ANTHRO's index of anthropomorphic literature

The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten

Note: This is a fraction of the entire listing. If you’re on broadband, you might want to try the high speed version instead.

   Welcome to the “Patten’s reviews” wing of the Anthro Library! Since this is a collection of columns from a dormant (if not dead) furzine called YARF!, a word of explanation might be helpful: In its day, YARF! (aka ‘The Journal of Applied Anthropomorphics’) was perhaps the best-known—and best in quality—of furry zines. Started in 1990 by Jeff Ferris, YARF!’s roster of contributors reads like a Who’s Who of furdom in the last decade of the 20th Century. In any issue, the zine’s readers could expect to enjoy work by the likes of Monika Livingstone, Watts Martin, Ken Pick, and Terrie Smith; furry comic strips such as Mark Stanley’s Freefall and Fred Patten’s reviews of furry books and comics.
   Unfortunately, YARF! has been thoroughly inactive since its 69th issue, which was released in September 2003. We can’t say whether YARF! will ever rise again… but at least we can prevent its reviews from falling into disremembered oblivion. And so, with the active cooperation of Mr. Patten, Anthro is proud to present Mr. Patten’s review columns—including the final one, which would have appeared in the never-printed YARF! #70.

Full disclosure: For each reviewed item, we’ve provided links you can use to check which of four different online booksellers—, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and Powell’s Bookstore—now has it in stock. Presuming the item in question is available, if you buy it Anthro gets a small percentage of the price.

by issue
by title

YARF! logo
#1 / Jan 1990

Cover of HOWLING MAD, by Peter David
Title: Howling Mad
Author: Peter David
Publisher: Ace Books (NYC), Nov 1989
ISBN: 0-441-34663-4
Paperback, 201 pages, USD $3.50
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Howling Mad is not the first werewolf tale about a wolf that turns into a man rather than the familiar vice-versa, but it may be the first to use that concept for a serious novel rather than a one-gimmick short story.
   Not that Howling Mad is completely serious. At one point, Darlene introduces the humanized wolf, Joshua, to movies by taking him to see An American Werewolf in London. That’s a joke, but it’s also Peter David’s acknowledgement of the novel’s model. The plot is original, but the basic concept and the mixture of black comedy and horror is too similar to be coincidental. Yet there is a key difference. Landis’ movie is a tragedy in which the werewolf hero is powerless to alter his doom. David’s novel is a quirky thriller in which Joshua the werewolf (wereman?) has considerably more freedom of action. The story keeps the reader guessing what will happen to him, except for the fact that there will be a happy ending because the novel is told by Joshua as a flashback.
   A demonic werewolf (eight feet tall, bipedal, with fiery eyes) is terrorizing a Canadian town and forest. It attacks both men and animals. The only survivor of one of its attacks is the leader of the local wolf pack, who is badly enough wounded that he is unable to escape when found by hunters. The wolf is sold to a New York City zoo, which is where he is when the next full moon turns him into a man. The novel relaxes and segues into his humorous misadventures as he encounters Darlene, an animal-rights activist who can’t hold on to a boyfriend, and she determines to teach him human ways. Yet he is only human for a couple of days each month; the rest of the time, he’s a wolf being hidden in a no-pets-allowed apartment house. He is also a wolf who feels an obligation to his pack and mate, and is torn between his developing relationship with Darlene and his need to return to his forest to help defend it against the monster. And the demonic werewolf has his own agenda in New York to strike against Joshua.
   This comedic thriller is primarily about humans, but there are plenty of clever anthropomorphic incidents in it. When Joshua tells of his life as leader of his pack, it’s a good realistic wolf’s-eye description of lupine sociology. When the wolf turns human, he gains human intelligence but not knowledge. (David essentially admits that he stretches coincidence pretty thin in keeping Joshua free in the midst of New York long enough to figure out speech and the necessity of wearing clothes.) When he turns wolf again, he retains his human memories but they are compressed by his wolf’s intellect. This enables Joshua to make many sardonic comments about civilization from the viewpoint of an intelligent animal while he is human. After he becomes a wolf again, David plausibly describes how his wolf’s memory of what he learned as a human might help him battle the demon. Joshua is more richly characterized than a fictional wolf who conveniently has human intelligence. Howling Mad is a novel that is definitely worth adding to Furry reading lists.

