I’ve returned several times this past week to these selections from The Mole and Other Very Short Animal Stories by A.L. Snijders, offered by Asymptote and translated by Lydia Davis. “Seagulls,” for instance, with its concise melancholy of where you are vs. where you wish you were, of the weight of labor vs. the lightness of motion, the domestic vs. the wild:
I’m raking piles and piles of leaves in the garden. Eight chickens are walking around me, pecking up worms and larvae. This makes no impression. What makes an impression is when I stand at the stern of a ship and watch the seagulls flying along. That’s how it should be.
Reading these bits by Snijders made me think of Lydia Davis’ own recent chapbook, The Cows — a wonder of precise observation and metaphorical restraint — and also of Craig Morgan Teicher’s Cradle Book. And of Pliny the Elder, too, whose scientific observations are as fantastic as any fiction since written:
The blood of the elephant, it is said, is remarkably cold; for which reason, in the parching heats of summer it is sought by the dragon with remarkable avidity. It lies, therefore, coiled up and concealed in the rivers, in wait for the elephants, when they come to drink; on which it darts out, fastens itself around the trunk, and then fixes its teeth behind the ear, that being the only place which the elephant cannot protect with the trunk. The dragons, it is said, are of such vast size, that they can swallow the whole of the blood; consequently, the elephant, being thus drained of its blood, falls to the earth exhausted; while the dragon, intoxicated with the draught, is crushed beneath it, and so shares its fate.
Animals in fiction are a great fascination and favorite subject of mine, so I could go on (really, just check my shelves at Goodreads). But what about you? Do you look for animals in fiction? Any stories to recommend?