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The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten

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   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
#13 / Jun 1991

Cover of THE ABANDONED, by Paul Gallico

Title: The Abandoned
Author: Paul Gallico

International Polygonics, Ltd. (New York), June 1987; 2nd ptg., Mar 1991

ISBN: 0-930330-64-1

256 pages, $5.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

2006 note: Jeff Ferris, the editor of YARF!, felt that older Furry classics should occasionally be reviewed for current readers, but that there was no point in reviewing long out-of-print first editions. These reviews should be of the latest editions. This was reasonable; but in 2006 a 1991 edition is as out of print as the 1950 first edition. In these days of and many other online bookstores, readers can quickly find out for themselves whether there are any current editions in print. For the record, the first edition information is:
American edition:
The Abandoned, by Paul Gallico. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, September 1950, viii + 307 pages, $2.75.
British edition:
Jennie, by Paul Gallico. London, Michael Joseph Ltd., October 1950, 268 pages, £0/9/6.
There is debate as to whether the American or the British edition should be considered the ‘true’ first edition. September 1950 obviously comes before October 1950, but the British setting implies that it was originally intended to be published in Britain first. The two excerpts quoted in the review are on pages 40-41 and page 99 of the American first edition.

   Paul Gallico (1897-1976) wrote many popular stories that featured animals, such as The Snow Goose. Only three were anthropomorphic fantasies: The Abandoned (1950); Thomasina, The Cat Who Thought She Was God (1957); and Manxmouse (1968). The Abandoned is the best of these; ironically, it’s the only one that hasn’t been made into a movie. So it’s good that the novel is being kept in print.
   Unfortunately, the last edition that was easy to find was the Avon paperback, which went into several printings in the 1970s. International Polygonics picked up The Abandoned in June 1987 and has just reissued it, with a very attractive cover by Quay. There is also a matched edition of Thomasina. But International Polygonics is a small publisher, and its quality paperbacks are hard to find except in comprehensive, ‘real’ bookstores. The big shopping-mall chain bookshops don’t carry them.
   The Abandoned are those cats who do not live with human companions and must survive as alley strays. In particular, those abandoned are Peter Brown, an 8-year-old London boy who is transformed into a cat’s body after an accident, and Jennie Baldrin, a street-wise tabby who teaches Peter to be a cat. Gallico had a sharp eye for the behavior of cats, and The Abandoned may be the best novel ever written for rationalizing and explaining their habits.

   “‘When in doubt—any kind of doubt—wash!’ That is rule No. 1,” said Jennie. […] “If you have committed an error and anybody scolds you—wash,” she was saying. “If you slip and fall off something and somebody laughs at you—wash. If you are getting the worst of an argument and want to break off hostilities until you have composed yourself, start washing. Remember, every cat respects another cat at her toilet. That’s our first rule of social deportment, and you must also observe it.” (pg. 40)


   Here she crouched down a few feet away from the dead mouse and then began a slow waggling of her hind quarters from side to side, gradually increasing the speed and shortening the distance of the waggle. “That’s what you must try, to begin with,” she explained. “We don’t do that for fun, or because we’re nervous, but to give ourselves motion. It’s ever so much harder and less accurate to spring from a standing start than from a moving one. Try it now and see how much easier it is to take off than the other way.” (pg. 87-88)

   There are many of these lessons throughout the novel.
   The Abandoned is also the story of Peter’s life as a cat in the slums of London and Glasgow, and of his and Jennie’s experiences as ship’s cats in getting to Glasgow and back again. It’s a mixture of fantasy-adventure for older children and a romance for adults, as Peter matures emotionally in his husky tomcat’s body from a frightened child under Jennie’s motherly guidance into her lover and protector from other toms. The setting of London rebuilding after the wartime bombing is a bit dated today, but the characterizations of cat personality types are timeless. This novel is worth looking for if you haven’t already read it. Or, since it’s ‘literature’, ask your public library to get it.
   (Interestingly, animation historian John Canemaker quotes a forgotten review of a Felix the Cat cartoon from the November 20, 1922 issue of the New York Daily News in his new, and excellent, study, Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World’s Most Famous Cat (Pantheon, April 1991). The 1922 review, by ‘P. W. Gallico’, who was just beginning his writing career, raves about how great the Felix cartoons were and concludes, “We’re for five reels of Felix and only one reel of other folks.”)

