March 3, 2021

Guess that Medieval Beast 7

         This is a beast that is not featured in the true bestiaries, but does regularly show up in the various encyclopedias of natural history that are closely related.  This particular depiction comes from the hand of an artist we’ve seen before in Medieval Beast Number 2.  It’s a copy made around 1450-1500 of Der Naturen Bloeme, which was originally written about two centuries earlier, and it has an attractive blending of color and rich gold background.  This creature clearly lives in the water, where it has the tusks and trunk of an elephant, the tail of, perhaps, a lizard, dorsal and pelvic fins of a fish, and hind feet with cloven hoofs like a goat.  Like many of this artist’s subjects, it looks fairly friendly and I find it charming…  But what do you suppose it could possibly be?

February 26, 2021


         Three homophones, three spellings, three meanings.  Have you ever wondered how these words are different, or whether they’re related?  We’ll start with idle, meaning “lazy or not working or, in the case of an engine, working without accomplishing anything”.  This word comes from Old English, where it meant “empty or worthless,” so it definitely had negative connotations right from the start.  Interestingly, though, the meaning of “not working” seems to have come before the meaning of “lazy,” implying that originally the absence of work was seen as worthless even before it was seen as a deliberate choice.  Anyway, in the Elizabethan English of Shakespeare, there was also a usage meaning “foolish, delirious,” and apparently the phrase idle threats came from that sense: foolish, insane threats, rather than empty threats with no intention of doing anything about it.  I have to say that to my ear I think I get more of the latter connotation, so I wonder how many people still get the “insane” connotation.
        Idol comes via Old French, from Latin idolum meaning “image or form (either mental or physical)”.  In Church Latin idolum was the word used to refer to false gods, images, worshipped by pagans, and when an English word was needed for this concept in the 13th century, we simply took the Latin.  In Middle English the idea of images of false gods gave the word the figurative sense of a person who was false or untrustworthy.  By the mid-sixteenth century that figurative sense had been replaced by the idea of an idol as any object admired excessively, as if it were being worshipped.  It took only a few decades after that for us to see idol meaning a person excessively admired and adored.  Nowadays we are much more likely to see idol as a compliment and something to aspire to, rather than an insult for something or someone false and without true value.
        Idyll is certainly the least common of our three homophones, and the one with which people are generally least familiar.  It means “an extremely happy, peaceful, or picturesque episode or scene; a romantic interlude; or a work of poetry or prose that suggests a pastoral scene of peace and contentment.”  The poetic definition was the first to enter English, around 1600, and it came from Latin idyllium, which was a pastoral poem.  The shift from a poem to the sort of scene or experience described in such a poem is an easy one.  Latin had borrowed its word for the poem from Greek eidyllion which was the same sort of poem but which meant literally “little picture.”  And here’s where we get an interesting connection: the Latin idolum from which English derived idol, was derived from Greek eidolon, which meant “image, form, likeness.”  So yes, idol and idyll ultimately come from the same Greek root meaning “picture.”  Both refer to things that look really good, but might not have the deepest substance.
        As a bonus, around 1800 English also borrowed the Greek eidolon as a synonym for “ghost, apparition,” but its current definitions include not just “specter, phantom,” but many of these same ideas, too: “an idealized person or thing; an unsubstantial image.”  (Previous post here.)  Not to criticize any particular celebrities, but perhaps it’s time we reconsidered the warning that lurks in the roots of these words: rather than allowing lazy thinking to make our choices worthless, we should consider carefully whether any given person or thing, no matter how nice a picture it makes, is really worth our worship.

[Pictures: Little Boy Blue, color woodcut by Francis Donkin Bedford, 1897 (Image from Internet Archive);

The Golden Calf, woodcut for Hans Lufft’s Luther Bible, 1534 (Image from The British Museum);

Are They Thinking About the Grape?, etching and engraving by Jacques Philippe Le Bas after painting by François Boucher, 18th century (Image from The Met).]

