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
#10 / Jan 1991

Cover of THE FOXES OF FIRSTDARK, by Gary Kilworth
Title: The Foxes of Firstdark
Author: Garry Kilworth

Doubleday (New York), May 1990

ISBN: 0-385-26427-5

371 pages, $18.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   O-ha is a young vixen in Trinity Wood, an ancient forest near the English coast. She chooses a mate, A-ran, who “changes his name to A-ho to reflect her family name as was traditional among foxes.” They are happy until he is killed as the result of a fox hunt. O-ha grieves for several months, during which men come to tear up the forest and build a new suburban community; and an American fox, Camio, escapes from a big city zoo into the countryside. After a stormy courtship, the two mate and Camio persuades O-ha to start a den in the town’s new scrap-yard instead of fleeing with other wildlife into the receding forests.

   In his short life, Camio had found that most humans were intrigued by foxes rather than disturbed by them. If indeed the men knew they had a fox earth full of cubs on their lot, it was more likely that they were proud of it than concerned by it. Camio had found that so long as he and his kind did not get in the way of human business, did not make threatening gestures toward human children, and generally kept a low profile, town dwellers were happy to leave them alone; they would even point them out to their friends as if to say, ‘Look at my strange neighbors—they chose my garden to have their family in!’ Country people were inclined to look on foxes as vermin, but that was partly indoctrination and partly because of the domestic livestock. (pages 220-221)

   The last half of the novel describes the foxes and their cubs growing up in a world of garbage dumpsters, pest-control poisons, and animal-rights activists. There are still many dangers to keep a fox’s life short. The most fearsome is O-ha’s old enemy, Sabre, the literally-bloodthirsty hunting dog of the local manor lord. Fox-hunting may have become passé, but Sabre is obsessed with killing the only fox who ever eluded him—and her whole family. He gets loose from the manor just as O-ha’s and Camio’s cubs become old enough to leave home. The conclusion is tense and imaginatively twisting.
   It goes without saying that there are many similarities between The Foxes of Firstdark (first published in England in 1989 as Hunter’s Moon) and other novels in the Watership Down tradition. There are also refreshing differences. Instead of migrating ahead of man’s advance, the foxes adapt to coexist with humans in a suburban environment. The now-obligatory animal languages and religious myths are developed (and Kilworth does an excellent job of it), but it seems that these are not species-wide nor fixed. The American Camio is unfamiliar with the British foxes’ customs, and a generation gap develops between the parent foxes and their cubs. There is a semi-naturalistic species typecasting—since the protagonists are foxes, dogs tend to be antagonists—but there are both friendly and unsympathetic characters among all the animals, developed consistently with their species’ traits. The Foxes of Firstdark is a worthwhile addition to the serious talking-animal wildlife literature.

Cover of MIDNIGHT'S SUN, by Gary Kilworth
Title: Midnight’s Sun: a Story of Wolves
Author: Garry Kilworth

Unwin Hyman (London), Sep 1990

ISBN: 0-04-440683-5

317 pages, £12.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

1990 note: Kilworth’s Hunter’s Moon: a Story of Foxes was published in Britain in March 1989, and in the U.S. retitled The Foxes of Firstdark in May 1990. Presumably Midnight’s Sun will also appear in the U.S. under a different title. Keep an eye out for it.
2006 note: Although this book appeared in a March 1992 British paperback edition (Grafton), there has never been an American edition under any title.