YARF! logo
#14 / Jul 1991

Cover of the video THE LITTLE FOX
Title: The Little Fox

Celebrity Home Entertainment (Woodland Hills, CA), 1988

Catalog number: CHE 3022

80 minutes, $14.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   In Yarf! #7, an uncredited animated cartoon character appeared on page 33. Although animated cartoon funny-animals are invariably anthropomorphic, Yarf! hasn’t devoted much attention to them. I wondered what response this would get. None, it turned out. In fact, most readers didn’t recognize that this fox cub was from an animation model sheet rather than by one of Yarf!’s regular artists. Of those who did recognize the movie character, most knew him only as the star of The Little Fox, one of those previously-unknown animated features that appear in the video rental shops. And nobody knows where they come from.
   This seems unfair, especially in this case. The Little Fox may be unknown in America except to those who have seen it on the Disney Channel, or on Celebrity Home Entertainment’s 1988 Just For Kids video release. But in Hungary, where it was made, it was so popular that the government commemorated it on a set of postage stamps.
   The American video industry is paranoid about identifying any movies as ‘foreign films’, for fear that the public will avoid them as being arty rather than entertaining. Celebrity Home Entertainment tried to have it both ways with The Little Fox, publicizing its popularity without saying where it was popular. “Award Winning Animated Feature” appears on the cover. What award? “Based on a best-selling book”, says the back cover. What book? The movie’s credits have not been removed, but they have been shifted to the back of the tape. “Produced by Pannonia Film Studio, Budapest. Directed by Attila Dargay. Screenplay by Attila Dargay, Istvan Imre, Ede Tarbay. Music by Peter Wolf.”
   Unless I blinked when I shouldn’t’ve, the American credits do not mention the best-selling book. It’s Vuk, by István Fekete (1900-1970), a forestry engineer who was Hungary’s most popular author of children’s nature novels around the middle of this century—Hungary’s version of America’s Ernest Thompson Seton or Germany’s Felix Salten. Vuk is Fekete’s novel about an orphaned fox cub who grows up to get revenge upon the farmer who killed his parents by avoiding all the farmer’s traps and watchdogs and stealing his prize poultry. The novel is a best-seller in Hungary, but it has apparently not been translated into English. (The Hungarian Embassy and a Hungarian bookshop in New York City say that none of Fekete’s books have been published in English, but the Los Angeles Public Library has Fekete’s Thistle (Bogancs), about a puli sheepdog puppy, published in English in Budapest in 1970, so I hope that Vuk will turn up in English, too. Judging from Thistle and from Fekete’s reputation as an author of ‘true life’ nature novels, I suspect that the movie is anthropomorphized much more than the book is.)
   Pannonia Film Studio is Central Europe’s largest producer of animation. Attila Dargay (1927- ) has been associated with it since it was separated from Hungary’s nationalized motion-picture industry in the 1950s to specialize in cartoon and puppet animation. (It is completely independent today.) Dargay has directed several features for Pannonia, but Vuk was the first to feature a total animal cast. The characters show his art style, just as Chuck Jones’ cartoons show his art style. Vuk was released in 1981. It became the biggest box-office grossing film in Hungary that year, and in 1982 it won Dargay the “Author’s Prize” at the National Feature Film Festival in Pècs. The set of seven Hungarian postage stamps was released on November 11th.
   The translation of Vuk into The Little Fox, by Robert Halmi in 1987, is faithful. The movie is complete. Vuk, a peasant’s name in Southern Hungary and the Northern Balkans, has been changed to the more American-sounding Vic, and there are a couple of other similarly-minor changes, but most of the movie is unchanged even when the jokes may be too obscure for American audiences. In an early scene, after Vic’s first successful raid on the henhouse, the farm dogs gather to decide whom to blame for letting the fox get away. They sniggeringly decide to tell the farmer that the German shepherd was at fault. The emphasis is more meaningful if you realize what the average Hungarian’s opinion of Germans has been since the Nazi occupation during World War II. It’s an enjoyable film, and Yarf!’s readers should know for whom the credit is due for Dargay’s portrait of Vuk/Vic in Yarf! #7.

