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Clever Crows
"If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows."
Henry Ward Beecher

Crows and ravens (both corvids, as are magpies and jays) have both positive and negative associations, but few would quibble with the notion that they are clever creatures.

Although it can be hard to tell what species a particular corvid is meant to be in many visual media, heroic ravens are often wise or intelligent characters, while crows tend to be friendly tricksters or Plucky Comic Relief. For example, crows (never ravens) are a staple of The Golden Age of Animation, appearing in countless funny cartoon shorts set on family farms, where their role is to drive farmers nuts gobbling up their corn crops. These cartoon crows aren't the slightest bit scary, though they can certainly be annoying to the farmers (and the occasional living scarecrow). They tend to be Screwy Squirrel tricksters.

Corvids often have been portrayed as sentries or lookouts, sometimes with magical powers and/or serving the ancient gods or other mythic figures. For example, the Norse god Odin was purported to have had a pair of ravens that served him in this manner.

Compare The Owl-Knowing One.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Rei Hino from Sailor Moon (see Sailor Moon's Tropes Found in the Manga page [1]), aka Sailor Mars, has a pair of crows named Phobos and Deimos (named for the Moons of Mars and essentially Mars's sentries - kind of like Evil-Detecting Dog + Defence.) Let's just say that, in the manga, they aren't ordinary crows... They're shapeshifting aliens from the planet Coronis whose job is is to protect Sailor Mars. (They aren't this in the anime, only appear briefly as the shrine's pets, and aren't named at all in the live action.)
  • Toto, from The Cat Returns, is a stone statue shaped like a crow that is able to come to life. He enjoys pestering and insulting Muta, but is good friends with the Baron and very sweet when talking to Haru. He and his crow friends also play an important role at the end of the movie by preventing the rest of the gang from falling to their deaths.
  • The crows in Haibane Renmei bridge the line between Glie and the outside world. One acts indirectly as a spiritual guide for Rakka, and is implied to be some reincarnated loved one.
  • Tsukihime has Gransurg Blackmore, a vampire magus from the Age of the Gods who considers birds to be holy, and transfigured himself into a freakish crow person to better serve his god, Crimson Moon Brunestud. Due to this, the people he turns into Dead also transform into even more freakish crow monsters. He has a Reality Marble named Nevermore.

    Comics 
  • Matthew the raven in The Sandman. Matthew is friendly, not a trickster (though a bit of a wise guy), pleasant and the most loyal guy in the Dreaming. He's as smart as a human and perhaps once was human. He's strongly implied to be the spirit of Matt Cable, former ally of Swamp Thing.
  • From Marvel's Loki comics - Ikol, the magpie containing the memories of what Loki was before he died.
  • Raven from Teen Titans (and its animated spinoff). She's a Dark Is Not Evil hero (when not being possessed or mind-controlled by her Eldritch Abomination father) whose magical powers often use a corvid motif.

    Fairy Tales 

    Film — Animated 
  • The crows in Dumbo are friendly, comedic characters who are at first derisive but then help Dumbo discover his ability to fly (the Magic Feather was their idea).

     Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Wiz the crows use their intelligence to convince the Scarecrow that he's stupid and can't frighten them off.
  • Diaval in Maleficent is a raven given the ability to shapeshift into other animals (specifically a man, a horse, a wolf, and a dragon) by the title character, and becomes her loyal servant/friend after she saves him from a farmer. He is a Deadpan Snarker but also Maleficent's Morality Pet.

    Literature 
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's works, although crows are generally in the Forces of Evil, ravens are friendly and intelligent, exceptionally long-lived, and allied with the dwarves; they helped Bilbo and company in The Hobbit. (For example, Roac, son of Carc in The Hobbit, is a wise raven and an adviser for Thorin Oakenshield.)
  • Discworld
    • Ravens living around the High-Energy Magic building at Unseen University have developed intelligence beyond their already-clever limits, and view the city panorama below as a sort of daytime entertainment. A couple of them bother gnome constable Buggy Swires on a stakeout, constantly pestering him for details.
    • Also from Discworld, Quoth the Raven (yeah...) who starts off as a wizard's familiar in Mort, and ends up becoming the steed for the Death of Rats in later books. He advises a number of protagonists and is clearly more level-headed than most characters on the disc.
  • Crows are a significant element of the Daughter of the Lioness books. They're intelligent to the level of sentience and are the animal symbol of the Trickster Archetype. They assist Aly and the rebellion in numerous ways by directly fighting or spying on the regime. One of them even turns into a human to better help and court Aly—crows have Voluntary Shapeshifting in the Tortall Universe.
  • In Peter S. Beagle's A Fine And Private Place; a raven helps and cares for the protagonist, Jonathan Rebeck, who lives in a graveyard, giving him food and, later, news.
  • In Hiromi Goto's Half World, crows can fly between the mortal world and Half World, and even serve as a literal bridge. They also follow Melanie (whose parents came from Half World) around, which makes her classmates think she is creepy and are one of the reasons she is bullied. Subverted in that they are her allies, eventually helping her fight the Big Bad.
  • In King Crow, the crow is clever but not spooky, even though it makes its first appearance on a battlefield (setting up an Androcles' Lion situation).
  • Harry Potter: Ravenclaw House, although intelligence is its defining trait and it is not the most sinister of the Houses. Despite the name, Ravenclaw's mascot is an eagle.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • Ravens are more intelligent than crows here, and function as Westeros's primary messaging system (similar to real-life homing pigeons). The fact that they're also birds of ill-omen is frequently remarked upon ("dark wings, dark words"), given that most of the messages people get are bad news.
    • A very rare breed of white raven exists, significantly more intelligent than the black kind. They can be trained to talk, and Jeor Mormont's bird has an unsettling habit of saying all-too-appropriate, or outright prophetic-sounding, things.
    • Bran's dreams are haunted by a Spirit Advisor in the form of a talking three-eyed crow, gradually revealed to be an avatar of an extremely powerful warg and greenseer who lives beyond the Wall and uses crows and ravens as spies.
  • In C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, in which corvids are for the most part benevolent or jokers at worst. The wise raven Sallowpad served as a royal advisor for the Pevensies, as shown in The Horse and His Boy, while a pair of jackdaws are comic relief in The Magician's Nephew.
  • Robber the crow from The Animals of Farthing Wood. (Note he's just called "Crow" in the TV adaptation.) Robber is a friend to and cares for Bold, one of the many, many characters.