   The two novels are a matched pair. There is no direct connection between them, but they share a common background. Kilworth’s different animal species have realistic predator/prey relationships, but they are aware of each other’s cultures and there are some overlapping similarities. To make a rough human comparison, an inhabitant of a Catholic country might be hostile to an inhabitant of a Protestant country, but they would share a general familiarity with each other’s beliefs, and know more about them than they would about Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism. So Kilworth’s wolves do not associate with foxes or coyotes or other canids, but their folk myths share many elements. The wolves have their own tales of Firstdark, and some of their myths seem similar to the foxes’ myths but from the wolves’ point of view. None of the canids are very familiar with the customs of other species such as the felines, the ursines, and so on; but what glimpses there are of them in both novels are consistent. (Kilworth indicates the differences between animal languages by having the canids speak English and its dialects; the felines speak French; the birds speak German; and presumably the rodents, mustelids, and others have their own tongues.)
   Aside from this common background, the two novels are quite different. The first is about foxes in England who adapt from life in the wild countryside to coexisting with humans around the fringes of expanding urban areas. Midnight’s Sun features wolves in their traditional open territories. The locale is presumably northern Canada or Alaska. There are humans around (they seem, through the wolves’ eyes, to be identifiable as resident natives, ‘civilized’ naturalists/scientists, and ‘civilized’ hunters), but the wolves have no interests in co-existing with them and prefer to avoid them as much as possible.
   These statements are all generalizations. The novel contains many exceptions, all well justified. One of the main themes is how the protagonist reacts to events and confrontations that are ‘out of the natural order of things’.
   Midnight’s Sun is a dramatization of the natural history and sociology of wolves as lived by one individual, Athaba. Athaba goes through just about every role that wolves normally live: Cubhood, young adulthood, loyal pack hunter, outcast, loner, father, leader. In a brief Author’s Note, Kilworth speculates on possible similarities between the psychology of wolves and primitive men. The novel draws a rough parallel between wolf-pack behavior and the speculative social behavior of prehistoric man.
   The wolves are organized for the welfare of the pack. They are not supposed to waste time on anything besides hunting and teamwork. This is generally a good rule because life is harsh and food is uncertain. A lone wolf is vulnerable but the pack is strong. Faulty teamwork can result in packmates getting killed while attacking dangerous prey such as elk. Yet absolute reliance upon tradition robs the pack of flexibility which may become essential for survival when new problems arise.
   Athaba has more imagination than the average wolf. This is both an asset and a liability, in different situations. He goes through several dramatic shifts in his status among the other wolves. His different adventures are too closely interrelated to describe in a plot synopses without giving away some surprises, but he leads an exciting life. It’s obvious that he will survive until the end of the book, but the reader is kept guessing about the fates of other characters: Athaba’s parents; Ulaala, his mate; his cubs; Skassi, his enemy; the strange human with whom he is stranded alone for weeks.
   There was no hint in Hunter’s Moon that Midnight’s Sun was coming, so it’s a wild guess as to whether Kilworth has any more animal novels planned. But he has left room to write about other canids from coyotes to dingoes, not to mention the other animal types. If Kilworth can keep up the level of quality in these two adventures, let’s hope that he has a long series ahead of him.

YARF! logo
#11 / Mar 1991

Cover of GALEN THE SAINTLY, by G. Raymond Eddy
Title: Galen the Saintly
Author: G. Raymond Eddy

Lightpen Press (Carrollton, OH), quarterly from Aug 1990


24 pages, $2.50 per issue

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

2006 note: There were four issues of this mini-comic book.
2007 editor’s note: In its initial 1991 appearance, this review contained information on where to order
Galen the Saintly from. Since this information is no longer accurate or relevant, it has been deleted from the current presentation.

   G. Raymond Eddy has been creating anthropomorphic religious comic-art stories since at least 1984 for several fanzines and small-press magazines. He has decided to start his own imprint, Lightpen Press, “to provide a centralized location” for his stories. Galen the Saintly is a 24-page, 5.5" x 8.5" black-&-white comic book, published roughly quarterly. #1, A Gold One for the Wall, appeared in August 1990; #2, The Angelskates, in December 1990; and #3, The Masquerade, is scheduled for May 1991.
   Eddy has described himself as active in Christian church work. Galen, his cheerful mouse angel, is happily more reminiscent of the heroes of Horatio Alger (who was also a Christian minister) than of those modern comic-art religious tracts that try to scare you into salvation. Galen is friendly, intelligent, hard-working, a positive thinker, and always helpful. In these first two issues, he is the guardian angel of a human radio disk jockey and a ‘normal’ anthropomorphized mouse. Both are amiable but weak-willed, in need of a Big Brother role-model to keep themselves morally straight.
   Both stories use the same plot gimmick. Galen becomes so friendly with his wards that he allows them to borrow an angelic gimmick—a tape of heavenly music, in the case of DJ Raffy Johnson, and a pair of super-skates, in the case of Augustus P. Sharpcheddar. Both misuse them (innocently, in Raffy’s story, and deliberately, like a spoiled brat, in Gus’s), and Galen has to cover up for them and take the gimmicks back before any serious damage is done. In the first issue, Galen is the only animal character amidst a human cast; in the second, there are humans, anthropomorphized-animal mortals and angels, and normal ‘dumb’ animals.
   The stories are pleasant but very lightweight. The story similarity of the first two issues is unfortunate; I hope that #3 will show more originality. Galen is a strong character who is forced by his role as a guardian angel to remain passive until his naïve charges make a mistake, and then diplomatically correct them. This makes him a great social worker but a rather bland story protagonist. Because Eddy is keeping the stories gently humorous, they are shallow and vague as to background. There is no explanation of why a heavenly mouse is appointed as the guardian angel of a human in one story and of a mouse in the second; or why he is no longer the G.A. of Raffy in the second. (I got the idea from my own long-ago Sunday-School lessons that a Guardian Angel assignment was for the lifetime of the designated mortal.) In The Angelskates, Galen has to keep saving an anthropomorphized, clothes-wearing mouse from a ‘natural’ alley cat, and I couldn’t help wondering why the cat wasn’t equally anthropomorphized—although Eddy would have faced a large batch of new problems if it had been intelligent. (As long as the cat is a dumb animal, there is no issue of whether it’s being ‘good’ or ‘evil’ by following its instincts.) Criticisms such as this may be taking the stories too seriously—but if they aren’t worth taking seriously, then are they worth $2.50 per issue? Galen himself is likeable enough to make this comic worth reading. Issue #2 notes that #3 may look different, since Eddy’s art will be inked by Larry Blake.

