Ursula K. Le Guin on Animal Stories:

“Why do most children and many adults respond both to real animals and to stories about them, fascinated by and identifying with creatures which or dominate religions and ethics consider mere objects for human use: no longer working with us, in industrial societies, but mere raw material for our food, subjects of scientific experiments to benefit us, entertaining curiosities of the zoo and the TV nature program, pets kept to improve our psychological health?

Perhaps we give animal stories to children and encourage their interest in animals because we see children as inferior, mentally ‘primitive,’ not yet fully human: so we see pets and zoos and animal stories as ‘natural’ steps on the child’s way up to adult, exclusive humanity—rungs on the ladder from mindless, helpless babyhood to the full glory of intellectual maturity and mastery. Ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny in terms of the Great Chain of Being.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin


Ursula K. Le Guin on Philip Pullman:

“Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is a long, richly imagined, and deeply incoherent work, in which I’ll try only to trace the part animals play. Despite appearances, it is a small part. The two cats in the story, who have a minor but important role, do what cats have often done in myth and fable: they cross between worlds. Otherwise they’re just cats, realistically drawn. Animals are otherwise absent from the books, except for a tribe of polar bears who talk and build forts and use weapons, as humans do, but who don’t have daemons, as humans do.

But I think Pullman overloads the concept and then confuses it. He implies strongly that the daemon is a kind of visible soul, that to be severed from it is fatal, and his plot hinges on the cruelty and horror of this separation. But then he begins changing the rules: we find that witches can live apart from their daemons; in the second voume we are in our world, where nobody has visible or tangible daemons; back in her world, the heroine Lyra leaves her daemon on the wharves of hell, and though she misses him, she lives on perfectly competently, and in fact saves the universe, without him. Their reunion seems almost perfunctory.

In fantasy, to change or break your own rules is to make the story literally inconsequential. If the daemons are meant to show that we are part animal and must not be severed from our animality, they can’t do it, since the essence of animality is the body, the living body with all its brainless needs and embarrassing functions—exactly what the daemons do not have.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘The Beast in the Book.’

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Che Gossett’s ‘Blackness, Animality, and the Unsovereign’

‘The zoo is a biopolitical apparatus, a carceral space undergirded by an anthropomorphic cultural imaginary. As Brain Massumi writes in What Can Animals Teach Us About Politics?, “The zoo is not simply a space of confinement…The horror of the visible stifling of the animals’ vitality is converted into fun.” Animals are anthropomorphized as having nuclear and domestic(ated) families and thus figured as a heteronormative spectacle. A powerful image of everyday resistance to animal incarceration that was in the news recently was where a panda feigned pregnancy to get access to more food and marginally less harmful carceral conditions – as a result a team of scientists had to reschedule their livestream of it after much laudatory heteronormalizing anthropomorphic zoo fan fare. Since its inception the zoo has also always (already) been a colonial and racial enterprise. The awful history of the anti-black racist and colonial exoticizing exhibitions of people of African descent alongside animals in zoos shows how for blackness the human/animal binary is not only collapsed but is in fact mutually reinforcing through the violence inherent in the racial-colonial grammar of animalization – how black people have been historically seen as beasts.’


Follow Che Gossett: