For those unfamiliar with His Dark Materials and the concept of dæmons, a few basics: within Pullman's universe, every human being comprises two bodies, human and dæmon. The dæmon is what we would call the human's soul, and takes an animal form emblematic of his/her human's essential nature. (Note that the dæmon is, with very few exceptions, the opposite sex of its human.) Some aspects of the personality belong to the human, some to the dæmon, but the dyad functions as a unit, each half having access to the shared mind's thoughts, emotions and sensory perception. Human and dæmon are unable to move farther than a few yards apart without intense pain, both emotional and physical.
Children's dæmons can change shape on a whim, but around adolescence, when the human's personality becomes more or less fixed, the dæmon "settles," taking on a single permanent form.
Interpersonal relationships have their own etiquette: generally, humans speak to humans and dæmons to dæmons, unless the two people know each other well; words spoken by the dæmon carry particular weight. (Dæmonic behavior necessarily reflects human relationships—e.g., the dæmons of two humans with a strong bond may touch frequently, or the dæmon of a lower-ranked human will behave submissively toward the dæmon of that human's superior.) One human may touch another's dæmon only if the two humans are in a sexual relationship. Otherwise, contact with a dæmon not one's own is tantamount to rape.
It is possible to separate a human from his/her dæmon; this is called "intercision," and is sometimes done punitively—a sentence analogous to capital punishment, as the effect on the individual is not unlike that of a full frontal lobotomy.
Now: on to our cast of characters.
Minerva: Raccoon (Procyon lotor).
The name is Latin, from mens, mind or intellect, and evokes the eponymous Roman goddess of wisdom, war and crafts. As Minerva Medica, she was also patroness of healing and doctors.
Raccoons symbolize curiosity, questioning without fear, deception, dexterity, cunning, unique perception and cleverness. “Raccoon people have a tendency to be defensive, on-guard, ambiguous, and aloof. They can also be charismatic, involved, and unpredictable.”
Notes: Minerva’s form took a while to choose, but what clinched the raccoon shape (besides the symbolism) was this anecdote from a childhood book, Where the Red Fern Grows, describing a method of trapping raccoons. The hunter would cut a hole in a hollow log large enough for the raccoon to put its paw through, put something shiny in the hole as bait, and then drive nails in around the edges of the hole (i.e., so the points protruded inward). The raccoon could fit its paw in to grab the shiny object, but couldn’t pull the fisted paw out because of the nails. It would sit there, holding on to its prize, refusing to let go until the hunter clubbed it to death. I couldn’t choose a better metaphor for House’s persistence in pursuing his puzzles, even to the point of self-destructiveness.
The species is also known for ability to produce one hundred distinct vocal sounds, which seemed fitting for a man who always has something to say. (Bonus multimedia: hear chirping, cooing, purring, trilling, a distress call, and very angry barking.)
Rona: Gray wolf (Canis lupus lupus).
The name has a number of meanings: ‘joy’ in Hebrew and ‘strength’ in Norse, but is used with its meaning in English—‘counsel power’ or ‘advisor to the king.’ No need to explain my reasoning there.
Wolves symbolize compassion, loyalty, family ties, patience, perseverance, steadfastness, guardianship, teaching, the combination of intelligence with instinct/intuition, and communication.
Notes: Some people might argue Wilson’s dæmon is a domestic dog, but I’ve never agreed with that reading. Wilson is not one to follow a master, and has an underlying streak of aggression (cf. “Birthmarks”) when provoked that I felt better suited a wolf person. In addition, the guardian/teacher symbolism was too good a fit to pass up.
Alaric: Red fox (Vulpes vulpes).
The name is Germanic, meaning 'ruler of all' or 'noble ruler' and references her canonical position as Dean. In the context of the AAU, it indicates "power behind the throne" status.
Foxes symbolize cunning, cleverness, observation, feminine courage/power, persistence and diplomacy. The fox is the ‘trickster’ archetype in French folklore. “Fox people can be high-strung or exceedingly calm.”
Kylie: Dingo (Canis lupus dingo).
The name is from the Aboriginal Australian, meaning ‘boomerang’—a nod to Chase’s apparent tendency to be thrown around by authority figures. By my interpretation, however, what seems to be passivity is actually preference to fight only necessary battles (notably, boomerangs can be made as weapons as well). Hence the name’s tie to the Gaelic ‘Kelly,' ‘warrior.’
Dingoes symbolize the struggle between dependence and independence, intelligence, adaptability, truth-seeking, the ability to decipher messages, the power of speech and the correct use of intuition.
Notes: Okay, I’ll admit it was perhaps a bit clichéd to give the Australian a dingo dæmon, but the country he grew up in would have had a formative influence, and I wanted to reflect that by assigning a native species. I considered a bird of prey shape for a while, but although Chase has a gift for observation, the dingo’s symbolism is ultimately a better fit.
Renata: Scarlet snake (Cemophora coccinea).
The name is Latin for ‘reborn,’ tying into the snake’s symbolic meaning: shedding the past, resurrection and healing.
Notes: Since so much emphasis is placed on Foreman’s having overcome a mildly criminal past and low socioeconomic status to attain his current position, I thought this form was only appropriate. Note that although it can be confused with venomous snakes, the scarlet snake is not poisonous: a nod, I thought, to his having more proverbial bark than bite.
Raymond: Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus).
Another Germanic name, comprising the elements ragin (advice) and mund (protector). Cameron has a tendency to make moral judgments on various situations and share these with others, whether asked or not, ostensibly for their own benefit; I named her dæmon to reflect this.
