FREE YOUR BEAST
REVIVING THE ADULT ANIMAL TALE
by Trinie Dalton
E. L. Doctorow, in the finest essay about The Call of the Wild that I have read so far, laments the disappearance of the “adult animal tale”:
The fact is that today the tradition of the adult animal tale has virtually disappeared; it is less a possible literary expedient in the aftermath of two World Wars, their attendant Modernist ironies, and the rise of Walt Disney. But when Jack London wrote, in the days of Robert Baden-Powell, formulator of the Boy Scout ethos, Americans from Teddy Roosevelt on down took their animals seriously, as American Indians still do, and it was possible for animals to speak for us and live for us instructively as fables of ourselves—with thoughts or without them.
After reading this tragic statement, I decided that one of my main goals as an author would be to revive this tradition. The fact that J. R. Ackerley published, in 1956, his memoir My Dog Tulip—a book devoted exclusively to dog worship—gave me hope that still there are authors challenging the notion that animals are beneath us. As I struggle to give animals genuine voices in my fiction writing, I find that developing their sexuality, or highlighting their sex appeal, helps to flesh them out as characters. I learned this from Ackerley, who describes Tulip, his Alsatian bitch, with Lolita-esque accuracy:
Dark markings symmetrically divide up her face into zones of pale pastel colors, like a mosaic, or a stained-glass window; her skull, bisected by the thread, is two primrose pools, the center of her face light gray, the bridge of her nose above the long, black lips fawn, her cheeks white, and upon each a patte de mouche has been tastefully set.
Animals are sexual talismans and aphrodisiacs. I’m no pervert. But I realize that animals appeal to our sensate selves with their tactile features and wild demeanors. A purring cat is sexier to me than a man doused in cheap cologne, but I don’t want to have sex with either of them. The best animal literature shows not only how deeply animals and humans can bond, but also that animals are sexy because they rekindle our carnal desires.
We hope you enjoy this excerpt.
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