Cover of SLEEPERS: PART I, by Bianca and Vetrone
Title: Sleepers: Part 1
Author: Vito Bianca & Kevin Vetrone

Rock Soup Studio (Wappinger Falls, NY), 1990


57 pages, $7.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

2007 editor’s note: In its initial 1991 appearance, this review contained information on where to order Sleepers from. Since this information is no longer accurate or relevant, it has been deleted from the current presentation.

   This large, album-format graphic novel is a goulash of every politico-thriller clichè of the past two decades. German war criminals who infiltrated into the U.S. after World War II have organized a hidden Fourth Reich that is almost ready to take over America. Meanwhile, Japanese ultra-nationalists who are behind the modern Nipponese economic imperialism are about to openly buy up America. Simultaneously, Soviet Commie hardliners who want to discredit Gorbachev are plotting an ominous mission in the U.S. At the same time, a corrupt politician is favored to win the next presidential elections. And don’t forget Organized Crime. All of these groups are about to make their bids for power, and it looks like the only question is which dictatorship America will fall under—if it isn’t destroyed first in the crossfire between the rival gangs.
   Who can stop this? FBI agent Mac Talons, that’s who. But Talons is a wise guy, a loose cannon; always on the verge of expulsion because he refuses to fit the FBI’s approved image. The Bureau has tolerated him up to now because he’s always gotten results. But will the Bureau believe that all these fantastic plots are real? Can Talons, alone, fight ninja assassins, Mafiosa, Nazis and more?
   This funny-animal thriller contains lots of cynical humor and obviously-exaggerated suspense. So quibbles about realism aren’t very pertinent. The beginning is slow and heavy with bulging speech-balloons full of exposition. But once the story starts moving, there’s lots of action and reasonably witty smart-ass macho dialog. It does end with a cliffhanger. Art is good; spelling is variable.

Cover of BRIXOII
Author: Tom Foster & Ken Fletcher

Neo-Zagatine Press, quarterly from Apr 1990


100 pp/volume. $10.00 (incl. postage & handling)

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

2007 editor’s note: In its initial 1990 appearance, this review contained information on where to order BRIXOII from. Since this information is no longer accurate or relevant, it has been deleted from the current presentation.

   In Yarf! #5, I reviewed BRIXOI as 100 pages of funny-animal art that Tom Foster and Ken Fletcher had drawn together. “A lot of the art is brand new, while other pages are reprints of old fanzine covers, personal Christmas cards, convention flyers, and the like, going back to 1982 or 1971 or whenever. […] Funny animals in the past and in the future. Sober and drunken funny animals. Funny animals flying spaceships and driving Model Ts. […] An inside-back-cover Afterword refers to this as ‘the first book of BRIXOI’, so maybe there are more coming.”
   Indeed there are. It turns out that BRIXOI is Volume 1 of The Brixoi Chronicles, which will be published four times a year, in an edition of 100 copies. BRIXOII has just been published; it will be followed by BRIXOIII, BRIXOIV, and so on. The cost is $10.00 per volume; they do not say whether subscriptions are available.
   BRIXOII is also 100 pages, divided into four sections. However, this volume contains more new pages than reprints, and the contents are more pertinent to the named sections. The Imaginators (A Brixoi Tours Special) consists of a Time-Travel Plus tour “of unpronounceable geographies and geographic personalities who have escaped the mundane and traded it for the exotic commonplace”. Send In the Frogs is 32 pages of frog cartoons, dominated by a short story, Frank Frog, Beale Street Detective. This indicates that The Brixoi Chronicles will be more than just an archive of Foster’s & Fletcher’s old funny-animal at with a few new items. It will showcase their current work. Order a sample volume and see how you like it.

