Guest Post: Let's Get Familiar(s)!
Working on the third book of my REDEMPTION'S HEIR series, I realized that familiars are a big part of my fictive world. That makes sense, because in my opinion, one of the best parts of being a magic practitioner would be having a magical pet! Familiars might object to the "pet" label, though, so I officially beg their pardons and request they don't flame me. Perhaps literally, in the case of dragons, dragonets, wyverns, salamanders and other fire-generating species. Oh, then there's Smudge the fire-spider, from Jim Hines's MAGIC EX LIBRIS series. I wouldn't want to get on his wrong side, either.
Familiars abound in world mythology and weird literature. They're generally defined as demons or spirits that attend magicians and obey their orders. There's also an interesting obscure definition for familiar: a person who renders certain services in a bishop's or pope's household. There's a potentially unfortunate collision of definitions! Anyhow, our kind of familiar will often take animal form, though human or semi-human forms also occur. Fairies are sometimes considered familiars, like Peter Pan's Tinkerbell of huge pop-cultural fame.
The witches in Macbeth call upon Graymalkin and Paddock, probably a cat and a toad. The young witches and wizards of Harry Potter have "pets," owls and cats, toads and rats. Count Magnus in M. R. James's eponymous tale has a particularly nasty companion, known for sucking the faces off his enemies -- what exactly it looks like, we're free to imagine, shuddering. Lovecraft contributes Brown Jenkins, a rat with disturbingly human face and hands. The last two examples aside, most "historical" familiars appeared in highly naturalistic guise. How convenient for the witch-hunters, who could consider any old cat or rat or bird a demonic spirit, and any odd mole on the supposed witch a teat with which she had been nourishing her wicked servants with her own blood. And Royalist Prince Rupert must have been a secret wizard, because his poodle Boye accompanied him into battle during the English Civil War. The Parliamentarians apparently credited poor Boye with supercanine powers. After the war, he was shot. Maybe with a silver bullet. Well, that would have been fitting for a royal dog! Or weredog?
My own familiars -- that is, my characters' familiars, ahem -- range from natural to way out there. Alchemical pharmacist Solomon Geldman has a genuine (and very chatty) African pied crow named Boaz. Protagonist Sean Wyndham is supposed to summon a harmless ethereal familiar for his first act of magic. Being Sean, he does a variation of the spell that calls up a blood-spawn or Servitor. It is not even close to harmless, being the gift of Lovecraft's profoundly alien Outer Gods. In the second book, we finally do meet an ethereal familiar, the aether-newt Raphael. He has no mouth but lots of eyes and tails and suction-cup feet. That is, when he's not invisible or slipping from dimension to dimension as aether-newts do in their spare time. In the third book, two new familiars will appear. One is a spirit-animal "born" from Sean's own spirit, hence good-natured but troublesome. The other may be diminutive, but it is very bad news nevertheless. Its name is Hungry Tom, and it's always hungry, rather like its mistress, the undead witch Patience Orne. Leave it to her to conjure a familiar from the bone of a long-dead wendigo!
Myself, I guess I'd go with an ethereal. And a nice traditional cat. And maybe one of those Outer God Servitors, if it would just behave.
I wonder if municipal law puts a limit on the number of familiars you can have in a single household....Enough of this familiarity. Thanks to Kai and FICTION STATE OF MIND for the opportunity to ramble on!