12 April 2013


Character Connection 39

Ever since Sully brought up the matter of non-humanoid aliens, I've been trying to find them in fiction--but in the fiction I've already read. It's partly to make things a bit easier on myself . . . and partly because I think we're always richer than we think we are. Although I was stumped when the issue came up, a quick scan of my bookshelves the other night showed me that I've come across a few more than I had realised!

So in honour of the April theme In Space, No One Can Hear You Blog, I feature an extraterrestrial character from one of the first SF books I ever read. 

Aunt Beast
A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle

On Uriel there had been the magnificent creatures. On Camazotz the inhabitants had at least resembled people. What were these strange things approaching?

They were the same dull grey colour as the flowers. If they hadn't walked upright they would have seemed like animals. They moved directly toward the three human beings. They had four arms and far more than five fingers, to each hand, and the fingers were not fingers, but long waving tentacles. They had heads, and they had faces, but where the faces of the creatures on Uriel had seemed far more than human faces, these seemed far less. Where the features would normally be there were several indentations, and in place of ears and hair were more tentacles. They were tall, Meg realised as they came closer. They had no eyes. Just soft indentations.

So what do you think? Does Aunt Beast count as non-humanoid?

Okay, probably not. =P I confess that when I reread her chapters in A Wrinkle in Time, I was surprised to see that I had remembered her inaccurately. In my memory, she had been something closer to a fuzzy, faceless, fragrant giant squid. (And how cool would that have been, my friends?)

The second disappointment was recalling that Aunt Beast, despite being as lovely and motherly as I remembered, is also a mere stock character. You know, the one who is only in the space-set story to tell you how strange your planet seems to her. Note the "soft indentations" and exactly where they are placed. You just know a big deal is going to be made out of the difference between knowing what things look like and knowing what things are like. (I wonder what blind readers think when they get to this passage.)

On one level, this is a mere trope: the Earthling author's false humility which insists on weighing earth in the balance and finding it wanting, while still keeping things totally geocentric and immovable. (Galileo is so embarrassed.) Aunt Beast might as well be a minor moon to the third ego from Copernicus's sun.

Okay, I exaggerate! =) And unfairly so. Madeleine L'Engle, for all her quirks, never imagined that the earth was the centre of all space and time. This "meta" knowledge may not add a third dimension to Aunt Beast, but like earth girl Meg, we can come to love her without it.

Aunt Beast is the kind of first friend you'd like to make if you landed on a distant planet, with no idea--and no hope--of ever making it home again. When "aliens" from earth intrude into her world, she reacts with compassion rather than fear. Instead of assuming they are dangerous, she senses that they are lost. Meg and her companions meet only Aunt Beast and two others. Had they run into more, maybe they would have seen the planet's ugly side. And it's too often the ugly sides which are flashed in these sort of interplanetary encounters. Aunt Beast may never have been trained for the role of cosmic ambassador, but she could probably set the standard. 

Image Source: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle


Sullivan McPig said...

At least she has tentacles ;-)
Thanks for looking for non humanoid aliens :-D

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for getting me started! =D

cyurkanin said...

Hey, this one's on my LOST reading list! Looks like our libraries will be converging sooner than you thought...

Enbrethiliel said...


If there is one writer I can always talk about, it's Madeleine L'Engle! =) Let me know when you've read this one.

Introverted Jen said...

Um, I don't remember Aunt Beast at all. :-/ And I've re-read this sometime in the past 5 years or so! What a rare character to react to new beings with compassion rather than fear and hatred. Stock character or not, we could learn something from her.

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, I forgot the Happy Medium in between two past rereadings. LOL! Aunt Beast always impressed me, though. I kind of wish I could snuggle into her fur the way Meg gets to. =)