Weasels!: 2. Author's Notes

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2. Author's Notes

Least weasel rearing on its hind pawsLeast weasel in summer coatThe animal Aragorn encounters in "Weasels!" is the least weasel (Mustela nivalis nivalis), shown in the photograph at left. As in the story, it will rear on its hind paws when curious. The least weasel is only white in winter; in the summer its back is brown (see below). A southern subspecies, the common weasel (Mustela nivalis rixosa) is brown year-round and can be found as far south as Egypt. The least weasel can survive even in high arctic tundra, a climate too cold for almost any other animal.  Both the least and the common weasels occur naturally in Britain.

This animal is the world's smallest true carnivore, and members of most populations would comfortably fit in Aragorn's footprint. Its diet is primarily mice, voles or lemmings, depending on the locality, and it is small enough to follow these animals into their burrows. When this food is scarce it can hunt rabbits 10 times its size, which it will

defend against animals that are even larger. It may also eat birds and their eggs, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and occasionally berries. Because of this diet its population density tends to be low, and so it is seldom seen. Occasionally it will take poultry from farms; however, it is much more likely to protect crops by keeping rodent populations down.

Weasels are not rodents, but are close relatives of otters. Like an otter, a weasel has a swift metabolism and seems to a human like "a sprite...a golden leaf upon a whirlwind" (Ermine's Nest webpage). Weasels and otters are more distant relatives of cats, dogs and bears. Both were persecuted by English gamekeepers, who also temporarily exterminated the pine marten and the polecat from England. Weasels, reproducing relatively quickly and being small enough to hide in the burrows of their prey, were able to maintain populations even in areas with many gamekeepers. However, the gamekeepers may have contributed to the use of the term "weasel" as a synonym for a sneaky, devious character. Many British animal stories, such as Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows and Brian Jacques' Redwall series, portray weasels as vicious, rapacious villains. This "character assassination," to quote from weasel biologist Carolyn King, even extends to some descriptions of the weasel's appearance:

"When the animal is glancing around with the neck stretched up and the flat triangular head bent forward...it is the image of a serpent" (McKnight, 1905).

In Tolkien canon, weasels are also juxtaposed with the villains--for example, goblins pursuing Bilbo and the dwarves through the orc-tunnel "ran forward, swift as weasels in the dark" (The Hobbit, "Over Hill and Under Hill"). However, individual weasels do not appear. The positive scene in "Weasels" is largely based on an anecdote from a 1999 edition of the Buffalo News:

"It was wintertime and the weasel was all white...remarkably handsome in that soft, pettable ermine coat and with a sleek body obviously built for speed.  Everything about it seemed miniaturized: tiny ears, tiny beads for eyes, tiny dachshund-like legs...It stopped only briefly, rose erect on its hind legs and then bounded off."

Gerry Rising, the author, concludes that "it is hard to believe that these are the same disreputable beasts that we met at the beginning of this column."  Colloquially, weasels are called "bonuca-mona-muca" (pretty little one) in Spanish.

Even in English literature, Alan Lloyd's novel Kine is about a weasel who heroically defends the English countryside against the invading mink (Mustela vison).  I believe the depiction of weasels as staunch defenders of Middle-earth is canonical in spirit, and have portrayed the weasel as almost a miniature Ranger of the North.  Like Strider, the weasel is a solitary wanderer, misunderstood by many, that will not hesitate to fight against animals larger and more numerous than itself.  This individuality and courage, even in the midst of cold and adversity, is what Tolkien called "that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light" (letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to Michael Tolkien, June 1941).

In my next installment I turn to a creature that has been more extensively discussed in canon.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: AFriedman

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 12/06/07

Original Post: 10/07/07

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