a question for the color-blind

So Dead Rick, one of the protagonists of this book, is a skriker. That means he’s a faerie who can take shape as a black dog. I have a scene in which he’s talking to a (faerie) character whose eyes are many shades of green.

And it occurs to me that dogs are red/green colorblind.

Advice on how to describe this from his perspective? My experience with colorblind men is that some shades I call green they will also call green; other shades they will mistake for grey, yellow, or brown. So would her eyes look like a mixture of different colors? Or would the shading be mostly lost, and her eyes will look much more uniform to him?

I mean, yeah, I could just cop out and say he’s a faerie, he doesn’t have to share the biological qualities of a dog’s eyesight. But I’ve given him good scent and hearing, so it only feels right to limit his vision. If I’m going to write what amounts to an alien perspective, I should commit to it, ne? So I would appreciate advice from colorblind people (or dog owners, for that matter) in how to represent this.

0 Responses to “a question for the color-blind”

  1. mojave_wolf

    Dog owner perspective: I have heard the “dogs are colorblind” along w/the “dogs are nearsighted” enough that I thought they were true until we got dogs. I now question both these things. Certainly, they see some colors, including something that allows them to differentiate “red” from, well, any other color (haven’t really had the occasion to notice one way or the other w/green, tho thinking back on things long past I would be really surprised if they couldn’t distinguish that). And our pointers, at least, see much better from a distance than I do, and our pit bull at least equally well. Yeah, I realize hearing and smell can do a lot, but not what I’m talking about here.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve mostly come to think of it as different perception of color, rather than non-perception of color; the question is how the different perception should be described. Though in looking more closely at Wikipedia’s description of types, I see that dogs are most likely deuteranopic, while humans are more likely to be deuteranomalous; those aren’t quite the same thing. Hmmm.

      (As for seeing at a distance, Wikipedia also tells me dogs are damn good at distinguishing movement at range, but their visual acuity is nearsighted compared to a human.)

      • mojave_wolf

        Maybe it’s something like watching black & white TV instead of color? ::shrugs:: I dreamed in black and white exactly once in my life, so can’t really help there, just wanted to point out dogs can *definitely* pick out red, (and tell blue from purple, for that matter). Am too tired & lazy to look up deutera- differences right now, but will check it out on the morrow if I don’t forget. Sounds interesting.

        (and yes, they are *damn* good at distinguishing movement from far away, indeed; & if it matters for sound, if they find a creosote bush w/kangaroo rats underneath–I assume by the smell–and start digging, they can often hear when the rats use the underneath tunnels; they will suddenly cast around and start digging in a spot ten feet off where the rats have been escaping. Not part of the question, I know, but seemed like the sort of detail that could be handy in a fantasy novel involving canine sense perceptions.)

        • Marie Brennan

          No, it’s definitely not like black and white. That much, I know for sure.

          I keep trying to hold the hearing-and-scent things at the forefront of my mind as I write his scenes, but it’s definitely hard; I’m human, and a cat person besides, so dog behavior is not well-fixed in my head.

  2. wyld_dandelyon

    My partner is partially color blind, and definitely sees different shades. Different colors of green would be more certainly different shades than if the eyes were red-and-green.

    I’ve found that some things I see better, but others she sees better. And she definitely sees better in light that’s dim enough to leech the colors out of things. Or perhaps, it’s that she perceives better, being more used to interpreting what can be seen when color cannot.

    • Marie Brennan

      Interestingly, the major colorblind person in my life doesn’t seem to have much trouble with reds; it’s greens and yellows (or sometimes greens and greys) that blur together.

      • wyld_dandelyon

        My Angel says colorblind people can, at least some of the time, see camouflaged things that color-seeing people can’t.

        • Marie Brennan

          Yes, because camouflage operates partly by making color and shape run counter to each other. If your eye bypasses the color, it’s more likely to see the shape.

  3. stormsdotter

    Ack. There’s a really awesome illustration of this in one of my textbooks, but I can’t link to it.

    Wikipedia has a similar illustration, but it’s rather small: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_blindness

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve looked at a variety of those, but it’s hard to extrapolate from that to “what would a bunch of different greens look like together?”

  4. kernezelda

    My boss is red-green colorblind He can determine the intensity of different shades, knows there is a color change, but both red and green appear gray or yellow to him. If I recall correctly (conversation a couple of years ago), darker shades go gray, lighter shades go yellow. I’ve never seen him wear vivid green or red, although he has worn dark green a few times. His wife helps him out when they shop to make sure he doesn’t buy clashing colors.

  5. tiamat360

    I have deuteranomalous vision, so I may or may not be of help here. Anyway. I have real problems distinguishing dark green from black, and green from black in dim light. Also it’s difficult to distinguish colors that fall in between green and red.

  6. drydem

    Hey, I could put you in touch with my Dad. He’s red/green colorblind and is a fan of your books.

  7. beccastareyes

    I know there are website pages that model what human red-green colorblindness is like. If you get a JPG of sample colored eyes, it should be able to convert it to something that approximates colorblind vision. (At least enough to tell if it’s distinct.)

  8. mojave_wolf

    Not relevant to the point, but this is a neat discussion. Reminds me of being a kid when I would ask people “what if green to you is red to me and yellow is blue but all these color changes are consistent so we would never know we were really seeing different things and calling them by the same names”; if they can model what color blindness looks like maybe there is some way of finding out an answer to that question (not that we don’t have many vastly more pressing issues to solve, but that’s just something I always used to wonder and had forgotten about till this post)?

    • Marie Brennan

      I used to wonder that, too.

      Still do, sometimes. 🙂

    • pentane

      The question was roughly ‘answered’ for me in semiotics class.

      We have no idea what we see and we call red stuff because the majority agrees that it’s red.

      If there is any inate ‘redness’, we’ll never know what that means because we couldn’t express it.

  9. tapinger

    handprint.com has a fascinating section on vision. (I haven’t looked at the other sections.) There appears to be some particular information on dichromatism and such on this page and some on colorblindness here though there may be other information scattered throughout.

  10. marumae


    I once read a book where I swear that the person in question *smelled* colors but that would be too out of left field. As for color perception in dogs, well I’ve had dogs my whole life and I never seemed to notice any real difference with color perspective, then again its’ hard to tell unless your looking for such a thing right?

    Last I heard on reading some studies that dogs *can* see blues and greens it’s just the reds that are an issue, I found this picture that paints a similar idea that I’ve always heard, that they see in blues and greens. Also is it possible for the character to have met this Faerie he’s speaking too and as such knows his/her eyes are green? This way you could easily settle the debate on what color spectrum dogs see.

    • marumae

      Re: *De-Lurking*

      Er, met this faerie while in humanoid form I mean, and then shape shifted into a dog and as such his color perception changed.

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: *De-Lurking*

      I’m not having his sense perceptions change too radically between forms; it’s more interesting to have him keep a degree of canine nature even when in human form.

      Thanks for the picture; every illustration like that helps get me into the mindset.

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