Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Talking Animals

It is a rare Animal Fantasy whose cast fails to "talk" in some way, usually through straightforward speech. More importantly, the term describes animals who can talk (or communicate analogously through Talents) to others of a different species, particularly to humans. Animals in Beast Fables almost universally have the ability. TAs are found often in Folktales and Fairytales. In Legends, on the other hand, the talking animal is more likely to be a Liminal Being who marks a Threshold, who warns of a transgression, who must be conquered for the sake of the Land, etc. Over the last century, the animal fantasy and the beast fable have tended to come together in tales where human and animal protagonists intermix; among many examples are the Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling, The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame, the Dr Dolittle sequence by Hugh Lofting and the Freddy the Pig sequence by Walter R Brooks. The animals in tales of this sort tend – when not in communication with favoured humans – to inhabit Polders or Wainscots of the human world, rather than to visit this world from an Otherworld. The reason may be simple enough: it is in this world that they can be defined as animals that talk; in their own world (if they had one) they would simply be characters. In modern fantasies set in otherworlds it is normally the case that this protocol is observed, so that otherworld creatures who hauntingly resemble "animals" are treated as properly autonomous, though in Heroic Fantasy they often take on faithful-Companion roles, and may poignantly die for the sake of the hero.

A secondary sense of the term is used by the makers of Animated Movies to distinguish between (a) cartoons – like those featuring Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck – which rely on animals that have all the attributes of human beings except the physical form and (b) cartoons, certainly in the minority, which do not deploy such characters, although, as in the Tom & Jerry shorts, the protagonists may be animals. [JC/JG]

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.