The OF Blog: Getting Squirrels

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Getting Squirrels

Yesterday, author Mark Charan Newton had an interesting post on his blog entitled "Getting Women."  This was followed by a response post by Amy Sundberg called "Getting Men."  Each are well worth the time spent reading them, so I urge you do do so.

However well-intended both essays are, however, neither one (for good of for ill is your choice) touches upon an issue near and dear to me, that of the fictional representation of squirrels.  Squirrels in fiction, especially in some of the fantasies that I have read lately, are typecast into some very negative stereotypes:  they chitter, they appear to be cursing out passers-by, they scamper, they scurry up a tree, they are wolf bait (George R.R. Martin is a serial offender in this last regard).  But rarely is anything said in fictional works about the good, admirable qualities of squirrels.

Where are the depictions of squirrels as being highly intelligent, clever creatures?  Where are the scenes where a squirrel is prudent and saves while others starve?  Where are the portrayals of squirrels as being capable of taking over a house, a neighborhood, or even the world?  And there certainly aren't enough positive images of squirrels as being ruthless conquerors bent on taking over the world.

I like to think that I'm being honest when I note all of these other positive attributes of squirrels.  After all, they are much more than minor set-pieces that appear only to show that some nasty shit's 'bout to go down in the forest.  They are not rodent versions of Bambi, to be awwwed over and then forgotten.  They are awe-inspiring rather than awww-inspiring creatures.  It's about time that writers get this right and start showing just how multi-talented squirrels really are.

Anyone else with me on this?

11 comments:

Aishwarya said...

You know, I'd been thinking that I'd avoided stereotypes in my portrayal of a squirrel character in a recent story. The squirrel in question is intelligent, constructive, there's a clear sense of subjectivity, there's even a well-defined belief system. But reading your post it occurs to me that the only reason I put him in there was to show how another character relates to the world. It's difficult even for well-intentioned writers to get this right, but I still feel terribly guilty.

Larry said...

Anti-squirrel-centrism is an insidious thing. But since you did acknowledge the squirrel's intelligence, doubtless they will forgive you...as long as you provide them food, of course ;)

Mark said...

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/redsquirrel

"The red squirrel is native to Britain, but its future is increasingly uncertain as the introduced American grey squirrel expands its range across the mainland... The Forestry Commission is working with partners in projects across Britain to develop a long-term conservation strategy that deters greys and encourages reds."

Due to the American squirrel's attempts to assert dominance in the global squirrel sphere, cultural conditions here are difficult, as you can see. I can well understand that, due to their negative PR, their treatment in fiction might not be as equal as, say, deer or kittens.

Jen said...

I'm sorry to say, but one of my boyfriend's hobbies is killing level 1 squirrels in World of Warcraft. I'm looking forward for the day a mob of enraged squirrels ambush him...

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If I can find a way to portray squirrels in a positive light in my next book, I will do so. Might have to be space squirrels, though...

The Mad Hatter said...

You really must get to Kraken. It has a squirrel who is up to something in it. Also, A Darkness Forged in Fire by Chris Evans has a very interesting opening having to do with a squirrel. That book has a few problems, but for your love a squirrels alone I think you'd like it.

Tibor Moricz said...

Squirrels can be captains of starships.

kakiphony said...

Did you see the recent article in NYTimes about squirrels? Apparently, they engage in deception which a high level thought pattern.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/06/science/06angi.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=squirrels&st=cse

Hal Duncan said...

There's always Tufty:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BrivBSv20Y

Amy said...

Thank you for doing your part in raising awareness of the squirrel's unjust portrayal in fiction. I feel so embarrassed that I neglected to mention it!

I hope this post will inspire writers all over the globe to rethink their cultural stereotypes re: squirrels and produce creative works accordingly. What do you think, a glut of squirrel stories in three months or so? I think we can accomplish this noble goal!

E. L. Fay said...

This post completely erases the experiences of coyotes. If you wish to be an ally to all woodland creatures, then I suggest you not privilege one community over the others. Especially since coyotes eat squirrels.

 
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