2006 notes: (1) The Little Fox also had an edited, 60-minute video release that I did not know about at the time. The complete 80-minute version is definitely preferable. (2) There are many more books published, and more library catalogues online today, than there were in 1991, but there are still no listings for an English-language edition of Fekete’s novel Vuk.

YARF! logo
#15 / Sep 1991

Cover of ZONE YELLOW, by Keith Laumer
Title: Zone Yellow
Author: Keith Laumer

Baen Books (New York, NY), Dec 1990

ISBN: 0-671-72028-7

247 pages, $4.50

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

2006 note: The early, pre-computer reviews in YARF! were mailed in as typewritten manuscripts, and transcribed by the YARF! staff. This review was so typo-filled (it said “…rescuing a cut rat-princess form the evil …”) that some readers assumed the reference to zlots was also a misspelling since it made no sense to them. The Polish currency is the zloty; plural zlotych.

   Keith Laumer is best-known for his many Retief stories, but he first made his reputation as a notable s-f author with his 1962 novel Worlds of the Imperium, with its striking imagery of an endless series of alternate earths, all parallel in time but diverging gradually in physical resemblance. Brion Bayard, from our world, is kidnapped into another which has the technology to travel between all the earths, to prevent a would-be dictator from creating a trans-universal empire. In the 1965 sequel, The Other Side of Time, Bayard encounters a force of travelers from so far away that they’re no longer even human, but are more like one of the monkey peoples in the (later) Planet of the Apes movies.
   Twenty-five years later, Laumer has returned to the Imperium. Bayard’s earth is invaded by new dimension-travelers from still farther, where simians never evolved and the intelligent species has grown from the rodents—rats, in particular. Ylokk rat-soldiers pour in mass waves through transfer portals in all the largest cities, catching humanity by surprise. Defense is difficult since the Ylokk are so intermixed with terrified civilians. Governments are reluctant to order heavy firepower against their own cities and peoples. Colonel Bayard and two soldiers embark in a shuttle on a ridiculously-hopeless three-man retaliation against an entire non-human world…
   And what was a s-f pseudo-high-tech military thriller turns into a fairy tale. The mysterious Ylokk aren’t intelligent rodents with an alien civilization, but outright funny-animal rats. There’s a Ruritanian good rat monarchy with a rat king and queen and Lord Privy Seal and dukes and barons and fancy-dress sentries, who live in a beautiful pale-green jade palace “replete with crenellated towers, slim spires, flying granfallons, and ominous fire-slit openings”. The royal family’s armorial bearings are sable, a griffin or, on a bend argent, three mullets of the first, if you’re interested in how closely it parallels our society. It sounds like Ozma’s palace in the Emerald City, inhabited by the cast of The Nutcracker and the Mouse-King. Bayard and his companions, with the aid of a mysteriously helpful Ylokk general, learn rat-language in what seems like about 15 minutes, and are immediately rescuing a cute rat princess from the evil rat-communists (called the Two-Law faction, but it’s obvious who Laumer is parodying) who have overthrown the monarchy and launched the invasion of the human earths, to kidnap the ‘monkey-men’ to be the rats’ slaves. The royalists are peace-loving and will happily call off the invasion if they are restored to power, and you can take it from there, I’m sure.
   Zone Yellow is fun on an anthropomorphic level, with its rats in royal purple robes and gingerbready Eastern European villages (their currency is called zlots; remind you of any European money?). In comparison with the other two Imperium novels, it’s almost embarrassingly simplistic—and ethnocentric. The entire rat-citizenry sullenly dislikes its rat-communist bosses, but it takes a human (read ‘American’ since Bayard started out as a U.S. government official in the first novel) to inspire them to fight for their freedom.