YARF! logo
#12 / May 1991

Cover of CATFANTASTIC II, edited by Norton and Greenberg
Title: Catfantastic II
Editors: Andre Norton & Martin H. Greenberg

DAW Books (New York, NY), Jan 1991

ISBN: 0-88677-461-6

318 pages, $4.50

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Catfantastic (reviewed in Yarf! #3) was evidently popular, because here is Catfantastic II. It contains eighteen more brand-new fantasies about cats; and they’re all magical or anthropomorphic pusses this time.
   The stories are all enjoyable, although there is not quite as broad a range of settings and moods as was in the first volume. There are no pure comedies, and only a few that are wryly humorous adventures. There is a preponderance of mood pieces about cats who are the loyal companions and protectors of lonely old women, frightened young girls, and friendly but doddering old wizards.
   But there are stories that are dramatically different. Clare Bell’s Bomber and the Bismarck describes how a highly unusual cat was responsible for the sinking of the Third Reich’s prized battleship. Elizabeth H. Boyer’s Nordic The Last Gift tells how the ancient jotun, Skrymir, creates cats and kittens to amuse his lonely housemaid; and how the vain hero, Airic, foolishly gives them the jotun’s last gift for mankind. In Patricia B. Cirone’s Papercut Luck, a paper-cat good-luck charm comes to life to save a peasant girl’s family as the Mongols besiege Canton. And in Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s The Queen’s Cat’s Tale, Queen Guinevere’s cat relates how it was really Morgan le Fay, disguised as a cat, who was responsible for the fall of Camelot.
   Nine of the eighteen stories are by authors who were in the first anthology. Three of those are sequels to their earlier stories, so if you enjoyed the original adventures of Marylois Dunn’s Cat, Ardith Mayhar’s Hermione, or Andre Norton’s Thragun Neklop, you can ad their further exploits in Dunn’s Shado, Mayhar’s Hermione at Moon House, and Norton’s Hob’s Pot. The other stories are independent tales, set in worlds of high fantasy or modern American metropolises; in dignified mansions and raucous carnivals and bleak animal shelters; featuring ‘ordinary’ cats and cat-goddesses. If you liked Catfantastic, you’ll like Catfantastic II, II … er, too.

Title: Buffalo Gals And Other Animal Presences
Author: Ursula K. LeGuin
Illustrator: Margaret Choclos-Irvine

New American Library/ROC (New York, NY), Oct 1990

ISBN: 0-451-45049-3

236 pages, $4.50

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   If you missed this when it came out as a Capra hardcover in 1987 or as a Plume trade paperback in 1988, here it is in a mass-market edition. Don’t miss it this time!
   LeGuin’s ‘animal presences’ are not the usual anthropomorphic stories. This collection consists of eleven introductions, the same number of short stories, and twenty-one poems. But that’s misleading. What is a ‘story’? Some of these are traditional romantic adventures with a plot and characters, yes. Others are more like essays, or entries for very technical scientific journals. Anthropomorphism is carried to plants and rocks—not plants and rocks that speak to us with human voices, but the question of how we should go about attempting to communicate with plants or rocks.
   This collection contains science-fiction, fantasy, anthropological fiction, and poetry. In the lead novelette, the award-winning Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight, a young Anglo girl is lost in the desert and is taken care of by the local animals. They are anthropomorphized in the style of pre-Anglo Amerind animal personifications, and the young girl undergoes quite a culture shock. May’s Lion, toward the back of the book, is somewhat similar. LeGuin relates an incident (a farmwife in the Napa Valley is confronted by a mountain lion that has wandered from the hills) in two different ways: as a modern American woman would perceive it, and as a pre-Anglo Amerind woman would have perceived it. A story? A lesson in cultural anthropology? You decide.
   Not all the tales deal with the ‘soft’ sciences. Schrödinger’s Cat seems to be traditionally anthropomorphized, since it features a talking cat and dog. But it is really an anthropomorphized demonstration of quantum mechanics. Direction of the Road anthropomorphizes perspective—and if you know of any other story by any author that has successfully done this, please let me know about it.
   Buffalo Gals is a different anthropomorphic book. It is highly imaginative, and it will make you look at commonplace things in a totally new way. Read it!

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