March 2, 2024

Classic literature about talking animals

 This week’s
newsletter is dominated by articles loosely related to transhumanism, the
philosophy that humanity needs to take its evolution into its own hands. In the
course of backgrounding these articles I stumbled across a reading list of
fiction about humanized animals in this
week’s report
from the UK’s Academy of Medical Sciences.

This is the
sort of thing that brings dry-as-dust bureaucratese alive for me. An obvious
first choice is The Island of Dr Moreau, by
H.G. Wells. This tells the terrifying story of a mad scientist who creates
half-man, half-animal creatures through surgery. Even today it makes unsettling
reading. Then there is the obvious second choice, Frankenstein,
by Mary Shelley. I read this again last year and was struck by the book’s
intelligence and insight.

fiction includes countless humanized animals, from Aesop’s Fables to Maurice
Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Deeper moral issues are explored in two
stories by Franz Kafka, “Metamorphosis”, and “A Report to the Academy”. I
am a bit surprised that there was no mention of Caliban, in The Tempest, or Circe’s
swine, in the Odyssey. Any other suggestions? I thought of Walt Disney’s 1959
film The Shaggy Dog, and its various remakes. But perhaps this is straying too
far from the very serious ethical issues involved in mixing human and animal
genetic material to create chimeric embyros.



Michael Cook