YARF! logo
#16 / Nov 1991

Cover of WHO P-P-P-PLUGGED ROGER RABBIT?, by Gary K. Wolf
Title: Who P-P-P-Plugged Roger Rabbit?
Author: Gary K. Wolf

Villard Books (New York, NY), Aug 1991

ISBN: 0-679-40094-X

255 pages, $17.00

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   This is the authorized sequel to Disney’s 1988 hit movie. Gary Wolf is also the writer of Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, the novel upon which the movie was based, but you can forget about that. This mystery’s title emphasizes Roger’s distinctive stutter created for the Disney movie. The cover shows the official Disney visualizations of Roger, Jessica, and Eddie Valiant. The jacket blurb advertises that this novel stars “the characters from one of the most popular and innovative movies of all time”. The back cover features a rave review by “Michael D. Eisner, Chairman of the Board and CEO, The Walt Disney Company”. And the first page of the story flaunts references to Uncle Walt and to the Roger Rabbit short cartoons, Tummy Trouble and Roller Coaster Rabbit. The only thing that the packaging lacks is a banner headline: “This Is Not Literature; This Is Disney Merchandising”.
   That grump out of the way, the story is enjoyable. Curiously, it doesn’t match up with the setting of either the first novel or of the movie. It shows a new alternate universe altogether. The date is “1947, more or less”, but there are characters from the 1930s through the 1950s walking about together. David O. Selznick is just beginning to shoot Gone With the Wind, and it is to be a comedy with all Toon stars. Toons usually speak in word balloons, as they always did in Wolf’s original book, but they can speak aloud when they have to, as when they are acting in movies. There are brief references to the new creations of the Disney movie, but they are effectively offstage or ignored: no Benny the Cab or other inanimate-object Toons, no Doris or Judge Doom, no Toontown with its own laws of physics. Eddie Valiant casually mentions that it’s now common for bullets to have been dipped in Dip, and all of a sudden Toons are just as vulnerable as the humans to death by gunshot.
   The most significant change is that the social and physical distinctions between humans and Toons have been blurred. In his earlier novel, Wolf used Toons as metaphors for the discriminated-against minorities of the 1930s and ’40s. Here, they are the minorities of the 1990s despite the ‘1947’ date. Roger Rabbit is no longer the equivalent of a Stepin Fechit; he’s a Bill Cosby or a Danny Glover. Jessica Rabbit is the social equal of Mae West or Rita Hayworth. There are still Toon neighborhoods but they’re not slum ghettos. Eddie Valiant’s sister is married to a Toon detective in the L.A.P.D., and Eddie has three Toon nephews who dress and act the way you would expect from Toon triplet nephews. Several human characters have distinctly Toonlike names, such as UCLA linguistics Professor Ring Wordhollow and Tom Tom LeTuit, chief of the Cuban secret police. And, possibly from associating with Toons so much (but more likely because this is a comedy-mystery), the whole human cast acts in a much zanier and more Toonlike manner then it did in the previous novel or in the movie—including Eddie and such notables as David O. Selznick and Clark Gable.
   The plot is a repetition of the formula of the first novel. Roger Rabbit is one of the finalists under consideration for the starring role of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. But the gossip tabloids are headlining a torrid romance between his wife Jessica and Clark Gable, and the scandal could ruin his chances. So Roger hires cheap private eye Eddie Valiant to prove that there’s really nothing going on. Instead, Eddie finds evidence that Jessica is pregnant with Clark’s baby. Then one of the other Toon actors trying out for Rhett Butler is murdered and Eddie is framed. Is Roger trying to eliminate his competition and set up a fall guy? Are Jessica and/or Clark trying to keep Eddie from talking about them? Was the murdered Toon really blackmailing Selznick, and what secret is the movie mogul hiding? Are Toons passing themselves off as humans, and vice versa?
   This is a genuine murder mystery, but it’s treated much more lightly than in the original Roger Rabbit novel. The dialogue contains more witticisms, and they are humorously sarcastic rather than bitterly cynical. The background atmosphere of the hopelessly oppressed Toon minority is almost gone. The mystery is wrapped up neatly but not as ingeniously, and Wolf is sloppier in tying up all the loose ends. More importantly, since the reader is constantly aware that this is an authorized Disney story, there’s never any real suspense as to whether Jessica is Bad or things just look that way.
   Fans will enjoy several new funny-animal supporting characters, such as Delancey Duck, publisher of the sleazy Toontown Telltale, and Large Mouth Bassinger, the ritzy publicity agent who decorates his office in a maritime motif. The ‘About the Author’ note states that Wolf is already at work on his third Roger Rabbit novel.

