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Literature / The Cold Moons

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The promised land, our home, Elysia.

The Cold Moons is a 1987 novel by Aeron Clement about somewhat anthropomorphic badgers in the British wilderness.

One early spring morning, a duo of badgers bask in the idealistic splendor of their glades. After eleven years living together in Yellow Copse, Bamber and his mate Dainty have just had what is likely their last litter of nestlings. Their peaceful existence is suddenly ruined when humans arrive and spread poison throughout the area. With badgers dropping dead within moments, Bamber attempts to flee with his family. His mate and cubs don't make it, but Bamber does. With that, he flees for the unknown in an attempt to save as many badgers as he can.

After Bamber delivers his message, it switches to the badgers of the Cilgwyn forest, a large and advanced community of several hundred badgers, as they try to escape doom.

The book is based on actual events that occurred in 1970s and 1980s Great Britain: There was an outbreak of tuberculosis amongst cows (and to a lesser extent, other mammals including humans). Badgers were considered the cause, though there was little-to-no evidence that they were. This led to a mass genocide of badgers that pushed them to the edge of extinction in Great Britain.

The Cold Moons provides examples of:

  • All Animals Are Domesticated: After being hit by a train, Rowley takes to humans easily. He lets them pick him up and hand-feed him food. The slightly older yearling Titan, however, won't let humans touch him.
  • Animal Naming Conventions: Some badgers have descriptive names, such as Oatear and Greyears, or nature-related names, such as Buckwheat and Corntop. However, there's an Aerith and Bob element as not all characters have this (for example, the former Cadre leader was named "Jason" and Buckwheat has a son named "Beaufort").
  • Animal Talk: Downplayed. It's mentioned that characters talk to one another, but none of the dialogue is shown.
  • Animal Religion: Badgers bury their dead. They also hold religious beliefs and have a concept of the afterlife. The badgers' God is named Logos, their heaven is called "Asgard", and their hell is "Sheol"; those who are Barred from the Afterlife go to "Gehenna". "Elysia" is a short-hand for "heavenly pastures" and it literally refers to the pastures of heaven.
  • Anyone Can Die: The book starts with nearly 400 badgers. By the end, over 100 have died and only roughly 260 are left. All of the old Cadre were killed during the journey and the main badger antagonists all died as well.
  • The Atoner:
    • Major T. G. Robertson was the head of the cullings. After seeing the train crash into the badgers, he has a change of heart. He's the reason why Titan and Rowley survived.
    • Gnos and most of the other badgers who sided with Kronos quickly regret it due to his tyrant ways. Upon returning to the main group, they become even more loyal to Beaufort then they were before.
  • Automobiles Are Alien:
    • The badgers refer to helicopters as scentless trained "birds". They think that a ladder is its tongue and that it eats humans.
    • The badgers refer to a train as a "serpent" that eats humans.
  • Book Ends: The story begins with an old couple named Bamber and Dainty who are preparing to have their last litter of cubs. The story ends with a blossoming couple of cubs named Bamber and Dainty.
  • Braving the Blizzard: Several chapters revolve around the badgers having to brave the Welsh winters instead of being warm in their setts. Despite a mass pneumonia scare, all of the badgers survive the cold.
  • Bury Your Disabled: Not all the weaker and older badgers make it through the book. This is prepared for in advance by allowing several to stay behind, but some die even before they can make it to the rendezvous point.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Beaufort has been in love with his wife Corntop since he was a yearling cub.
  • Censored Child Death: Most of the cubs die off-screen, though there are a few who aren't.
  • Crying Critters: The badgers can cry tears when upset. For example, Bamber cries when Dainty dies.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Fircone names his daughter after Bamber's mate Dainty, while Beaufort names his son after Bamber himself.
  • Death of a Child:
    • Bamber's newborn cubs are poisoned to death in the first chapter.
    • Not all the cubs survive the trek out of the Cilgywn forest. Even before the voyage begins, Fircone loses his two three-month old daughters to humans.