February 22, 2021

Spring in Winter

         Signs of spring are few outside here in February, although I did have my first snowdrops in bloom… until they were covered up with more snow.  Nevertheless, it’s been spring inside my studio recently, as I’ve worked on the next fairy in my seasonal series.  The spring fairy is also known as the Winged Peeper, being based on the tiny spring peeper frogs that are one of my favorite heralds of spring.  Their chorus begins not long after the ice melts in their wetland habitats, and there’s alway one evening in the year, still cold, when I step outside for my walk and suddenly there it is: the sound of spring.
        Of course crocuses are another beloved herald of spring.  As a child one of my self-appointed “jobs” was to count the crocuses in bloom in our yard every day: first one, then three or four, then a dozen… and I still eagerly watch for their sprouts at the earliest opportunity (and gnash my teeth when the rabbits or chipmunks or someone shears them off!)  My crocuses have a protector in this spring fairy: a spirit to watch over all the waking and stretching and new growth.  Maybe now that I’ve made it, I’ll notice that my crocuses are left alone!
        Like the others in the series, this is a two-layer reduction print, with the first layer printed in green and yellow.  I had a particularly frustrating time printing that layer.  I suspect that I’m not going to get any decent printing again until we turn off the heater when spring really has arrived — but I am far too impatient to wait for months until the heat is off before I print again.  Unlike the other two, I decided to print the second ink in dark brown instead of black.  As it is, it’s much too dark for the color of a spring peeper or the blazes at the base of a crocus petal.  But too light wouldn’t offer enough contrast to make the colors and shapes pop, so I compromised.  Because of the difficulty printing, I’m not 100% happy with this, but all things considered it’s not too bad.  And soon I’ll get to work on autumn!

[Picture: Spring Fairy (Winged Peeper), rubber block reduction print by AEGN, 2021.]

February 17, 2021

Utopia Suite

         I am somewhat familiar with the style of paintings characteristic of many Australian Aboriginal artists, but had not realized before that among the other various media these same artists have worked in is wood block printmaking.  Utopia is an area in central Australia where an art center was established in 1977, building on traditional body painting and sandpainting practices and introducing batik, printmaking, wood carving, canvas painting, and more.  Most of the artists have been women, and a number have reached international recognition.
        In 1990 these artists produced The Utopia Suite, a collection of 72 wood block prints by 70 different artists.  I can’t find any specifics about the project, such as whether there was any unifying theme beyond the usual interests of this group of artists.  Were the individual pieces intended particularly to be viewed together, or were they simply a collection of diverse output from a particular time and place?  At any rate, there are many pieces with definite similarities, starting with the fact that they’re all black and white, and including the use of dots and scattered motifs, the depiction of local flora and fauna, and so on.  None of the individual pieces is titled.
        We begin with two pieces that share animal motifs in a field of dots.  The first has some nice details in the lizard’s tongue and bird’s crest, and it seems to me that the lizard’s silhouette is particularly sensitively-observed.  The artist is one of I think only two men contributing to the portfolio.  The second piece has not only a wider array of animals - I particularly like the emu - but also some footprints, and some lines of motion around the snake.  These imply the story of where the animals have been or are going.
        The next two pieces both look more abstract to my eyes that do not know the stories behind them.  From what little I do know about Aboriginal art, I assume that they are representational in some sense, but I don’t know what they represent.  The third piece evokes a sea star to me, but perhaps more likely is trails to a water hole… or perhaps something completely different.  The fourth looks to me like leaves covering a forest floor, but again, I assume that’s just me and not at all what the piece means to the artist herself.
        The fifth piece definitely looks like trees and shrubs to me, and I think it would make a lovely fabric design, made into a repeating pattern.  I find it interesting that I don’t see in it any sign of animals, footprints, trails, etc.  Also, it looks to me as if the lines on the larger trees may have been carved by holding the gouge upside-down so that it scratches the wood with its two edges instead of scooping out a single wider trail.  The smaller shrubs, however, are carved with single lines.
        And the final two pieces are more different.  Number six is the only one showing a scene with a more Western-art kind of composition: mountains in the background, shelters with a bit of perspective, people going about their business.  I like the people, especially what I’m guessing is their curly hair depicted with halos of tiny dots.  The fire, too, or its smoke, is depicted with dots rather than lines.  
And the seventh piece is again abstract to me.  I particularly like the variety of lines: thicker white lines, trails of little dots, tight zig-zags, and more.
        While these don’t have the bright or earthy colors so often associated with Aboriginal art, they do still have the wonderful texture and sense of repeated patterns.  I find them a very interesting variety from most of the block prints I feature here.

[Pictures: Individually untitled wood block prints from Utopia Suite, portfolio of woodcuts by

Lyndsay Bird Mpetyane, Mavis Petyarre,

June Bird, Nora Petyarre,

Kwementyay (Gladdy) Kemarre,

Anna Petyarre, Gloria Tamerr Petyarre  (All images from AGSA).]

