Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Animal-Human Hybridity in d'Aulnoy's "Babiole" and "Prince Wild Boar"

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Animal-Human Hybridity in d'Aulnoy's "Babiole" and "Prince Wild Boar"

Article excerpt

It is hardly a revelation that animals are prominent in folk- and fairy tales. Appearing as protagonists, helpers, or antagonists, the Ugly Duckling, Puss in Boots, and Little Red Riding Hood's wolf, among so many other animals, are central to what we understand these genres to be. But however commonplace, animals pose nothing short of an interpretive challenge, especially in the wake of emerging critical interest in what is called "animal studies."1 Most often, folkand fairy-tale animals are presumed to have metaphorical meanings that exceed their existence as natural beings in a world shared with humans. That is, they are understood to be anthropomorphic or symbolic representations that have relatively little to do with animals per se and much more with humans. Of course, such interpretations have undeniable merit: in storytelling traditions the world over, fictional animals are made to figure human virtues, vices, foibles, and dilemmas, providing a mirror image all the more faithful because it reflects a purportedly nonhuman appearance.2 It would seem, then, that the animal disappears before the human. But this never entirely happens, I would argue, not only because folk- and fairy-tale animals almost always retain distinctive traits of their nonhuman beings (e.g., the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood has the infamous coat of hair and big ears, eyes, and teeth in addition to the ability to reason and speak as a man), but also because animals - no matter how anthropomorphic - always pose an existential problem for humans. As Other, animals enable humans in fairy tales to define themselves by both comparison and contrast. The wolf may personify a male seducer (or any number of other human character types), but he is also quite simply a wolf, whose animal being puts into relief Little Red Riding Hood's status as a victimized gjrl.

Reminding us that wolves are also wolves, animal studies aim to bring attention to the discourses shaping our relation to animals as well as to the specificity of animals themselves. This emergent field is motivated by both ecological and philosophical concerns. On the one hand, it is a response to environmental degradation and its consequences for all animal life, nonhuman and human. On the other (but the two are certainly linked), this field is an extension of the postmodern critique of the (human) subject, exposing the myth of self-knowledge and self-mastery elaborated by Enlightenment rationalism by underscoring how human and nonhuman animals all share an "embodied finitude" (Wolfe 570). In short, animal studies is a response to the prevailing assumption in our modern and postmodern world that humans are apart from and above nonhuman beings; that we are radically different from them; that humans possess reason, language, and any number of other traits unknown to nonhuman animals. By blurring the boundaries between human and animal, this field aims to redefine our ethical responsibility not only toward animals but also toward other humans. What we assume about animals and humans, how we speak about them, and how we act toward them are all concerned by critical work that puts animals in new light.

Ethical questions like these are also at the heart of folk- and fairy tales, of course. Indeed, the fact that questions about how humans should think of, speak about, and act toward animals recur so often in these genres underscores uieir relevance for the new critical interest in animals and animality Over and beyond the cultural and symbolic significance long noted by anthropologists and folklorists, folk- and fairy-tale animals reveal a wide range of perspectives on relations between humans and nonhumans, especially because of the often unique representation given to animals. More often than not, animals are characters in their own right and are given supernatural or nonempirical traits, all die while retaining characteristics that identify them as such (e.g., appearance or behavior). But one of the most significant ways folk- and fairy tales broach the representation of animals and animality is through the frequent motif of metamorphosis (animal to human, human to animal, etc. …

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