Study Guide

The Demon's Lexicon Man and the Natural World

By Sarah Rees Brennan

Man and the Natural World

"Am I hurting you?"

"No," Nick said. "That was the stupid birds."

"They're very intelligent, actually," Alan told him as if he was under the impression Nick cared at all. […] "If you catch them young, you can teach them to talk."

"I don't see what the big deal about that is," Nick said. "I can talk."

"… Well, I caught you young too." (1.66-70)

If you've finished the book, you know that this is a big piece of foreshadowing, and if you haven't, well… you will. Either way, it starts to make you wonder about the whole nature versus nurture debate. Can something wild, in this case a raven, be domesticated and taught to behave like a human? Of course we domesticate pets all the time, but is that natural, or are we training them away from what their natural existence would (or should) be?

It was the look on Alan's face that unsettled Nick. He was obviously feeling something, something softer and more than pity, something that came naturally to Alan and that should probably come naturally to Nick. He felt somewhat at a loss. (2.142)

Nick has a lot of these moments where he knows there's something he should be feeling—something that should come naturally to him—but he just. Can't. Feel it. And in this quote, we even get the word "naturally" to emphasize, perhaps, just how unnatural Nick sometimes seems to be.

She looked at him as if she hated him, but she always did that.

Nick bared his teeth at her in a silent snarl and turned away from the mirror. (3.206-207)

Ah, another touching mother-son moment. Glaring, growling—it's the little things that make a relationship special. But seriously, that last part of the quote? Where Nick bears his teeth and more or less growls? That's no accident on the author's part. She's using Nick's actions to compare him to animal—to show us his animal side. Keep a look out for these comparisons. There's a boatload of them.

"[…] don't you feel bad for them? A little?"

[Alan] looked at Nick with a testing, expectant air. Nick didn't know what to say.

He felt angry with [Mae and Jamie]. If it hadn't been for them, Alan would not be marked. Nick didn't think expressing this would go over well, though.

"I don't feel anything for them."

That answer made Alan look so unhappy that Nick almost wished he had told him about the anger. (3.200-204).

Nick says here that he doesn't feel anything for Mae and Jamie, but that's not the truth—he feels anger at them. How do you think Alan would have responded if Nick had been honest instead of pretending not to have any emotion at all?

There was a crawling sensation of dread in Nick's stomach just looking at it, but when Alan beckoned, he bowed his head and let his brother slip the talisman around his neck. He felt like an animal going back into a harness. (9.174)

Here's another animal comparison, but there's another thing we find significant in this quote, too: the fact that Nick does what his brother wants him to do, what he knows he has to do, even though it makes his skin crawl. So what is that? Love? Obedience? Morality? We'll let you decide.

She pushed open a door and led him into a little sitting room, with cream silk fittings and picture frames glinting brightly on every surface. Nick hovered in the middle of the room, feeling like a clumsy animal who should not be allowed in here, and who would break something in a moment. (11.13)

Once again, Nick = animal. This time, he's a bull in a china shop, but the point once again is that he's out of place, a lumbering animal in a delicate human setting. He doesn't fit, and he knows it.

Nick strode forward in a fury and then found himself pulled up short by the confines of the imprisonment circle. It was like being a savage dog kept on a chain so he would not fly at throats. He felt like flying at throats. He made a sound that was almost a snarl. (14.56)

Snarling, savage, and "kept on a chain." This isn't exactly a cuddly image, and once again, it seems to suggest that Nick has, at heart, a feral nature—a level of ferocity that he has to fight to keep in check. (And that, at times, he has no desire to keep in check.)

Nick knew they were father and son, but he felt as if Arthur was a spectator at the zoo, and he was a tiger in a cage. Arthur looked at him with gentle interest, and Nick only just stopped himself from snarling again. (14.62)

It's almost like the way Arthur is looking at Nick here, as though he's a zoo exhibit, serves to awaken that animal part of Nick and bring it front and center. And of course, that's exactly what Arthur wants to do: awaken Nick to the fact that he's not human, that his essence is wild and destructive. Of course, if we were left in a room with Black Arthur, we might start snarling, too. And come to think of it, what does Black Arthur's treatment of Nick—and everyone else—say about his (BA's) humanity?

Nick looked at his father's eyes, and then looked at his mother's, and saw nothing but blue, blue, blue. Nick's own eyes were an endless, cold black. (15.7)

In the natural order of things, the child of two blue-eyed parents would most likely not have eyes that could be described as "an endless, cold black." But then, Nick's life hasn't exactly followed the natural order of things, has it?

"Do you know what you remind me of? There are children in this world brought up by animals. There were once two girls brought up by wolves, who thought they were wolves. […] The wild girls could howl, but that didn't make them wolves. And you can speak, but that doesn't make you human." (15.25)

This is just downright cruel. And—okay we'll admit it—pretty interesting, too. If people are brought up by wolves, they're still people, right? And chimpanzees that are raised like humans are still chimpanzees, aren't they? But if that's the case, why is that the case? And where does it leave Nick?

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