February 9, 2021

Spiral Staircases

         I love spiral staircases, and of course I’m not alone in this.  There’s something about spiral staircases that’s special: they’re more mysterious, more sinuous, more evocative of castles and libraries and secret spaces.  I’ve had it in my mind for some time to do a print of one, and a year ago I began a mini block to work on during a workshop.  But I never get very much done during the actual workshop, and I think I may have messed something up through not being fully focussed on my own block at the time, and then I even misplaced the little block for a while until various things got put away properly… and the end result is that I haven’t finished the block and am not sure that I ever will.  So let’s have a look at some artists who were more successful in completing images of spiral staircases!
        These four pieces have the full variety of viewpoint: one from the top looking down, one from the bottom looking up, one from the base looking straight on, and one from the middle.  
They also represent a variety of block print techniques: the first is a multi-color multi-block print, the fourth is a 3 (or 4?) color reduction print, and the other two are printed from single black blocks.  On the other hand, I don’t have as wide a diversity of dates represented, and oddly (or at least it seems odd to me) these stairs are all fairly modern.  Well, the pierced wrought iron treads are certainly Victorian in flavor, but even that seems pretty modern when there are so many iconic spiral staircases from the medieval and renaissance eras that could have been featured.  And my first two here are even more modernist in flavor, celebrating the sleek curves of the early twentieth century’s attempts to be new and dynamic.
        So where are all the block prints of ancient spiral staircases?  Well, to be fair, the same features that give medieval spiral staircases their air of romance and mystery make them extremely difficult to depict.  They are narrow, enclosed, dim, and disappearing quickly around the curves both above and below, so that you can actually see only a tiny bit at a time.  I imagine it must be pretty tough to capture any of that in a single image.  At any rate, I didn’t even try.  My mini block attempts to show a carved wooden library-style staircase that is open all around.  That’s much simpler (and yet still I think I messed something up!)  But even if these block printed examples don’t show the full range of what makes spiral staircases so wonderful, I hope you enjoy them anyway.
        This just in: On an unrelated topic, I do have a cool opportunity for everyone who’s interested in hearing me do a reading.  This upcoming Saturday, Broad Universe is holding one of our signature Rapid Fire Readings: ten authors in an hour, about five minutes each, giving a whirlwind sampling of excerpts from works of sci fi, fantasy, and horror.  (Don’t worry, they never read any truly graphic parts from the horror.)  Most of our readings take place at conventions, but with everything virtual these days you have a rare opportunity to join us without attending a con.  This Saturday at 9:30 pm (US Eastern time zone) you can join us for free.  You do have to sign up in advance, and you can visit the Broad Universe web site to find the list of Saturday’s authors, as well as the link to register.  You just might discover your new favorite author!

[Pictures: Spiral Staircase, color linocut by Cyril Power, c 1929 (Image from The British Museum);

Littauer Center Staircase (Harvard University), wood engraving by Thomas Willoughby Nason, 1949 (Image from 1st Dibs);

from Landschaften und Stimmungen (Landscapes and Moods) by Frans Masereel, 1929 (Image from The Met);

Spiral Stairs, Aldeburgh Beach, linocut by Graham Spice (Image from Graham Spice Artist);

Block in progress by AEGN, photo 2021.]

February 3, 2021

Upcoming On-Line Events

         For the past eight years I have been attending a couple of sci-fi/fantasy conventions each year to exhibit in their art shows, run printmaking workshops, do readings from my books, and participate on a wonderful variety of panels about art and writing and fantasy.  Like everything else in the past year, business has not been as usual for conventions, and they’ve all had to move on-line.  This is a steep learning curve for everyone, and on the whole I’ve been pretty impressed with how hard everyone has worked to come up with some semblance of all the usual activities.  Sadly, there is no way that virtual can really capture the buzz and engagement of an in-person event, but I have tried to look for the silver lining: if everything’s on-line anyway, there’s nothing stopping me from attending conventions all over the country.  So, what am I up to this winter?

