- Animal Land: The Creatures of Children's Fiction
"The animals in fact and fiction will not leave us alone. Perhaps that is well, we love them, and as in all good tales, want to be loved by them, and live with them happily forever. They teach us about themselves —and ourselves —and can give us those amusing, thoughtful, bookish holidays that are as refreshing as the physical kind. Long may they continue to do so."
Thus ends the Postscript to Margaret Blount's ANIMAL LAND. That Ms. Blount is reflecting her own love for animals, in and out of fiction, becomes clearly evident from the history and critique of animal stories from past and present. Not only is the book packed with information, it is also filled with a critical appreciation that leads the reader to pause, reflect, nod in agreement or, occasionally, go off into a mental defense of a favored book that is here given short shrift.
Throughout the book the author takes the reader from the earliest known examples of the works in question to books as recent as Watership Down. The examples are almost entirely drawn from British writings but American readers can easily relate the author's comments and criticisms to similar American books. In only one area is the intensely British slant something of a problem. There are several long sections devoted to BBC television and radio programs, some of which never were available to American audiences and are no longer available in England. Such sections seem to provide more of a nostalgic trip into childhood for the author than a useful contribution to understanding of a genre, especially when the emphasis is placed on the people who portrayed certain characters rather than the content of the works themselves. However, these, and a few errors of names and titles, become minor flaws when viewed against the richness of the work as a whole.
In the Introduction, the author presents an interesting theory as to the kinds of people who write animal stories, ". . . first, the sort of writer who cannot help writing about animals . . . . The second kind of temperament tends to dislike, or be critical of, the human race and finds animals a more innocent, congenial alternative with which to populate the earth, The third category, far the largest and also containing writers from category one, is concerned, consciously or unconsciously, with teaching us something."
The book is divided into three broad areas: "Animal Fable", "Animal Fantasy", and "Animal Eden", with each area subdivided into more specific forms. There is, necessarily, some overlap and repetition, but these are kept to a minimum.
Although called "Animal Fable", Part One deals with more than the fable as such. It includes a look at other types of animal folklore, the moral tale, satires, and stories in which the animals are really just substitutes for people. For the student of children's literature who is versed only or primarily, in present day writings, plus the classics of children's literature, this section draws many fascinating parallels between the use of animals by early mankind as a source for understanding himself and present day writers who are attempting precisely the same use.
In Part Two, Animal Fantasy, are included mythical and imaginary animals, personified animals, toys in animal form, and real animals used to teach humans lessons about animals. The "Eden" of Part Three refers to books in which humans have been dispensed with entirely and animals build their own utopian societies or in which humans are subjected to the will of animals. It is easy to believe, in reading these two parts that the author's predilection is toward those writers who ". . . tend to dislike, or be critical of, the human race . . . . "
The author's focus is entirely on matters of writing style of the animal stories and of content in so far as it deals with animan/animal or animal/human relationships. Present day concerns about sex role stereotyping and racism in books (e.g. Dr. Dolittle) are ignored in the latter case and calmly accepted in the...