It would appear that animals are indeed everywhere. We find mythological, mythical, zoomorphic and theriomorpic animals in the most ancient texts. In this regard, India seems our main source.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Literature is home to an extraordinary number of ravenous wolves. In La Fontaine’s fables, we have a wolf who eats a lamb, “Le Loup et l’Agneau.” In fairy tales, Little Red Riding Hood loses her grandmother to a wolf.
And, as strange as it may seem, literature is also home to the zoomorphic and theriomorphic (deified beasts) animals featured in mythologies, but reappearing along with new fantastic beasts in medieval Bestiaries, including Richard de Fournival‘s Bestiaire d’amour.
Finally, literature is home to more or less recent high fantasy works featuring fantastic beasts:
- J. R. R. Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973) is the author of The Hobbit, 1937, the high fantasy The Lord of the Rings trilogy, written between 1954 to October 1955, and the mythopoeic Silmarillion, published posthumously, in 1977, by Tolkien’s son Christopher and Guy Gavriel Kay. Tolkien taught English literature at Oxford and, among other works, he drew his inspiration from Beowulf for what he called his legendarium.
- C. S. Lewis, a friend of Tolkien, is the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, written between 1949 and 1954. Narnia is a fictional place, a realm. Previously, Lewis had published a collection of letters entitled The Screwtape Letters, 1942. Earlier still, Lewis had written his three-volume science-fiction Out of the Silent Planet, a trilogy written between 1938 and 1945 and inhabited by strange figures. C. S. Lewis created Hrossa, Séroni, Pfifltriggi, new creatures who live in outer space, but his cosmology includes angels and archangels.
- As for J. K. Rowling, she is the author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Quidditch Through the Ages (both supplements to the Harry Potter series, 2001), The Tales of Beedle the Bard (supplement to the Harry Potter series, 2008) and the Harry Potter series, which contains several fantastic beasts.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
In these books, new lands are created as well as new beasts, but these works also feature beasts borrowed from antiquity and various medieval bestiaries. The books I have mentioned were immensely successful, which shows the importance of fantasy in the human mind. We need imaginary worlds, worlds like the pays de Tendre, worlds with maps and topsy-turvy worlds.
What I would like to emphasize is this blog is the topsy-turvy world of beast literature and the comic text. In Reynard the Fox, not only do animals talk, but they are an aristocracy. Humans are mere peasants.
As for the theriomorphic creatures of mythologies, as I mentioned above, they are deified beasts attesting that Beast Literature is indeed an the “upside-down” world, as Jill Mann mentions with respect to Reynard the Fox.[i] We also have underworlds. In Greek mythology, we have an Underworld, whence one cannot escape, as Cerberus guards its entrance. Tolkien created a “middle-earth” and C. S. Lewis, worlds in outer space. The Judeo-Christian hell is also an underground world. Moreover, how ironic it is that Richard de Fournival should use animals in praise of women.
However my favourite underworld can be found in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. The Mole and the Rat get lost in the woods during a snow storm. They see a mat and beyond the mat a door which leads to the Badger’s underground residence. After dinner, the Mole the Rat, the Otter, who arrives later, and Badger, their host, sit by the fire and the Badger praises his underground world where he is sheltered from both the cold and the heat:
The Badger simply beamed on him. ‘That’s exactly what I say,’ he replied. ‘There’s no security, or peace and tranquillity, except underground. And then, if your ideas get larger and you want to expand–why, a dig and a scrape, and there you are! If you feel your house is a bit too big, you stop up a hole or two, and there you are again! No builders, no tradesmen, no remarks passed on you by fellows looking over your wall, and, above all, no WEATHER.
“The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”
The Wind in the Willows
[i] Jill Mann, “The Satiric Fiction of the Ysengrimus,” in Kenneth Varty, editor, Reynard the Fox: Social Engagement in the Beast Epic from the Middle Ages to the Present (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000), p. 11.