YARF! logo
#2 / Mar 1990

Cover of CAT HOUSE, by Michael Peak
Title: Cat House
Author: Michael Peak
Publisher: Signet Books/New American Library (NYC), Sep 1989
ISBN: 0-451-16303-6
Paperback, 255 pages, USD $3.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   A three-page prologue gives the impression that this novel is going to be very imitative of Watership Down. Fortunately, this is misleading. Cat House is in that genre, the talking ‘realistic animal’ story, but it is refreshingly original and imaginative.
   The setup is the same as in Watership Down, or in countless folk tales of how the Maker created the world and all of the furry, feathery, and scaly people upon it. In this case, the focus is upon the cats—Felis domestica in particular. Their name in Peak’s animal language is the ‘farries’, evoking resonances of both ‘furry’ and ‘færy’.

   “But the man will be their friend,” said Farri hopefully.
   “The man will be their provider,” said the Creator, “although cats will certainly be able to take care of themselves. Just like man. And just like man, they will have no true friends in the animal world. They will have only themselves, and each other…” (pg. 9)

   A large community of farries live together with their paladins (the human companions who feed and protect them) in a modern suburb of San Diego, on the edge of the California desert. The farries love and reward their paladins with affection, but they really prefer to conduct their social affairs outside of their paladins’ notice, in back alleys and vacant lots.
   This farri community is different than most. One of the Creator’s rules to all animals is to be fruitful and multiply, which cats do frequently and joyfully. However, some female farries are taken by their paladins to be scarred, after which they no longer go into heat. They can still enjoy the pleasure of mating, but if they cannot go into heat, they are usually fated to watch the toms go courting elsewhere. But this community contains a wise cat, Mistress Halina, who organizes the scarred girls and teaches them how to be sophisticated in attracting the toms. Halina’s Den soon becomes the most popular social spot in the community.
   Halina tries to maintain friendly relations with everyone. But one of the toms, Coron, is so disgustingly brutal to the girls that she is forced to order him away permanently. In revenge, Coron starts a campaign to convince the normal females that it is sacrilege against the Creator for cats who cannot bear young to continue mating. Unfocused jealously quickly swells into an organized, self-righteous crusade to force Halina’s girls from the community. At the same time, a drought is driving wildlife from the desert into the housing development. This includes individual menaces such as rattlesnakes and hawks, and a very large menace in the form of a pack of krahstas (coyotes), the age-old enemies of the farries. And this pack has an unusually skillful leader, Dahrkron, a fanatic who believes himself blessed by the Creator to destroy all farries.
   Cat House switches back and forth between three viewpoints: Halina and her closest friends, Mahri and Melena, as they try to fight the growing prejudice against them; Dahrkron and his pack as they grow in strength and daring attacks; and Roger Anderson, Halina’s paladin, who works for the San Diego Courier and who suspects that one of his neighbors is engaged in organized crime. This third plot is nicely handled, but it seems to have no connection with the novel other than to serve as an example of the paladins’ own affairs which keep them too busy to notice what is happening among the farries all around them. It feels like poorly-justified padding, which keeps annoyingly interrupting the real story. But despite this, Cat House is a strong enough and unusual enough anthropomorphic novel to make it a must-read title.

YARF! logo
#3 / Mar 1990

Cover of FRANKY FURBO, by William Wharton
Title: Franky Furbo
Author: William Wharton
Illustrator: The author
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company (NYC), Oct 1989

ISBN: 0-8050-1120-X
Hardcover, 228 pages, USD $50.00
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

