Last year when my family went on a big road trip, I saw ravens up close for the first time ever and I fell completely in love. They’re just. They’re huge, dude! They hop around and look at people! They’re very shiny and beautiful! I’ve seen crows before, and I adore crows, and ravens are like crow squared! I think that if I could pet one, I would be very happy for a long time.
Corvids, and birds in general, are used symbolically quite often in fiction, especially fantasy. I mean my mentioning them probably has already brought images to your head of YA novel covers and pretentious, over-the-top villains surrounded by the cacophony of crows. Today I kinda want to just look at different ways birds are used in fiction as symbolism, or for plot. Because I just like birds, man.
In general, birds are seen as symbols of freedom. They can fly, they aren’t constrained by such things as gravity. They sing and chirp and are happy little things. Think about how many times you’ve heard or read a trapped character compared to a caged bird. It seems wrong for something so intrinsically free to be stuck in one place.
(I write as my parakeets look at me judgmentally . . . c’mon, guys, cats would eat you if you weren’t in there)
Then there are corvids, obviously. Crows, ravens, rooks. Ominous omens. Usually seen in big screaming clouds of millions of them. Or perched on the shoulder of the villain, getting stroked gently and croaking at the protagonist. Or, alternatively, as little trickster boys, stealing shinies and causing problems on purpose. As is their right. One book that I think uses birds fantastically for symbolism is The Great Unexpected. Rooks specifically are a big deal in that book, and they represent the connections between people, through tragedy and death and betrayal but also through forgiveness and love and adoption.
Usually, though, these birds are used to symbolize death. Why? I mean, they’re scavenger birds. If you see a bunch of them, they’ve found something to eat and it’s probably a dead thing. Corvids are smart, and it doesn’t take a lot to figure out that two groups of dudes marching at each other with weapons is going to mean a lot of food later. Of course, humans being the way they are, this is seen as ‘an omen of death’ and very spooky. Then there’s the famous crow poem;
One for sadness, two for mirth;
Three for marriage, four for birth;
Five for laughing, six for crying:
Seven for sickness, eight for dying;
Nine for silver, ten for gold;
Eleven a secret that will never be told.
Medieval rhymes in general, pretty cool. Thinking of taking some like this one and modifying them for my own world’s traditions. But if they got crows? Ten times better already.
Owls are a fun one. Wise, knowing, clever. Which is funny, considering the only owls I’ve seen out in the wild were stupid enough to bonk right into our barn and then just keep flying. Is there any actual evidence proving that owls make good decisions? I would like to see some before I go assigning traits like ‘wise’ to a bird. Owl calls are notoriously spooky, always the culprit for jumpscare noises in the woods. Creatures of night. Usually not with good connotations. Usually creatures of mystery and magic and not the good kind. Personally I think the fact that they can fly silently is severely underutilized. Ninja birds.
Robins are one of the first signs of spring. Happiness, cheer, life, that sort of thing, that’s what robins are all about. Sometimes they can be mischief-oriented, or parental, but in general they are just happy boys. Bluejays are the opposite; rude, sneaky, usually the troublemakers of whatever story they appear in. Cardinals are a sign of hope in the middle of winter, when most other birds have gone away for warmer climes. Doves are peace, innocence, calm and quiet and soft. In some stories, songbirds are conveyed as pictures of innocence, childlike happiness. Peace. If you can hear the songbirds, everything is going to be okay.
At least that’s what you would think.
Eagles are powerful, strong. Big. Very big. Kinglike. In falconry, emperors were the only ones allowed to hunt with eagles. That’s pretty much it, they are stronk, as the youths say. Hawks and falcons are quick, clever, sneaky. People like rangers and outlaws have them as companions. They are beauty, they are grace, they’ll stoop from a great height and divebomb you in the face. Only cool characters get to be friends with these guys. That’s how you know that they’re cool, if they have a hawk friend. Hawks and falcons symbolize being blummin’ awesome.
There’s other things I could talk about, cranes and swans and other things, but I haven’t read enough books with them to say much about what they could represent. What about you? Have you noticed any spectacular uses of bird symbolism in things you’ve read lately? What about non-bird animals? Do you disagree with me? Tell me! I want comments, please, thank you. And while you’re commenting, you could leave a like, it’s down there somewhere, looks like a star. And you could subscribe to the blog. That always works out great. Number goes up, Ashley is happified.
I’ll see you next week!