YARF! logo
#17 / Nov 1991

Cover of RATS AND GARGOYLES, by Mary Gentle
Title: Rats and Gargoyles
Author: Mary Gentle

Viking/A Roc Book (New York), Apr 1991

ISBN: 0-451-45106-6

416 pages, $18.95

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Rats and Gargoyles and Humans and Katayans. Katayans are just like Humans except that they have long, whiplike tails with a tuft of fur at the end. They all inhabit a weirdly magnificent city which is the real star of this novel. No name is necessary; the city dominates the world. It is a mélange of the greatest cities of Renaissance Europe with their Cathedrals, their Palaces, their Universities, their wide plazas for gaudily-dressed militia to drill in, their canals and harbors, their thieves’ quarters and dungeons and catacombs and networks of sewers providing secret passages everywhere. And above all, their deadly court intrigues.
   In this city, this world, the Gargoyles are supreme gods. The Rats are the nobility and the army. The Humans are lower-class merchants and laborers. The Katayans are from the countryside, and the social status of the few Katayans who live in the city has not been settled yet.
   Everyone is plotting against everyone else. The Rats are scheming against each other, the Gargoyles, and the Humans. The Humans are divided against each other, the Rats, and the Gargoyles. There aren’t enough Katayans in the city to have a faction, and nobody is sure whose side the individual Katayans are on. The Gargoyles remain contemptuously aloof, occasionally idly destroying a building or transforming a victim into something hideous just to remind everyone of their power. But one of the Gargoyles is bored—and insane—and it decides upon a sadistic plan to amuse itself which will probably destroy the world.
   The book contains reproductions from numerous illustrated 16th- and 17th-century treatises on astrology, numerology, Hermetic science, and other fields of learning that were suppressed by the Church. They are the laws of physics and nature upon which this world exists: the crystal spheres of the heavens, Rosicrucianism, Masonic science, and the like. These elements are introduced slowly, so the reader does not need a background familiarity with them. They are gradually added together until a fantastically new natural universe has been constructed for the apocalyptic climax of the novel.
   In her Acknowledgements, Gentle also credits the works of Alexandre Dumas. His influence is most evident in the scenes featuring the Rat nobility, which will feel familiar to fans of The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After:

    A heavily built Rat swept down the steps and ducked under the stone archway. Lucas stared. She was a brown Rat, easily six and a half feet tall; and the leather straps of her sword-harness stretched between furred dugs across a broad chest. She carried a rapier and dagger at her belt, both had jeweled hilts; her headband was gold, the feather-plume scarlet, and her cloak azure.
   “Messire Plessiez.” She sketched a bow to the black Rat. “I became worried; you were so long. Who are they?”
   She half-drew the long rapier; the black Rat put his hand over hers.
   “Students, Charnay; but of a particular talent. The young woman is a Kings’ memory.”
   The brown Rat looked Zar-bettu-zekigal up and down, and her blunt snout twitched. “Plessiez, man, if you don’t have all the luck, just when you need it!”
   “The young man is also from”—the black Rat looked up from tucking the canvas bag more securely under his sword-belt—“the University of Crime?”
   “Yes,” Lucas muttered.
    “Zari…” Lucas warned.
   The black Rat sleeked down a whisker with one ruby-ringed hand. His left hand did not leave the hilt of his sword; and his black eyes were brightly alert.
   “Messire.” Plessiez said, “since when was youth cautious?”
   Lucas saw the silver collar almost buried under the black Rat’s neck-fur, and at last recognized the ankh dependant from it. A priest, then; not a soldier.
(pgs. 26-27)

   There are many fascinating characters of all species in Rats and Gargoyles. Those among the Rats include Plessiez, the scheming Bishop; Charnay, his earthy henchwoman; Desaguliers, the harried Captain-General of the King’s Guard; and the King/s of the city him/themselves (eight pampered Rats permanently joined by their knotted-together tails).
   Rats and Gargoyles is not totally anthropomorphic, but there is more than enough in it to captivate the attention of Yarf!’s readers.
   This novel was originally published in July 1990 in Britain. The sequel, The Architect of Desire, has just appeared there (July 1991), but it features only the human characters.

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