No animals were harmed in the writing of this

Last week I bought a couple of books and three days later I returned one of them. I’m an animal lover and the sort of person who will instantly stop watching a film if they kill off the family dog for no good reason (I love that the dog survived in Independence Day). So this is only my opinion, but the reason I returned this book has cropped up twice now in two months.

Boomer Independence Day

Good old Boomer in Independence Day

If you follow this blog often you’ll know that I don’t feel like I read enough female authors. I’ve been trying to remedy this and in 2013 I made it my New Years resolution to read more by women. I succeeded and every other book I read in 2013 was written by a woman, although I still don’t own a vast amount of female written fiction.

This story starts in 2013. To begin my New Years resolution, I borrowed from my mum’s massive feminist collection. She has some science fiction and fantasy titles, so I thieved them. Most of them have been brilliant, some of them are still waiting to be read but one of them didn’t get past chapter one. During the first few pages these strong warrior women stole some horses from their enemies. One of those horses had a foal. The foal couldn’t keep up and ended up being left behind, crying for its mother as the mare was dragged along.

I was heartbroken. How could a woman, a feminist woman at that, write about a mother and baby being torn apart? This was not Black Beauty or The Silver Brumby, that foal or mare wouldn’t be mentioned again, so what was the purpose? I immediately stopped reading.

Black Beauty and Ginger

Ginger and Black Beauty’s suffering had a message.

At the beginning of this year I picked up another book written by a woman, this time a famous, bestselling, award winning writer. I got further than the first chapter, but in the first quarter of the book a similar thing happened. A puppy was killed. It had to be removed from the story but it could have been sent away or sold instead of killed.
Now, there was some purpose to this puppy’s suffering. It can be argued that it had to be done for the protagonist to suffer grief and for his character to develop, but I was struggling with the story as it was and after this happened I just stopped picking up the book.

Then, last Monday while out shopping with my mum, I bought the new novel of an award winning female author. The blurb was captivating and promised dark things. I’m in the mood for some darkness lately so decided to give it a go. I left my mum for a moment to brave the busy toilets during half term, during which she picked up the book I’d bought and started reading. When I returned, she put the book down with a shudder. Disturbing, she said.

Normally when I buy a book it sits on my shelf for at least a few months, unless it’s The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie which I accidentally started reading the day I bought it and then couldn’t put it down. But this time my mum had peaked my interest. What was so bad about the first few pages? I opened it up and read. In the first short chapter a bumblebee is tormented before having its wings pulled off.

I tried to see sense. Why was it important that this bee be tortured? To show that the man and girl in the scene were bad, or creepy, or were evil. The creepiness came across without the need for the bee to suffer. You don’t need a bee to be mutilated for horror value when you have a strange man speaking with a small, lone girl.

All three of these examples are from female writers. As I said, I struggle finding female writers I like so my shelves are mostly filled with books written by men. So I scoured those shelves and couldn’t find one example in the books I own written by men where animals were harmed, maimed or killed.

Except for G.R.R Martin, but he kills everything, from dire wolves (poor Lady), to horses being decapitated to, well, I’m not going to name every dead character. He hardly counts.

Lady in Game of Thrones

Poor Lady.

You know what it feels like to me? That SFF is a man’s genre. That women are fighting to be heard in it, but these women perhaps think that to succeed in this genre they have to think like men. And what do men do? They write gritty and real; torture and death. Are these women proving their steel by afflicting the animals in their stories with pain and death? And, apparently, it works! Two out of three of these writers are award winning.

I know not all female writers are like this. I haven’t read much of Susan Hill, but no animals were harmed in the stories I have read. The same goes for Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise. And maybe this is only standing out to me because I haven’t read many female writers. But I have read a lot of male written books, so if this was the norm wouldn’t I know about it?

I know, it’s not real. It’s fictional and what’s the difference between a man pulling the wings off a bee in one book and Glokta pulling off a man’s fingernails in the First Law series? Well, firstly, it’s Glokta’s job to torture people for information and his job is a huge part of his identity. Maybe if I’d have read on, I could have discovered that the poor tortured bee had more of a role to play in that man’s character. But I doubt it.

Life is too short to read books that make you angry or uncomfortable (in a bad way, in a way that doesn’t make you want to read on). So the book went back.

Have you read anything lately with unnecessary violence towards animals? If so, was the author a man or woman?

4 responses to “No animals were harmed in the writing of this

    • Ick. Was the killing of the snake important to the plot? I’m guessing not.
      Thanks for the male example! 🙂

      I know men write these things too, just a coincidence that the ones I keep finding are written by women.

      • Killing the snake was supposed to show how disurbed the protagonist was… However I thought it was revoltingly gratuitious. I hadn’t noticed the issue about animal deaths – my personal hate is when protagonists are raped and then bounce back good as new by the end of the story… And as far as I can see, there isn’t a huge gender divide about this one.

      • No, I have been told that I’m a bit over sensitive to the animals in fiction. I’m more into animals than people so don’t mind when a human is tormented in a book, but can’t stand it when it’s an animal!
        Urg. You’re right, that is really bad. As if rape can be used as a plot tool rather than something that will completely alter your character. Men and women really are equal in writing fiction!

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