    • Pickle and Deva are two young cubs who die in a car crash.
  • Decoy Protagonist:
    • Bamber dies five chapters in. His long journey left the already aging badger too worn. He survives long enough to give other badgers his message of danger before passing two days after arriving in the forest.
    • Buckwheat is killed when he falls into a river in chapter twelve.
  • Diurnal Nocturnal Animal: A justified example occurs in The Cold Moons. Bamber sometimes walks around during daytime because he's fleeing for his life and can't afford to spend much time sleeping. Most of the other badgers are nocturnal.
  • Dirty Coward: Kronos is a big-shot villain while he has lackeys, but when left on his own he turns into a coward. After his last ambush failed and his comrades had either died, given into defeat, or ran off, he starts begging for forgiveness and accidentally falls off a cliff when he backs away from Fircone.
  • Disney Villain Death: Kronos accidentally backs off of a cliff.
  • Eye Scream: Tendril is missing one eye. Seven years ago, her family was attacked by hunting dogs. One of the dogs grabbed her by the face and its tooth pierced her eye.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death:
    • Several badgers are violently gassed to death, including day-old cubs.
    • Off-screen, a few badgers have either have dogs turned on them or are shot to death.
    • Eldon's on-screen death involves him saving another badger from a rolling boulder. It's mentioned that nearly every bone in his body broke and he had numerous gashes. He dies a few moments after being hit with the rock.
    • Zoilos' death is particularly violent and, unlike many of the other deaths, is on-screen. Fircone and Zoilos get into a life-and-death fight which ends in Fircone grabbing Zoilos' by the neck and holding on tightly until he either suffocates or his neck breaks.
    • A train crashes into several of the badgers. The others can barely recognize the victims because they've been so crushed and mutilated.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: Tendril is so deformed because dogs brutally mauled her a few years ago. She lost an eye and is Covered with Scars.
  • Generation Xerox: It's mentioned at the end of the books that many of the young have taken the characteristics of those that fell during the journey. For example, Rowley is very similar to his adopted father Eldon.
  • Heaven: According to badger mythology, when animals (humans included) die they go to Asgard. Asgard is a perfect place where all beings live in peace. It's said that even lions and deer will be friends in Asgard.
  • Heaven Above: Badgers believe that heaven (called "Asgard") is in the sky, hence why they gaze upwards whenever contemplating the afterlife.
    "Beaufort gazed up as the sun fell, below the skyline, thinking of Eldon as the old leader started his final journey, up to Capricorn, the southern gate of the sun, over the rainbow bridge, through the halls of Gladshelm and Valhalla to live again."
  • Idle Rich: Eldon is the badger equivalent. He's a leader prefers to either sit around and eat or lay around and sleep over anything else. He's concerned about very little and leaves most of the major decisions to Buckwheat and the others.
  • Informed Conversation: The entire book is written in this manner. The characters speak to one another but it's only described in the text.
  • Intimate Hair Brushing: Badgers view mutual grooming as a way of bonding. Badgers' faces are too sensitive to clean with their claws, so they allow their loved ones to lick their faces while grooming (with mothers sometimes completely grooming even their older cubs).
  • I Was Named "My Name": Averted. Humans refer to Titan and Rowley as "Romulus" and "Remus".
  • Like Father, Unlike Son:
    • Jason is considered one of the most loved and dedicated leaders Cilgwyn has seen. His son and successor Eldon is a very lazy badger who lacks any leadership ability.
    • Unlike his father Buckwheat, Beaufort is uninterested in politics and prefers to passively listen to others rather than make decisions himself. Part of Beaufort's Character Development involves becoming more like his father.
  • The Leader: Cilgwyn has a large community of setts that is lead by one badger. This badger is usually elected by male badgers over four years of age, though some exceptions exist (such as how Eldon was granted leadership because his father Jason was so beloved)
