Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Imaginary Animals

A term used for creatures invented as integral features (or Plot Devices) of particular fantasies – as opposed to Mythical Creatures, or ad hoc grotesques devised for whimsical Bestiaries. Mervyn Peake's Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor (graph 1967 chap) uses its IAs in a quasi-bestiary sense, for ornament; they do not contribute to the Story. Minor variations on Dragons and horses are common in Genre Fantasy but lack interest as IAs – e.g., the equine mounts with eight legs in Robert Heinlein's Glory Road (1963), reflecting Odin's eight-legged horse Sleipnir.

Many IAs are chimeras, assembled from fragments of other animals. Examples include the Great Beast of Revelation and the lion/bird Beast That Talks To God in Geoff Ryman's The Warrior who Carried Life (1985). Anthology creatures formed from unlikely components are effective for humorous and/or humiliating Transformations of humans, as occurs in A A Milne's Once On a Time (1917) and Thorne Smith's The Stray Lamb (1929). Pier's Anthony's Xanth sequence rationalizes hybrids via magical Biology, arguing that Magic and Potions of Love can facilitate any unlikely miscegenation – e.g., a human/vulture cross gives harpies. Woody Allen (1935-    ) spoofs chimeras in Without Feathers (coll 1976): "the great roe" has "the head of a lion and the body of a lion, but not the same lion".

In Horror, elusive shapelessness is a frequent IA attribute, as with the bubbling shoggoths of the Cthulhu Mythos or the comic-horrific Todal of James Thurber's The Thirteen Clocks (1950) – an animated mass of cold, dead lips. In Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark (1876 chap), the Snark is seen only by its predestined victim, offstage. The revealed horror of the eyeless, predatory "nuuwa" in Barbara Hambly's The Ladies of Mandrigyn (1984) is that they are former humans (> Debasement). IAs in Fantasyland tend to be what role-playing Games term "encounter Monsters", introduced only to be fought – like Carroll's Jabberwock.

Cheerier IAs from Children's Fantasy include E Nesbit's irritable stalk-eyed "sand Fairy" or Psammead, Elisabeth Beresford's Wombles, the knitted Clangers, Tove Jansson's various Moomin creations, and the striking Pushmi-pullyu in Hugh Lofting's The Story of Doctor Dolittle (1920) – a quadruped with a head at each end. L Frank Baum's land of Oz is rich in engaging grotesques; e.g., the Woozy, which is blue, constructed from cuboid shapes, and spits fire from its eyes on hearing the Magic Word "Krizzle-Kroo". In The Neverending Story (1984) the conventional "luckdragon" of Michael Ende's book becomes a rather endearing cross between flying dragon and shaggy dog.

Borderline IAs of a more cosmic stature include the various chthonic entities ringing the Last Redoubt in William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land (1912) and Lord Dunsany's Thing That Is Neither God Nor Beast, which turns the pages of Fate in The Gods of Pegana (coll 1905). Like sphinxes, IAs – especially chimeras – seem natural choices as Liminal Beings. [DRL]

see also: Animals Unknown to Science.

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.