In wizardry, a familiar is an attendant spirits that serve its master, usually a wizard, sorcerer, or other magical being. Familiars were mentioned in Shakespeare's Macbeth, as the witches called their familiars...The most common species identified as familiars are cats (particularly black cats), owls, and sometimes frogs or toads. from Wikipedia
In the days when I thought I would live and die in my cubicle (RIP Elizabeth Goodman, 1976 - 1999: She never letterspaced her lowercase), I used to while away the late afternoons before the coffee kicked in by imagining my own pseudo-Disney musicals. The heroine was a hapless - but determined - paper pusher victimized by her cruel boss (based closely on the wicked stepmother from Snow White). Struggling mightily to get through massive dance numbers yet still produce final mechs on time, the heroine (in no way based on me) had only one ally to depend upon: her mouse.
A childhood spent at the movies had taught me the necessity of a sidekick. All great Disney heroines worth their salt had a cute, wisecracking anthropormorphized friend -- whether it be a meerkat, or a mouse, or even a dancing teacup. So why not a computer peripheral?
I suppose if I were to do it all over again, I'd give the heroine a cellphone that talked back.
A few days ago, by the way, was the the 312nd anniversary of the Salem witch trials. I spent the first part of my childhood in Massachusetts, and the Puritans have always felt very close. Four centuries ago, 25 people were condemned to death after young girls began to speak to beings that others could not see. It occurred to me last night that the Disney animal friend is, weirdly, a distant echo of the witch's familiar. Turned inside out and upside down, Cinderella's mice are the witch's cat. The former leads to the fairy godmother and a royal marriage, and the latter leads (in the eyes of the Puritans) straight to hell in Lucifer's Caddy. And remembering my old Disney parodies, I began to think about the cell phone as not just a cultural echo of the Disney sidekick, but also as a kind of familiar.
Bear with me here.
My phone makes noises only I can hear. It brings me messages from faraway places and shows me things I could never see on my own. It helps me do things I could never do on my own -- like find a dress for a dance or talk to invisible spirits in the air. I take my phone everywhere, and keep it close to my body at all times. Nevertheless, it depends upon me and I must feed it constantly.
China Mieville has this great story, which I cannot locate online, about a man and his familiar. I haven't read the story for about a year, but it concerns what happens when a man creates an external extension of himself, then tries to rid himself of it. The ending is not very pleasant.
There's something very soothing about having my cell phone around, so soothing that I can almost forget how anxious I feel when it's not there. I've become so used to the way it extends my presence in the world, used to walking down the street with cell signal, my invisible umbilical cord, extending far out to the other cell phones my cell phone calls friends.
A witch was supposed to feed her familiar spirit with her own blood, which the animal sucked from her body at a special nipple that became known as a witch's mark. http://www.supernaturalworld.com/familiar.html
The first part of my childhood I spent in Massachusetts, as I said. But I spent the other half in Los Angeles. I recognize a Magic Kingdom when I see it.