  • Married Animals: Badgers are described as being both mates and spouses to one another.
  • The Medic: The Cadre has a badger known as "the Healer" who acts as a doctor to the other badgers. The current Healer is a badger named Rhea.
  • Mercy Kill: While looking for food for sick badgers, Eldon and the cubs come across a deer that fell and broke her back. Normally badgers wouldn't eat deer, nevermind one that isn't even dead yet, but they can't find anything else to give all the ill badgers. Eldon is too soft to kill the deer but Titan, one of the stronger cubs, isn't. Eldon considers it an act of mercy to put the doe out of her misery.
  • Microts: Badgers do use standard terms for seasons, but they usually call spring "the birth time", summer "the warm time", autumn "the time of falling leaves", and winter "the time of cold moons" ("cold times/"the cold times" for short). Units of measurement are vague units, like "badger steps". Days are counted in suns (for example, "forty suns") and a month is "a complete life of the moon" (or just "a moon").
  • Moses Archetype: Several badgers who have elements of this. Buckwheat and his son Beaufort are two badgers who help lead their community to The Promised Land while they escape genocide by humans. They learned about this journey from Bamber, a badger they considered God-sent. Bamber was the Sole Survivor out of his sett and travelled a long distance to tell other badgers about the danger. He died of exhaustion soon after arriving at Buckwheat and Beaufort's sett.
  • Naming Ceremony: At 6 months of age, a cub is given their name in a naming ceremony.
  • Partially Civilized Animal: The characters are mainly normal badgers living in the woods, but they can communicate with one another, can use herbs as medicine, have religious beliefs, and have developed a small society with its own parliament called "the Cadre".
  • Public Execution: Implied. Some crimes are punishable by death and it's never suggested that this isn't a public death. Some of the deserters were also afraid that they were gonna be forced off a cliff in front of everyone, so it seems that badgers practice public executions.
  • Puppy Love: The book ends with the recently named 6-month olds Bamber and Dainty meeting one another. It's Love at First Sight.
  • Scenery Porn: The book spends a good amount of text lovingly describing the British wilderness.
  • Show Within a Show: There are several chapters featuring fictional newspaper clippings from The Sunday Tribune, Daily Chronicle, and Daily News. There's also an unnamed television news network.
  • Sketchy Successor: Jason was a beloved leader and is considered one of the best badgers to grace the Cilgywn forest. His son Eldon on the other hand is lazy and prefers to let others make choices for the group.
  • Sole Survivor:
    • Bamber's mate was killed by poison. His cubs perished from the poison as well. As they were only newborns, they wouldn't have been able to survive without Dainty anyway. The rest of the badgers in the sett, including Bamber's brother Oatear, also died during the incident.
    • Tendril is the sole survivor out of her family of eleven. Everyone else was torn to pieces by dogs.
    • Fircone is the only survivor out of the ill badgers that were left behind to recover.
    • Gnos, his unnamed mate, and an unnamed sow are the only survivors of the last badger culling. A few pregnant sows decided to stay behind in the setts until their cubs were old enough to return to the group, however a few days afterwards they were attacked by humans. The humans hadn't gotten the news that the badger cullings were being stopped, so they killed eight badgers.
  • Snow Means Death:
    • The story starts in early spring. It's so early that there's still some frost and snow. This is when the humans come and start killing badgers.
    • The story takes place predominantly during hence the name ("the cold times" is what badgers winter). Many characters die over the course of the wintry chapters.
  • Survivor Guilt: After the two cubs Titan and Rowley seemingly die, Fircone falls into a Despair Event Horizon. He cries that he should have been the one who died, not Titan.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: The badgers avoid killing one another unless there's absolutely no other option.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: This is explored with the in-series newspapers. Daily Chronicle is sympathetic towards the badgers and features stories calling the termination attempts barbaric. Eventually the badger sympathizers get enough support and the cullings are stopped.