From The Guardian:
A recent study in People and Nature claims that animals are being written out of novels at a similar rate to their extinction in the real world. The German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research searched the entire online Project Gutenberg archive of 60,000 texts, written between 1705 and 1969. They found that since 1835, animal usage in fiction – other than domesticated beasts such as horses and dogs or “threat” animals such as bears or lions – has dwindled to a fraction of its former propensity. Professor Christian Wirth, the study’s senior author, argues that this has implications for our response to the climate crisis: “We can only halt the loss of biodiversity by a radical change in awareness.”I think he’s right, but not because animals have been written out of novels. They’ve just been written in the wrong way.
Like all such headline-making research papers, context is everything. I am not sure that public-domain books only, written in English only, from a western canon only, are fully representative of the rich and increasingly human diverse fictional world today. But the decline in actual biodiversity is terrifyingly real. According to the latest reports from the UN and WWF, we have not only lost 60% of animal populations since 1970, but one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction if we do not act now.
Has that profound sense of loss in fact made animals more attractive to fiction writers? There is certainly no shortage of animals in the world of children’s literature. My latest book, The Wild Before – about tackling biodiversity decline – has a hare as a main character, and an animal cast, following in the tradition of books such as Watership Down. This past year alone has seen critically acclaimed children’s books starring a stranded polar bear, a haunting Greenland shark and a magical talking stray cat.
It is no coincidence that The Jungle Book, The Wind in the Willows and the Beatrix Potter books, early children’s classics of anthropomorphism, emerged out of the Industrial Revolution and the first huge jump in biodiversity decline. It appears that the less connected we are to other species, the more their mystery and appeal deepens. Would either Judith Kerr have invited a tiger in for tea, or Yann Martel set one sailing across the ocean in Life of Pi, if encounters with those endangered creatures were commonplace? Would the bestiary of fantasy creatures, from Tolkien’s wargs to George RR Martin’s direwolves (based on an extinct species), have captured our imagination if real wolves weren’t so absent from our landscape?
Link to the rest at The Guardian