ISBN: 0-8050-1157-9
Trade paperback, 228 pages, USD $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   William Wiley is an elderly writer of children’s stories. His popular character is Franky Furbo, a magical fox who has adventures with humans and with animals on Earth and in outer space. But the fox is not fictional. In 1944, Wiley was a young American soldier participating in the attack on Monte Cassino during the Allied invasion of Italy. He and a German soldier were caught in an artillery barrage, and both were dying when Franky Furbo saved their lives. It took months for the clever fox to nurse them back to health, during which he told them his life story and helped the two to exchange memories to make them all friends. When Wiley returned to the Army, his insistence that he was saved by a talking fox got him a psychiatric discharge. Nobody believed him except for the girl that he later married. To save his own reputation, Wiley stopped insisting that Franky Furbo was real and turned the fox’s adventures into a series of children’s fantasies. So after forty years, Franky Furbo is a popular fictional character throughout the world, but only William Wiley and his family know that he is real.
   Except that they don’t. The novel begins with Wiley’s discovery that his wife has only been humoring him all this time. She loves him but she can’t believe in his delusion. Crushed, Wiley begins to doubt his own sanity. He has to admit to himself that he has deliberately simplified Franky Furbo’s adventures, because even he could not comprehend all that the fox told him—of being able to teleport around the world in an instant, to read minds, to speak all languages, to transmute himself into any shape or size. The only thing that Franky Furbo could not do was to understand why he was so different from other foxes. He had been obsessed with solving the mystery of himself. Now Wiley must also find out the answer, or admit to himself that he is crazy. The only source of information would seem to be the German soldier who Franky Furbo also saved—if Wiley can find him after over forty years.
   Franky Furbo is an unusual blend of themes. It is partly a pseudo-traditional young children’s fantasy, partly a novel of psychological self-analysis, partly modern science-fiction, and partly a sophisticated inspirational fantasy (a la Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull). The beginning is dangerously weak; a bit too cute and simplistic. But that turns out to be deliberate; the author is downplaying elements that will reappear more seriously later on.
   The novel is also a riddle right up to the climax as to whether Franky Furbo is a real or an imaginary character. There are clues throughout the story; for example, consider the author’s name, the protagonist’s name, and the meaning of the Italian word ‘furbo’. (At the risk of getting too cute myself, I will say that Wharton dares to go where Doc Smith only hinted at.) But most importantly, Franky Furbo and other anthropomorphic characters appear often enough through samples of Wiley’s children’s stories, through Wiley’s memories of the ‘real’ Franky, and in other revelations, that the reader will not feel cheated. Don’t let the bland opening put you off; Franky Furbo is definitely a novel that anthropomorphic fans (especially fox fans) will enjoy.
   A ‘prepub’ announcement in Library Journal last year stated that, “The story is something of a fairy tale, which may or may not explain why Steven Spielberg is now in the midst of filming it.” Nobody else seems to know anything about Spielberg filming Franky Furbo, so maybe the story was only optioned and then dropped. Or maybe it will still appear on the big screen someday.

Cover of CATFANTASTIC, edited by Andre Norton and Martin H. Greenberg
Title: Catfantastic: Nine Lives and Fifteen Tales
Editors: Andre Norton and Martin H. Greenberg
Publisher: DAW Books (NYC), Jul 1989
ISBN: 0-88677-355-5
Paperback, 320 pages, USD $3.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This anthology contains fifteen new stories, plus a brief introduction by Norton, written especially for it. All of them deal with cats in S-F or fantastic situations, and all are well written. Other than that, the editors have aimed at a wide variety of moods, styles, and treatments. There are grim dramas and comedies; adventures on distant planets and in wizards’ dens; tales told by the cats themselves and stories in which humans observe strange things that happen to cats. Some cats are normal; some stories reveal that humans have no idea what ‘normal’ means when dealing with cats. There are ghostly cats, magically enchanted cats, and scientifically bioengineered cats.
   The most anthropomorphized cats are the witches’ and wizards’ familiars, in Elizabeth H. Boyer’s Borrowing Trouble, Donna Farley’s It Must Be Some Place, P. M. Griffin’s Trouble, and Ardath Mayhar’s From the Diary of Hermione. Cats encounter, and in some cases save Earth from, interstellar or pandimensional vermin in Jaygee Carr’s Wart, C. S. Friedman’s The Dreaming Kind, Mercedes Lackey’s SKitty, Patricia Shaw Mathews’ The Game of Cat and Rabbit, and Ann Miller and Karen Elizabeth Rigley’s It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s … Supercat. (One of those is actually an old English folk tale in a S-F setting; see how quickly you recognize it.) There is a shared-world story, Wilanne Schneider Belden’s The Gate of the Kittens, which is set in Andre Norton’s Witch World universe; although Norton’s own story here, Noble Warrior, is a Victorian thriller with a nod to Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. There are stories in which cats are revealed as benevolent galactic guardians of inferior species (humans), as brave protectors of mistreated children, or as cupids who help their humans find romance.
   Technically, not all the stories in Catfantastic deal with anthropomorphic cats, but enough do to justify a review of it here. Besides, I hope that none of Yarf!’s readers will be so narrow-minded as to ignore a good story just because its cats happen to be ‘normal’. And several stories feature more than one anthropomorphized cat—not to mention anthro birds, mice, dogs, and even a sea serpent and a hobgoblin or two. The wide variety in Catfantastic means that not every story may be to your taste, but the majority of them should be.