November 20-22: Philcon (based outside of Philadelphia)

        Art Show

        Art Demo

        Broad Universe group reading

January 15-18: Arisia (based in Boston)

        Art Show


        Broad Universe group reading

        Panel: Mining History’s Neglected Corners

        Panel: Pets and Writers

February 4-7: Capricon (based in Chicago)

        Speculative Poetry Group Reading
        Panel: The Economics of Art

        Panel: Twists, Reveals, and Red Herrings in Fiction

        Art Demo

        Presentation: The Fantastic Bestiary

        Reading from On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination

February 12-14: Boskone (based in Boston)

        Art Show

        Panel: Uncommon Creatures from Fairy Tales

        Mythic Poetry Group Reading

        Panel: Libraries and Archives in Speculative Fiction

        Panel: The Illustrated Book

        Panel: Creating Picture Books for Children

        Broad Universe group reading - In a rare opportunity, everyone can attend this reading for free without attending Boskone!  Details and pre-registration here!

        As you can see, that’s two down and two to go for me (plus, there may be another in May, but that’s not confirmed yet).  For the two that are coming up in the next two weeks, you might want to consider registering.  Whether your interests are books or movies, art or writing, high fantasy, urban horror, Marvel superheroes, hard science, or anime, there’s likely to be something on the schedule that will interest you — and the barrier to attendance is extremely low this year.  Conventions are lower cost than usual (or even the option of registering for free) and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home to hear amazing writers, artists, and experts in their various fields as they bounce ideas around and discuss a wide variety of topics.  (Admittedly, not as wide a variety of topics as usual.  All of these cons have had to offer streamlined schedules this year, due to the logistics of virtual time and space.)  
        As for me, I’ve had to learn Discord, create a custom backdrop and picture-easel-system for Zoom, devise methods of using the cameras on my husband’s old tablet and my daughter’s old laptop as well as my desktop computer, and I’ll be learning Grenadine for Boskone coming up.  No doubt it’s good for me to gain some familiarity with all these systems (and I’ve certainly appreciated the tech support from my son!)  It’s true that from a sales perspective this virtual stuff just doesn’t cut it, and I don’t expect my art business to rejoin the land of the living until we are once again able to hold in-person shows and sales.  Nevertheless, it’s been a lot of fun participating in these opportunities to explore interesting stuff with interesting people and make some connections, and I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming panels, readings, and more.  See you there!

January 29, 2021

Words of the Month - Indigenous Roots

         Today I’d like to take a look at some of the many words that English borrowed from Indigenous American languages.  About two thirds came straight from their source-languages to English, while just a little over a third of them were borrowed by way of another European language that had borrowed them first.  Europeans began to use indigenous words as soon as they reached the Americas, and have continued to acquire new vocabulary fairly steadily ever since, which is generally what happens whenever people come into continued contact.  Also as usual, English has borrowed the sorts of words that it lacks: new words for new things.
        For example, we have benefitted from a plethora of new foods and new words to name them, from cacao in the sixteenth century to chipotle in the twentieth.  And then there’s quinoa, which entered the English language around 1600 but didn’t become a household word until four hundred years later.

cacao - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish  (Uto-Aztecan is a fairly large language family that includes languages stretching from Nahuan (Aztecan) in southern Mexico to Northern Paiute in California and Nevada.)

maize - Arawakan via Spanish  (Arawakan is a widespread language family spoken in South America and the Caribbean, including languages of Brazil, and also Taino, the first American language encountered by Europeans.)

papaya - Arawakan via Spanish

quinoa - Quechua via Spanish (Quechua is a language family of the Andes, including the language of the Inca Empire.)

squash - Algic (The Algic family includes the Algonquian languages and was spoken along the northeast coast of America and across areas of northern Canada.)

chocolate - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

jicama - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

tomato - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

cashew - Tupi-Guarani via French (Tupi-Guarani is a language subfamily in South America.)

tapioca - Tupi-Guarani via Portuguese

chia - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

mole - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

chipotle - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

guacamole - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

        Other plants and animals are another source of fresh words, as the first thing a human does when encountering a new species is to ask what it’s called.

cayman - Cariban via Spanish (Cariban languages are spoken along the northern coast of South America.)

manatee - Cariban via Spanish

toucan - Tupi-Guarani via French

condor - Quechua via Spanish

moose - Algic

opossum - Algic

raccoon - Algic

skunk - Algic

guanaco - Quechua

jaguar - Tupi-Guarani

mangrove - Cariban via Spanish

caribou - Algic via French

peccary - Cariban

anole - Arawakan via French

mesquite - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

puma - Quechua via Spanish

margay - Tupi-Guarani via French

tamarin - Cariban via French

axlotl - Uto-Aztecan

tapir - Tupi-Guarani

quetzal - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

chipmunk - Algic

saguaro - Uto-Aztecan

piranha - Tupi-Guarani via Portuguese

        Related to the flora and fauna are the landscapes and ecological areas that English speakers encountered in the world that was new to them.

