How Non-Human Characters Affect Your Mind

When non-human characters appear in literature, the reader has a unique opportunity to interpret them in different ways than usual. When the lead role is a non-human such as an animal, robot, or alien, our mind cannot apply the same prejudices that we are used to applying to other human characters. We lose a sense of foundation, the character is now totally in the hands of the author and the reader to define.

An article written by describes how non-human characters are better at representing extreme human characteristics. For example, in the Lord of the Rings series the dwarves represent a very stoic analytic mind set while the elves represent the more creative and whimsical personality type. What is particularly interesting about this is that both sides of the spectrum are represented by female and male characters. Even if this was not the intent of the author, having sex diversity in the LoR races shows the fundamental point that men and women can be represented on any level of the human personality spectrum.

An even more extreme example of non-human characters can be found in the devastating story of Watership Down which tells the story *SPOLER ALERT* of a couple of farm animals that are under attack by the vicious leader Generl Woundwart who ends up killing almost everybody in the end. Having an all animal cast takes away any racial or physical prejudices. The characters are just themselves, there is no human history outside of the narrative that we can bring to the story. This gives the mind a blank slate to work with. Instead of having a preconceived notion on this character because he is Middle Eastern, or that character because he is Indian.  Not that it is bad to have characters who are driven by their race and their history, but in the sense of freeing the imagination, non-human characters provide a sense of creative freedom for the writer and the reader.

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Even though it was not a book, the best example of transcending racial issues yet making it the focal point of the narrative is the movie Zootopia. Since the animals are not divided into White, Black, Latino, or Asian, we are all able to learn something valuable about prejudice without bringing in our own biases.

Next time you read a book with no gender or race identities: The Book Thief, Bone Dance, or The Left Hand of Darkness. Try and be aware of how your mind handles characters without the common identifies of race and gender. It is surprisingly liberating because the characters become whoever you want them to be and nobody can tell you otherwise. 

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