Stassa Edwards at Aeon Magazine:
Talking animal stories have their roots in a prehistory when, according to the literary scholar Egon Schwarz, professor emeritus at Washington University, consciousness had yet to distinguish between man and animal, ‘when people still believed in the possibility of slipping from one to the other, entirely according to desire or need’. And since then, talking animals have developed in a variety of rather amorphous ways to satisfy human desire; a kind of cipher for our own existential dilemmas.
Talking animals can provide us with joy and laughter. They can serve as a displacement for weaknesses and anger. And they can teach us very human lessons while simultaneously serving as a continual source of wonder. Think of Lewis Carroll’s menagerie of talking animals – from the White Rabbit to a Mouse offended by Alice’s bad manners – all of whom are animated by the wonder of childhood imagination. Or of Aesop’s animals designed to didactically instruct young minds toward the path of proper morality. Or of the canine narrator of Franz Kafka’s short story ‘Investigations of a Dog’ (1922), an ideal stand-in for the author’s alienated existence.
They can also serve to remind us of the idyllic pleasure of nature itself.