chimp. But while humans and chimps may share a common evolutionary ancestry, humans obviously cannot literally turn into a chimp, nor are we literally half chimp. And even then, while most humans do not regard chimps, or any other primates for that matter, as equal to humans, many humans often do regard them as special and look down on killing these animals.
I think that werewolves, centaurs, or any other magical beings would have a closer connection to the animals that are similar to them, if only because they seem to be closer to their animal counterpart physically. While this is not the case for all incarnations, certain stories claim that these magical beings can also literally communicate with their animal counterpart. One example of this comes from most mermaid mythology. Merpeople, even in Disney versions, are able to communicate with all kinds of aquatic life. If that was the case, then those creatures would certainly be considered much more highly. If these animals have a consciousness, then that could mean they are on the same level as other thinking beings. Certainly even in the Disney movie of The Little Mermaid, one of the main reasons that the merpeople hate and fear humans is because humans eat fish. If one of your best friends is a fish, then of course this would be barbaric to you. But Disney confuses their worldbuilding by having Ariel act extremely patronizing to Sebastian (a crab) when he freaks out over seeing all the dead sea creatures being cooked for supper. It makes sense that merpeople would regard sea creatures as sentient beings if they could speak to them, so this would and should affect their interactions with humans who eat fish.
However, other magical beings are only able to communicate with animals on a more primal level. In Teen Wolf, it is canon that werewolves have at least some control over all canines, not even just wolves, but they aren’t able to communicate with them in any profound way. While still other magical beings like vampires are meant to share some characteristic with animals and even in some incarnations can turn into animals, they are never shown to be able to communicate with or have any regard for the animals with which they share traits. In general, it seems the more similar the magical beings are to their animal counterparts, the more likely they should have a closer relationship to these animals.
This could be interesting fodder for a writer. Expanding on magical beings’ relationships with animals might at least expand the audience’s idea of their culture, which is good worldbuilding. I mentioned that in The Little Mermaid one of the main conflicts with humans comes from the fact that they kill and eat fish. This is weirdly brushed aside in the movie in favor of romance… and okay, yes, because it’s a kids film, but exploring this could certainly create some interesting drama. Would there ever be a group of humans that would make killing and eating fish illegal so they could form an alliance with mermaids? What about werewolves? Would a human who became a werewolf be okay with the idea that a regular wolf was equal to them in the pack? There are some interesting questions to be explored, and I for one would enjoy seeing more authors actually exploring this issue instead of simply hinting at it.
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Very intriguing thoughts. I think the majority of movies and books that hint at the subject but do not follow through are a little too scared to be put in a niche or labeled as activist propaganda. Because, let’s face it, if the story revolves around portraying animals, that are not human, as sentient beings with complex emotions, lives, families and friends (even humans), then the ‘vegan agenda’ comes to mind. Which, unfortunately, immediately puts about 80% of the population in defensive mode and the story gets dismissed as a PR push for PETA.
I truly wish people had the courage to follow through with these ‘animal identity’ story lines. They could be quite epic. Planet of the Apes almost successfully established that. Even the book “Under the Skin” by Michel Faber explored this, but from the perspective of wolf like aliens looking at humans as cattle and of inconsequential intelligence. Unfortunately the movie with Scarlett Johansson only vaguely touched upon this. Again, I believe they are scared of exploring this dark corner of the human psyche, that tends to label anything non-human as inferior and in need of subjugation. I wonder what Freud would have said to that…
All that being said, I think there already is a group of humans that would form an alliance with the Merfolk. They are called Sea Shepherd 😉
Please keep up these inspiring posts. Love them!
hi just wondering which fanfic you were talking about? sounds interesting