(1841-1922) Argentine-born naturalist and writer, in the UK from 1874. Most of his books were about natural history. Throughout both his fiction and his nonfiction there can be detected hints of some lost (or never possible) Arcadia. A Crystal Age (1887 anon; 1906 as WHH) a quasi-Utopia set in the Far Future, is of fantasy interest for its portrait of a society of harmonious communities divided into Houses, each governed by a Mother, and of a visitor from 19th-century England who fails fatally to comprehend the pattern and Balance of this life. Of the stories assembled in El Ombú (coll 1902), "Marta Riquelme", a fantasy, is based on a Legend in which those who suffer too deeply in their lives experience a Transformation, becoming Birds. A Little Boy Lost (1905), apparently written some years earlier, invokes a similar structure of longing: a young boy in California, who may have been fathered by a bird, leaves home and is succoured by the Lady of the Hills; but she cannot keep him either, and he takes ship to a mythical England.
WHH's most famous bird novel is Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest (1904). Structured as the confession-in-tranquillity of an old man named Abel, it takes place in the middle of the 19th century somewhere between Venezuela and Guyana, where young Abel has fled after a political debacle. Here he finds a tribe of Indians which lives in fear of the "demons" who inhabit a nearby region; but what Abel discovers there is a tiny woman called Rima, who seems and sounds half-bird, who can talk with animals, and who longs to return to her home, which is a kind of lost world (> Lost Races) in the mountains. When they get there, it has been destroyed. She returns to her home woods and is burnt alive in a great Tree by the Indians, who are then massacred at Abel's instigation. Quite extraordinarily attenuated in comparison with earlier figures – like H Rider Haggard's Ayesha – Rima nevertheless very fairly represents WHH's notion of the impossibility of harmony between humans and the natural world. [JC]
William Henry Hudson