Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Animal Fantasy

Three closely associated but distinct terms are used in this encyclopedia to cover some of the innumerable uses to which animals are put in fantasy. Two of these terms – AF and Beast Fable – describe categories of story; the third, Talking Animals, identifies such an animal when it (or she, or he) plays a part, often that of Companion, in a tale whose protagonists are human.

A pure AF is a tale which features sentient animals who almost certainly talk to one another and to other animal species, though not to humans, and who are described in terms which emphasize both their animal nature and the characteristic nature of the species to which they belong. A pure AF will almost certainly be set in the real world, and will usually teach its readers some natural history; the most extreme examples are little more than fictionalized Biology lessons.

A beast fable, on the other hand, is a tale whose animal protagonists are described in terms which permit a Satire- or Allegory-based comparison of their behaviour and nature with that of humans; these comparisons are normally made without much attention being paid to real animal behaviour. Beast fables are sometimes set in a Wonderland or Otherworld venue, but they are just as frequently set in a fantasticated version of the real world, where their protagonists act as humans and frequently interrelate with humans.

Examples of the AF include Richard Adams's Watership Down (1972), about rabbits, and Garry Kilworth's Hunter's Moon (1989), about foxes, neither text allowing any communication between animals and humans. Many tales hover between the two extremes (Watership Down itself has been referred to by some as a beast fable). Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1908), Walter de La Mare's The Three Mulla-Mulgars (1910), George Orwell's Animal Farm (1945 chap) and William Horwood's Duncton Chronicles all feature protagonists who seem sometimes animal and sometimes to Parody human foibles. Unlike the pure AF, where the real world constantly and intimately interacts with the animal community, a boundary does exist between the central venue and the real world in these books.

In the pure AF the initiating fantasy premise tends to dissolve into a narrative which heeds the laws of the world. Because they exist in the world, and because the communities they depict are subject to the laws of nature, AFs tend to end in tragedy. To tell a pure AF is, ultimately, to depart from fantasy. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.