Artistic and Religious Representations of Angels in Pet: Background information when reading Pet

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by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi X
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 208 pages

    Jan 2021, 208 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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About this Book

Artistic and Religious Representations of Angels in Pet

This article relates to Pet

Print Review

In Pet, Jam is fascinated by angels. Through her mother, an artist, she is aware that monsters do not necessarily look scary, and angels can be visually mistaken for monsters, especially when they are of the avenging variety. Her friend Ube the librarian helps her find books full of artwork depicting angels. Jam is surprised to see that many of these angels appear anything but benevolent, and some are downright frightening. While author Akwaeke Emezi does not identify the exact paintings Jam studies, the descriptions point to a few likely pieces.

Stained glass window depicting angel from Notre Dame in ChartresOne of the pictures Jam describes features an angel whose wings are covered with unblinking eyes. The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres, France, dates back to the 13th century, and many of its original stained glass windows are intact. One of these windows shows an angel, or perhaps one of the "four living creatures" from the New Testament Book of Revelation, with eyes on its six wings. Christian angelology includes a hierarchy of angels, and both cherubim and seraphim have been depicted with eyed wings. They feature in the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel as well.

Other angels in Jam's books have multiple heads, bestial as well as human. Again in the Book of Ezekiel, some of the higher angels (in Christian iconography, specifically, cherubim) have four heads: human, ox, eagle and lion. Jam's avenging angel Pet's physiognomy combines features of a ram, goat, eagle and human as well.

Cherubim iconography featuring animalsSeveral times, Jam says that she cannot see Pet's face clearly. At the climax of the book, Pet warns her to look away as the creature reveals its face, which had been covered by a set of wings. In the novel, looking directly at an angel sears away one's eyes.

There is Biblical precedent for burning angels. In the Book of Revelation, the fourth angel is given the power to "scorch men with fire." If Pet is indeed one of the seraphim, this would be the creature's power; the Old Testament Book of Enoch says that the faces of the seraphim are so bright, even lesser ranks of angels—and certainly humans—cannot bear the brilliance. Indeed, the word "seraph" could be derived from the Hebrew word "saraf," meaning, "to incinerate." (Incidentally, an episode of the Fox television series The X-Files, "All Souls," also depicts an angel with faces of various animals who can burn out a person's eyes. The creator of the series, Chris Carter, frequently employed Christian, and specifically Roman Catholic, visual symbolism.)

In painting the creature Jam knows as Pet, Jam's mother has drawn from a rich background of the scarier, less benevolent-appearing angels from the world of art.

Stained glass window from Notre Dame at Chartres, courtesy of Reddit

Cherub, Eastern Orthodox iconography

Filed under Music and the Arts

This "beyond the book article" relates to Pet. It originally ran in September 2019 and has been updated for the January 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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