#2 Originality: On Becoming an Animal

Lit Bits Little Blogs is a series of short blog posts for fans, readers, and writers of short stories. It’s a concoction of thoughts, insights, and musings we’ve collected, discussed, and mulled; as publishers of this challenging and potent story form. We welcome debate, conversation, and guest posts.

Hyena

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, on the topic of originality that, “All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.” While absolute originality doesn’t exist, a short story has the ability to experiment in such a way that it feels like nothing you have read before. I recently read, My Wife the Hyena by Nina Killham, about a man’s relationship with his wife, a Hyena; and it felt new and original:

‘Her cooking is never memorable. It is difficult to cook with four paws’

But you need look no further than Mrs Fox by Sarah Hall, which won the BBC National Short Story Award in 2013, about a woman who turns into a Fox, to see that turning human characters into animals is an accepted experimentation:

‘She begins to walk strangely on the tips of her toes, her knees bent, her heels lifted’

And it’s not a new experimentation either. Take Kafta’s 1915 novella, Metamorphosis, where a man turns into a big bug:

‘As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.’

These stories feel original, as if nobody had done anything like it before. Good short stories do that. Not because it is something completely new, but because it uses ideas and experiences, original or not, together to form something that is new. In Killman’s story, office politics and the sexual relationship between a married couple are entwined with the characteristics of a Hyena. None of those themes are original by themselves, but combined, and with relevance, they work. But it’s important to note that experimenting randomly without any relevance may make something original, but just plain odd. There needs to be a reason you turn someone into a Hyena.

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/pimgmx/4475927622/”>Pim Stouten</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

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