YARF! logo
#4 / May 1990

Cover of THE ELEVENTH HOUR, by Grahame Base
Cover is of a later Puffin edition
Title: The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery
Author: Graeme Base
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (NYC), Oct 1989
ISBN: 0-8109-0851-4

32 art pages + 7 text pages, USD $14.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   You may not instantly recognize the name Graeme Base, but you are almost certainly familiar with his alphabet book, Animalia, by now. “Unruly unicorns upending urns of ultramarine umbrellas”, and so forth. Published in America in 1987, it was a best-seller fine-art book for all ages despite its “children’s picture book” categorization. It established the young Australian artist’s reputation as a master of wonderfully rococo visual fantasy in the tradition of Brian Froud and Patrick Woodruffe, but specializing in anthropomorphized animals rather than on creatures of færie.
   Now Base has followed Animalia up with another art book in the same vein. The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery is an ostensible children’s picture book with rhyming text. It is Horace Elephant’s eleventh birthday, and the wealthy young pachyderm organizes a sumptuous party for himself at his luxurious estate. A number of his animal friends spend the day at party and at play, only to be rudely confronted by a dramatic mystery in the evening. The reader is warned on the first page to watch for clues and hidden messages in each picture. The fact that some of these clues require the reader to be able to read musical notation, Morse code, mirror writing, rebuses, and Egyptian hieroglyphics, to name just a few of the different codes, emphasizes that this is much more than just a children’s book.
   But it is an art book for all ages. Young children can enjoy the lush paintings full of colorfully costumed animals without worrying about the puzzle. The main purpose of the mystery is to give older readers a justification (as if any justification were needed) to study the paintings especially closely, instead of breezing through the book—to consciously see all of the fine details hidden in each complex illustration. Horace is a very wealthy elephant, and his home is a palace rich in architecture and interior décor of all history from the temples of Karnak to the drawing rooms of Mozart’s patrons. The party costumes of Horace’s animal guests are a treat for connoisseurs of lavish clothing and jewelry.
   The solution of the mystery is given, with a listing and explanation of the hidden messages, in a sealed section at the back of the book. You had better check the copy of The Eleventh Hour that you pick up before you pay for it, because of eight copies at the bookshop where I got mine, only two were in fact sealed. The seal is a paper wafer designed by Base especially for this book. You will miss a minor but delightful bit of his art if your copy of the book does not have it.

Cover of THE COACHMAN RAT, by David Henry Wilson
Title: The Coachman Rat
Author: David Henry Wilson

Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. (NYC), Oct 1989

ISBN: 0-88184-508-6

171 pages, USD $13.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is the story of the rat that Cinderella’s fairy godmother transforms into a human coachman to take her to the Prince’s ball, and of what happens after the stroke of midnight. The coachman, Robert, reverts to his rat form but retains his human intelligence and speech. Neither rat nor human, yet both, he struggles to discover where he now fits into the societies of men and of rats—and he innocently brings tragedy and doom to all.
   The jacket blurb describes The Coachman Rat as “a brilliant and provocative” retelling of “the fantasy-horror tale” of Cinderella. I hadn’t known that Cinderella was a horror tale, but these are revisionist times. We must rely upon those who are wise enough to see beyond the surface to reveal to us the true meaning of things. (Such as all those helpful souls who pointed out that Disney’s The Little Mermaid is demeaningly sexist and an insult to womanhood.) How many orphans went hungry due to the taxes to pay for the Prince’s ball? What about all the wretches suffering in the royal dungeons while the Prince poses as the benevolent sovereign? Never thought about them, didya!?
   This “gripping fantasy” is more than just a retelling of Cinderella. There are equally strong portions of the Pied Piper legend and of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror in it. Wilson blends them together very imaginatively. Yet the novel reeks of a self-conscious cleverness that stifles any real emotion. All of the characters are stereotypes, introduced one at a time and displayed to be seen for what they are before being activated to react against the other stereotypes. Amadea (Cinderella) is Goodness; the Prince is Nobility; Biggs the drunkard is Greed; Dr. Richter the scientist is Intellectual Pretension; Jenkins the scholar is Humanity; the scheming Devlin is Politics; John the palace guard is the Easily-Misled Masses—and Robert is Everyman, the Fool of the Tarot deck, an innocent who has the capacity and the opportunity to develop into anything, and who is molded through carelessness and callousness into a grim punisher. There are some witty lines, some convincing philosophical arguments, and some unexpected plot twists. But it remains a clever puppet play rather than a live drama. These puppets perform until all of their strings have been cut. Then it’s all over. Applause for the author, please.

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