savannah - Arawakan via Spanish

pampas - Quechua via Spanish

bayou - Muskogean via French (Muskogean languages, as this borrowed word implies, are spoken in the southeastern United States.)

cenote - Mayan

        And finally, new objects, artifacts, and customs.

quipu - Quechua via Spanish

cannibal - Cariban via Spanish

maraca - Tupi-Guarani via Portuguese

hammock - Cariban via Spanish

guano - Quechua via Spanish

moccasin - Algic

tomahawk - Algic

wigwam - Algic

tepee - Siouan (The Siouan languages are in the Great Plains area of central North America.)

kayak - Eskimo-Aleut  (You can probably deduce that the Eskimo-Aleut languages are native to the far north of North America.)

totem - Algic

toboggan - Algic via French

igloo - Eskimo-Aleut

kachina - Uto-Aztecan

inukshuk - Eskimo-Aleut

        In all this you can see patterns that reflect the history of European contact with Indigenous peoples of the Americas: that words English gained by way of Spanish come largely from Mexican and South American languages, while most of the words gained via French come from Northeastern peoples.  The earliest words are those from the Caribbean and Atlantic coast regions, while we start to gain larger influxes from Northwestern languages in the late eighteenth into the nineteenth centuries.  Whether the contact is violent or peaceful, constructive or tragic, humans still communicate, and when they communicate their languages mingle.  Of course I’ve given you just a sampling of words, representing neither the full range of languages, nor the fact that a large proportion of our borrowed words are actually proper nouns.  It’s just an enticing introduction to the grand and scintillant linguistic mosaic that we get when humans come into contact.

[Pictures: Cacauate, wood block print from La historia del Mondo Nuovo by Girolamo Benzoni, 1565 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

The Manatee, woodcut from Sea Fables Explained by Henry Lee, 1883 (Image from here);

Skinning Caribou Inside the Iglu, linocut by Janet Kigusiuq, 1982 (Image from]

January 25, 2021

Winter in Winter

         Here is the second of my season fairies, the winter spirit.  This one is based on a nuthatch.  Although nuthatches are in my neighborhood year-round, I think of them as winter birds because they’re much more visible hopping headfirst down trunks revealed by leaf-bared branches, or visiting the suet feeder that I put out only in the winter.  I had a little trouble immediately coming up with some way to transform an ordinary bird into a winter fairy, but then thought of the similarities between the patterns of frost and feathers.  I gave my bird wings and tail made of snowflake-like crystals.  I imagine if it were to flit past a window, frost would grow across the pane as its crystalline feathers brushed the glass.
        For consistency, I plan to keep the pattern of doing each of these fairies as a two-layer reduction print: the first layer with a mix of colors, and the second layer in solid black.  For winter, my first inking was pale grey and blue, plus dark green for the pine needles.  I found this design to be quite forgiving on the first inking, since much of the faint or uneven inking looked appropriately frosty.  (On the other hand, most of the pine needles aren’t as crisp and dark as I would have liked.  The more colors you use at once, the more likely they are to get too dry.)  Also, I printed on cream paper for consistency with the summer fairy, even though if this were a wholly independent print I would have used white.
        It’s still January, but I’ve begun to gather references for the next fairy design, and that means that spring is on the way, at least in my studio.

[Picture: Winter Fairy (Crystal Nuthatch), rubber block reduction print by AEGN, 2021.]