     Live-Action TV 

    Mythology 
  • Odin had two ravens as companions. Their names, Hugin and Munin, suggest that they are his literal Thought and Memory. He sends them out all over the world each day to reconnoiter, and then they sit on his shoulders and tell him what they have seen.
  • Raven is one of many trickster heroes in Native American mythology. In more than one case, the raven is actually the creator of the universe.
  • The crow has a role of the creator of the world in Australian Aboriginal mythology.
  • In one of Aesop's Fables, a crow fills a pitcher with pebbles to reach water, a behaviour which has been observed in real life.

    Religion 
  • Ravens are associated with some saints, such as Saint Benedict of Nursia and Saint Vincent of Saragossa.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer 40,000 two heroic Space Marine Chapters named themselves after ravens: the Raven Guard and the Blood Ravens. The Raven Guard are noted for emphasis on speed and tactical strikes (their Primarch was Corvus Corax, a contender for the least subtle Theme Naming in all 40K), and the Blood Ravens for valuing and seeking out knowledge and having many Librarians in their ranks.
  • In Warhammer, Tzeentch, the Chaos God of knowledge, magic, and intricate scheming, is sometimes referred to as the Raven God.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Ravens are commonly found as wizards' and sorcerers' Familiars. Raven familiars always have the ability to speak.
  • Pathfinder has tengu as somewhere between kenku-expys and their original inspiration. Complete with a feat that allows them to appear as humans with unusually big noses, even.
    • There are at least two sorts of psychopomp (the servants of Pharasma, another True Neutral death goddess) that look, or can look, corvid: The huge, powerful yamarajes appear part raven and part dragon, and the tiny nosoi often resemble crows.
  • In Eclipse Phase ravens and crows are among the avian species that were uplifted, though they share the same "neo-avian" stats as the more common parrots.

    Video Games 
  • Aya Shameimaru in Touhou is a Crow Tengu Paparazzi who publishes a rumor mill tabloid; if not an outright trickster, she's at least clever and annoying. There's also Utsuho Reiuji, a nuclear-powered hell raven who's a bit more... straightforward. Fan interpretation is split on whether Utsuho is just an idiot, or if all of her brainpower is focused on nuclear physics.
  • One of the bird laguz tribes in Fire Emblem is the raven tribe. They fit most of the archetypes—often ending up being fought as enemies early in the game, but ultimately having had a perfectly good reason for their actions—and their leader's Leitmotif is called "Wheeling Corby".
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion features Corvus Umbranox, the Grey Fox, leader of the Thieves Guild, and former Count of Anvil. Fellow gets around. He's clever and dark-haired.
  • In Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon, Raidou receives orders from the Yatagarasu - often depicted as crows, but only in a boss (Amatsu Mikaboshi)'s battle quote is it made explicit ("So the Foxes still serve the crows!"). They are mainly associated with divine will, linking them to the Law Alignment.
  • In The Longest Journey, a bird who is technically not a crow (since he comes from another world) but looks like one and is named Crow is April Ryan's Plucky Comic Relief sidekick who helps her solve some puzzles. Notably, he is rather offended when he learns after what kind of bird April named him, but April convinces him that she did so after a comic book hero of her childhood named Crowboy.

    Web Comics 

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 

    Other 
  • There's a Big Crow F.A.Q., which maintains that fictional corvids are boring compared to their Real Life counterparts.

    Real Life 
  • Crows have demonstrated their ability to make tools. Being among the most intelligent genus of birds, any one of the corvid species may be capable of pulling this off, but the The New Caledonian Crow is the best known and documented. Check out this video depicting one fishing some food out of a plastic tube, using nothing but a bent piece of wire and a good dose of intuition.
  • Researchers have recently discovered that the Corvidae are comparable to chimps in creative thinking, although their cooperation skills don't quite match up (but are still considerable).
  • Think all ravens look the same? They do not think the same about us. They can identify people and form ideas of which ones of us are trustworthy.
  • Wild ravens can readily mimic what they hear without necessarily having to be taught to copy it. This woman caught a raven mimicking a songbird outside her house.
  • Increasing evidence suggests that crows actually have a rudimentary vocabulary, using different calls to alert their fellows to possible predators or worrying situations. They even have two different sets of vocabulary: a soft-toned, quiet version for communication within their immediate family, and a harsh, carrying voice used to convey similar sorts of information to non-relatives in the same flock.
    • While unproven, the existence of the first, quieter tone of crow-calls strongly implies that they keep secrets (e.g. where to find food) from unrelated flockmates.

    Corvid TropesCreepy Crows
Child ProdigyIntelligence TropesCrossword Puzzle
Classy Cat-BurglarThe TricksterCunning Like a Fox

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