Rabbits traditionally symbolize gentleness, intuition, evasion and alertness. In Chinese culture, they embody intelligence and persuasion; years of the rabbit in Chinese astrology focus on furthering humanistic causes. Buddhists consider the rabbit a symbol of self-sacrifice.
Notes: Cameron’s dæmon was difficult to decide on. I thought about a dove shape for a while—peace, gentleness, innocence and all that—but her character has evolved further and includes other aspects that should be recognized. Hence the rabbit.
Lilavati: Coyote (Canis latrans).
The name is traditionally Indian, a nod to his ethnic background, and derives from the Sanskrit, meaning ‘playful, amusing, charming.’
Coyotes symbolize adaptability, playfulness, resourcefulness, the balance between risk and safety, the ability to see humor in even the worst situations and survive anything life deals out, and the capacity to laugh at one's own mistakes. The coyote is a ‘trickster’ archetype in some Amerindian cultures, with the mythical figure behaving sometimes as a creative and sometimes a destructive force.
Notes: Again, some people are going to say a domestic dog shape would have been a better choice, but dogs aren’t traditionally renowned for their ability to survive in adverse conditions. And the mythical Coyote, eternally playful and clever and often an agent of chaos (defibrillator incidents, anyone?) evoked certain of Kutner’s qualities.
Nissa: Eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus).
The name is from the Hebrew, meaning ‘sign’—partly a reference to the dæmon’s shape being a signifier of one’s nature, but mostly chosen for its sound: the sibilance, I thought, was very appropriate for a reptilian form.
The lizard symbolizes renewal, the ability to change by releasing part of the self, and perceptiveness.
Notes: The symbolism here ties into Taub’s change in career—the surgical position sacrificed to save his marriage. Significantly, not all species of lizard regenerate the tail after it’s broken off: the escape tactic can, in these cases, work only once.
Pascal: Domestic cat (Felis catus).
Since Thirteen’s seldom-used first name is French, her dæmon’s is also. It derives from the late Latin paschalis, which is ultimately from the Hebrew pesach, ‘Passover’—a reflection of a wish by her parents that she would be ‘passed over’ by the disease that would ultimately take her mother’s life.
Cats symbolize independence, detachment, cleverness, unpredictability and sensuality. Thirteen’s aloofness said ‘cat’ to me from the beginning.
Notes: Thirteen's dæmon was one I didn't even have to think about: I see Pascal as a chocolate point Siamese.
Salangsang: Long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus).
The name is Filipino, and means “defender,” suiting Park’s ability to be aggressive in self-defense. Hedgehog people are resourceful, (usually) calm, practical, perceptive, intelligent, and able to defend their own interests. The hedgehog is also one of the few animals with natural immunity to snake venom: as this applies to Park, venomous speech hardly fazes her.
In central Asia and parts of the Middle East (a range this particular species occupies), the hedgehog is associated with the sun and fire: perfect for the hidden fire in Park's nature. The Celts associated it with rebirth and new growth; in African cultures, it can represent victory.
Brendan: Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii).
The name is Latinized, but derives from a Welsh word meaning “prince”—appropriate, given Adams’ sheltered, privileged upbringing. Symbolically, the antelope represents speed (manifested in Adams as quickness to judge), abundance, financial success, beauty, and the desire to help others.
Notes: This one wasn’t easy, because—by my reading, anyway—Adams came off as somewhat generic. I finally settled on the antelope for its associations with beauty and material prosperity, as these were her most prominent qualities.
Morrígan: Common raven (Corvus corax).
The name is Irish, and commonly translated as “phantom queen” (i.e., “phantom” as in ‘terror’ or ‘nightmare’). In mythology, the Morrígan was one of a triad of war goddesses, known collectively as the Morrígna; they ruled over war, strife and sovereignty, and were commonly associated with both crows and ravens.
Symbolically, ravens represent intelligence, eloquence, observation, challenge, prophecy and magic; in Celtic cultures, they also tend to be death omens (sometimes connected to the Banshee). Some Amerindian tribes associated Raven with healing and initiation. This Raven was a trickster figure, defining boundaries by transgressing against them.
Notes: I had some difficulty deciding between a crow and a raven shape for Amber’s dæmon, since they cover much of the same mythological ground. From a biological perspective, however, the raven is larger, more intelligent, and—most importantly—more solitary than the crow (which tends to search for food in groups). I was also surprised to discover Amber is one of those rare individuals with a same-sex dæmon, but it seemed fitting, since she defied the usual boundaries of gender to maintain her power in canon.
Odysseus: Common genet (Genetta genetta).
The name is derived from the Greek, although the precise meaning is unknown; it may be related to "odyssomai," 'to hate.' According to some sources, it means "giver and receiver of pain," and evokes the eponymous hero of the Homer's Odyssey, known for his cunning intelligence (which often manifested in wordplay). Significantly, while the Greeks lauded Odysseus as a hero, the Romans condemned him for his guile. In Dante's Inferno, Ulysses (Odysseus' Roman counterpart) has been relegated to the eighth circle of hell, reserved for frauds and deceivers.
The genet is known for agility, stealth and independence, and symbolizes passion, sensuality and personal magnetism. Genet people are inquisitive but cautious, alert and resourceful.
Notes: I knew the dæmon's form, in this case, long before his name. The name, however, coupled with its mythological history, fit perfectly, considering Stacy's role in House's life and their acrimonious separation. In the Pullman's-society version of their history, House and Stacy met while she (posing as a man to escape the restrictions placed on women) defended him one of the many times he was sued.