January 20, 2021

Animal Companions

         On Sunday I was at the virtual Arisia convention, on a panel of writers talking about animal companions in writing.  Yes, everyone shared pictures of their dearly beloved pets and how they inspire us, but we also discussed a bit about the roles that animal companions play in a story, and how they can perform functions that humanoid characters may not be able to fulfil.  This is the part that was most interesting to me, and I’ve put together a list of the different roles I think these animal characters can have.  Since we’re talking about speculative fiction, the range of roles is even wider than it would be in “realistic” fiction, which makes everything so much more fun!
        • Companionship when a character is “alone,” providing them with someone to talk with and interact with, which allows the author to  show the character’s actions and thoughts in a more interesting and dynamic way.  One example might be Tock joining Milo in Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.
        • Marking or rewarding a character as having special qualities, such as wisdom, gentleness,  or bravery.  Examples are the birds and woodland animals that are tame to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, or Toothless befriending Hiccup in Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon (or the DreamWorks movie).  Oru’s companion Tibul in my Sleeping Legends Lie falls under this category, as well as Svarnil’s companion Fethilis  in Vision Revealed.
        • Symbolizing or embodying certain characteristics.  This is similar to the previous, but even more so.  Where above a character may earn the companionship of an animal through certain traits, here the animals themselves represent those traits.  Examples are Ursula’s nasty sidekick eels in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, or Aunt Marge’s dog Ripper in Rowling’s Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, as well as the daemons in Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
        • The familiar, which provides its human with additional abilities, such as seeing or getting into impossible areas, fetching or manipulating things, and so on.  Examples abound in video games, such as the bird companions in “Assassin’s Creed.”  Another possibility might be R2-D2’s role in “Star Wars.”
        • A subcategory of the familiar role is those pets/companions that specifically provide their humans with extra knowledge or wisdom.  There are many examples of this in fairy tales, including Puss-in-Boots, plus Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn, and the cat Dream-of-Jade by Lloyd Alexander.
        • From there it’s a quick step to the role that animal companions can play in offering another perspective or second opinion on what our characters see and experience.  How “other” we want this perspective to be can run the whole gamut from “just a little quirky” to “totally alien being.”  Dorothy’s companion Billina in Baum’s Ozma of Oz often offers a dissenting opinion, while Dug in Pixar’s “Up” clearly thinks like a dog, not a dog-shaped human.
        • The quirkier perspectives of companions can then be one way to exemplify the role of pets as Comic Relief.  Of course, comic relief can also be provided by general mischievousness or straight-up slapstick.  A classic example of a comic pet is Old Mother Hubbard’s dog, and then there’s Sophie’s imp Iggy in Keeper of the Lost Cities by Messenger, not to mention a lot of classic Disney sidekicks.
        • On the opposite end of the writing spectrum is pet as Victim.  An author can kill a beloved companion animal as a way of demonstrating just how high the stakes are, just short of killing the human protagonists.  (Indeed, sometimes readers are even more upset about the deaths of the pets!)  I won’t give any examples in this category, lest I give spoilers!
        • Inciting Subject: on a purely practical level, companion animals are terrific at precipitating plot twists and action.  Toto serves this function on multiple occasions in Baum’s The (Wonderful) Wizard of Oz, as well as the classic movie.  There are also a number of books, including Arabel’s Raven by Aiken and the Clifford books by Bridwell, in which the shenanigans of the pets are the entire plot.  Polly’s cat Uber drives the plot on a couple of occasions in my Extraordinary Book of Doors.
        • Fauna generally are an important part of world-building in SFF, and the companion animals give us a chance to see even more clearly what sort of world it must be to have such creatures in it.  For example, the sulchym in my Return to Tchrkkusk help illustrate the special environment and forgotten powers of the Tchrkym.
        • Last but not least, there’s Wish-Fulfillment.  We love the companion animals in books because who could possibly not wish they had pet fire lizards of their own as in McCaffrey’s Pern books, or a witty tin spider like Astrophil in Rutkoski’s Kronos Chronicles, or a noble steed like Tsornin in McKinley’s The Blue Sword?  Or simply a dog or cat that can speak, as in many many stories, including my Kate and Sam Adventures?
        Of course any decent animal companion will play multiple roles throughout a story - perhaps even all of them.  In addition to marking Svarnil’s open-hearted wisdom, Fethilis also gives her someone non-humanoid to talk to, provides her with the ability to see events at a distance like a familiar, communicates non-verbally in an exploration of the “otherness” of a different mode of thought, and occasionally turns the direction of the plot by affecting the way others view each other because of her.  And for me, at least, it’s certainly wish-fulfillment to imagine having a wonderful companion like that!

[Pictures: Princess Aurora with birds, still from “Sleeping Beauty,” animation by Disney Studios, 1959;

“Why, Billina!” cried Dorothy; “Have you been fighting?” illustration by John R. Neill for Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum, 1907 (Image from Project Gutenberg);

Menolly and fire lizards, cover art by Rowena Morrill for Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, 1986 edition (Image from A Pilgrim in Narnia).]