Eye of the Beholder

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Eye of the Beholder

Stories told from a non-human perspective

Books can be told in many different ways: in first person, in third person, from one person’s perspective, from many people’s perspectives. Most of the time these perspectives are from human characters, but not always. There are many other options for how a story can be told in more interesting and unconventional ways. Below are some options for experiencing a story from the point of view of someone or something that isn’t a fellow human being.

One of the most common alternatives to a human point of view are stories told from the perspective of an animal. There are some more famous examples like Animal Farm, Watership Down, and Charlotte's Web, but there are many others as well, both for children and adults. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is one such book. It tells the story of a race car driver named Denny and the many ups and downs in his life; however, the story is told from the point of view of his dog Enzo. Enzo is a very philosophical dog who has a lot of insight into humans that he’s acquired from many hours of watching television and paying close attention to his master. As he nears the end of his life, Enzo thinks back on all that he and his family have experienced. The book is also available in a young readers edition.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is, as it’s name suggests, told mainly from the perspectives of a golem and a jinni that have found themselves in turn-of-the-century New York City. The golem was created as a companion for her master but he died on their journey to America less than an hour after he spoke the words to bring her to life. Set adrift in a strange city with no master and yet feeling the fears, wants, and desires of everyone around her, she must learn how to be her own person. The jinni was once a free being made of fire living a solitary life in the Syrian desert. Then he wakes up in a tin-smith's shop in a city far from home, trapped in human form, after a thousand years captured in an oil flask, and with no recollection of how it happened. As these two beings try to navigate their new lives, their paths eventually cross and they become unlikely friends. 

For an even more unique mythical perspective, try The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It tells the story of a young girl named Liesel in Nazi Germany during World War II. After finding and stealing a book called The Gravedigger’s Handbook by her brother’s graveside, Liesel begins a unique relationship with the written word. Amidst increasingly dangerous circumstances, with war raging around her and her new foster family hiding a Jewish man in their basement, Liesel continues to steal books from anywhere she can find them, including from Nazi book-burnings and the mayor’s library. However, this story is not told from Liesel’s point of view. The narrator is Death itself, who while quite busy at this time, is still intrigued by those whose paths it crosses. 

All Systems Red by Martha Wells is the first in a series of novellas (and a full length novel has been announced). In a future spacefaring culture dominated by corporate interests, a team of scientists is on a new planet conducting tests of the surface to determine its worth. They are accompanied by their company-issued security robotic construct; however, their SecUnit is not like all the others -- this one has hacked its own governor module and become self-aware. Murderbot, as it has come to refer to itself in the privacy of its own mind, must hide the fact that it can now act for itself or risk being destroyed. Scornful of humans and horrified at the idea of spending any more time with them than necessary to half-heartedly do its job, Murderbot just wants to be left alone to watch the thousands of hours of entertainment programming it has downloaded. But after another research team on another part of the planet goes dark, Murderbot and its scientists must discover what happened before their own lives are in danger. 

The satire Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott is a story from the perspective of A Square, a mathematician living in the two-dimensional world of Flatland. In this land men can have different numbers of sides depending on their social status, with those near circles being the most respected, while women are only straight lines. A Square ends up meeting many more geometric forms on a journey through other lands: Spaceland, which has three dimensions; Lineland, with only one dimension; and Pointland, which has no dimensions. 

If you’re not sure what kind of perspective you’re interested in you can also try My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. Set in 16th century Istanbul under the rule of the Sultan, this is a murder mystery that also explores the power of art. When the Sultan commissions a group of artists to illuminate a great book about the glories of his realm, he asks them to do it using the European style, which can be seen as an affront to Islam. When one of the artists goes missing, the only clues lie in the art itself. Each chapter is told with a different narrator but most are not your typical narrators: a corpse, a dog, a horse, the color red, a tree, Death, Satan, a gold coin, and others -- including the murderer.