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Hint: Not the Hippopatamus

I just happened to read this quote from a well-known living American novelist about a particular kind of animal, which I elide here for my own purposes: “Silent, in some ways reserved, they allow us to ... project our ideas upon them; to ... make them symbolic, perhaps to a greater degree than any other species.” What I’ve taken out, of course, are the things I think tell us of what animal this novelist speaks, which ruins the rhythm and butchers the writing. Which is infamous of me, and makes the Quiz harder.

Yes, it’s a quiz. I’d like any Gentle Reader who cares to contribute to tell me which animal is being discussed, and which novelist is doing the discussing. Further, I would love for any Gentle Reader who is interested to defend any particular animal being peculiarly susceptible to having us project our ideas upon them, or being unusually symbolic.

Not that I disagree with the novelist in question. I’m just curious what other people think.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


My guess would be the gorilla. No idea about the author.

O'Neill's _The Hairy Ape_. _King Kong_. Pretty strong symbolic projections there, I'd say. Gorillas being so similar to humans, yet so much more physically imposing, makes them tremendously susceptible to symbolic projection.

And gorillas are certainly silent and reserved.

It's hard to play it straight for a quiz like this, though, with Google so ready to hand. . . .

Yeah, I don't doubt that somebody could Search In Book and find this, but I'm mostly interested in people's gut reactions. If people want, I'll set an Internet Search Quiz later.

And no, not the gorilla. But a great answer, and I think a better one than the correct answer.


I'm gonna say "horse, Updike."

That said, I'm probably wrong on both counts, and I have no idea whether Updike is in fact alive.

Although I think a new book of his was just published, right? Seems so.

Anyway, "horse, Updike."


Crap! One Google later, I didn't find the RIGHT answer, but I made up a FUNNIER answer, which counts, right?

"Bonobo, Ann Coulter!"



I think that Americans, at least, probably project more onto dogs than onto any other animal. But most dogs are not exactly silent and reserved.

Cats are more silent and reserved, but are they Deeply Symbolic? I'd say not really.

Likewise horses.

Fish are extremely silent and reserved, but even less Symbolic than cats and horses. Ditto snakes and lizards.

...Well, okay, actually I guess snakes do carry a whole lot of symbolic freight, from phallic symbols to the Garden of Eden thing to being on a plane. So I guess I'll guess snakes.

Either that or ninjas.

PS: This isn't an answer, but Google tells me: "Common loons are best known for their almost violent mating dances and eerie wails, that make them symbolic of our wild northern lakes and marshes."

the answer is OBVIOUSLY "girls"

Yeah, I don't doubt that somebody could Search In Book and find this,

A simple Google search on the quotation as given, plus a little bit of sifting through the results, is actually sufficient to find the answer. A lot of quotable quotes have been quoted on the web, and, remarkably, many of them have even been properly cited. At least, the citation in this case seemed plausible.

I'm going with Rabbit.

Animal: Democrats. Novelist: Joe Klein.

Do people want answers yet? Or hints? Here are two hints: first, silent is, I think, meant to be relative, in particular relative to humans. This animal has a nursery-noise, in the same sense that cows say Moo. Noisier than a turtle.

The second hint is that it's too bad Chris has such Mad Google Skillz, because he was the likeliest to guess the author, and deduce the animal from that.

On the other hand, the point was not so much getting it right as getting it. Which leads me to draw attention to the fact that I am refraining from answering david "Silent and reserved? Man, you're doing it wrong!" Nope. Not gonna say it.


Aha -- my Googling failed before because I tried using an exact quote, and when that failed I didn't search on enough of the non-exact quote for the answer to show up in the top n results. But using the whole quote, without quotation marks, works. Thanks for the hint, Chris!

I may comment more when the answer is Officially Revealed.

Horse. I have to go with Matt on this, although I have no idea about the author. Jed, you have obviously never been a teenaged girl, nor have you been Walter Farley. ;-)

Dog is probably the strongest runner-up in my book. I could cover my ass with a few other guesses, but really, horse. We like our ideas big, we humans.

My first instinct is "lion", mostly because of the projection bit (and the little bits of the author's self-/tribe-image that I'm picking up). Not even going to attempt an author.

Oh. Dang. Well, and that was going to be my second choice, if it hadn't already been represented by others here. Interesting that I was hearing [the actual author] as an Empire Without Sunset Man.

Thanks for the hint, Chris!

You're welcome.

Trying to catch web-reliant plagiarists hones just the set of Google-searching skills useful in this case.

Melissa: it's true that I've never been a teenaged girl nor Walter Farley, but I did read at least several (maybe even all) of the Black Stallion books as a kid. But I never got into Misty of Chincoteague et al.

...So, leaving aside the question of what animal the original line was about, can you elaborate a little? In what ways would you say that we (or at least the teenage girls and Walter Farleys among us) "project our ideas upon" horses and "make them symbolic"? I understand that people are attracted to them, and love them, and that people may impute human feelings to them; I'm just not clear on whether that's more true of horses than any other domesticated animal. For example, the dog lovers (and trainers) I know tend to treat dogs as basically furry humans.

(And I know that there's also a sexual charge to the appeal of horses in some cases; cf Maddy Prior's line in "Rosettes" where she sings, "It'll help them to handle the men in their lives / Horses will teach them to ride." But is that the same as the symbolic weight that our mystery author is talking about?)

Jed: I guess I'm taking the author's intent here to mean symbolic as in the Big Ideas of our cultures. I think we project emotions on dogs, and to some extent allow them to have emotions we'd never allow ourselves to have in public, at least not as adults. But when I think of animals that have lots of Big Ideas projected on them, I think of horses. There's sex, as you mention, and that's no light thing in many cases. But there's also the whole mobility thing--I'm reading some trashy novels set in Scotland in the 1700s, and horses mean wealth and commanding-of-distances, thus power, in a very concrete way. They're the symbol of the Wild West, in animal terms, too, and that covers power and speed and freedom and even economic dominance.

Maybe I'm blathering--it's late. Does this get at some of the answer you were looking for?

Interesting. Yeah, that does address what I was wondering about; thank you.

...And an interesting coincidence: I'm reading Mansfield Park, and just this morning got to the bit in which someone or other offers William the use of a horse when he's in town, and I started thinking about how much of a big deal horses must have been in those days. In the generic-fantasy world in my head, there are always plenty of horses to be had, and except for the magical or otherwise special ones, they're basically interchangeable. If one of the D&D party's horses gets injured or something, they just buy another one. But presumably in the real world that wasn't true at all; horses were, as you noted, very concrete metaphors of all the things you mentioned. And expensive to boot, no doubt.

But somehow I hadn't been thinking about any of that when I posted my earlier note. So thanks for the followup!

I read somewhere (I think maybe it's in Wes Jackson's _Becoming Native to this Place_) an anecdote attributed to a psychotherapist who could remember the generational shift when people stopped dreaming about horses and started dreaming about automobiles.

(David Brin does a great job of re-creating the impact of horses when automobiles aren't an option in _Brightness Reef_ and _Ifni's Shore_.)

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