Favourite Animal Books: Part 2

I’ve listed 15 animal novels in this second post about our favourite animals books, ranging from classics like Williamson’s Tarka the Otter to the contemporary like Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem. As before, books highlighted by two respondents are marked with an asterisk, and by three or more respondents with a double asterisk. Quotations from the books are within double inverted commas, a quote from the publisher or a book review is within single inverted commas, and a comment from one of the respondents (or my own occasional remarks) is without any inverted commas.


**Tarka the Otter, by Henry Williamson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927) ‘I could always appreciate the joy and wonder in the countryside so richly expressed in Tarka the Otter, but I could also see a darkness that was a mystery to me.’

The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen (Viking Press, 1978) “An insightful friend, a painter, pointed out that my fiction and nonfiction in their various forms were only different facets of a single immense work—the same rage about injustice, the same despair over our lunatic destruction of our own habitat and that of other creatures. An evocation of our splendid earth and an elegy to the land and life that is being lost—both lie at the heart of my fiction and nonfiction.” Peter Matthiessen, Paris Review

White Fang, by Jack London (Macmillan, 1906) ‘The story of a wild wolfdog’s journey to domestication in Yukon Territory, Canada. Much of the novel is written from the wolfdog’s view-point, exploring how animals view their world and how they view humans. White Fang examines the violent world of wild animals and the equally violent world of humans. The book also explores complex themes including morality and redemption.’

Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowatt (McClelland and Stewart, 1963) ‘As a young Game Warden, Farley Mowatt is sent to remote northernmost Canada to evaluate the effect of wolf depredations on the caribou herds. What he finds is that the wolves eat voles and mice and only sick, aged, or weak caribou. (This is contested by wolf biologists.) He finds that the wolves are a natural part of the ecosystem, and that a pack of wolves together is far less destructive than even a single human being with a rifle.’

Wolf Totem, by Jiang Rong (English edition: translated by Howard Goldblatt, Penguin, 2008) Reveals the intelligence of the wolf, its uncompromising nature and how, as a spirit animal, it shaped the great Mongolian nation. Contains some biological errors. It is perhaps best thought of as a semi-biographical novel describing the wolf-nomad relationship as recounted by Inner Mongolians prior to their settlement and loss of nomadic culture.

Lions Share: The Story of a Serengeti Pride, by Jeannette Hanby. (Collins, 1983)  ‘This is a beautifully written and illustrated book written from a lion’s perspective.’ ‘David Bygott describes the book as having three themes: the story of a specific lion pride on the plains, a summary of lion social organisation and behaviour, and a basic introduction to the ecology of the Serengeti plains.’

Forbush and the Penguins, by Graham Billings. (Hodder & Stoughton, 1970) ‘Forbush and the Penguins was Graham Billing’s first novel. It explores the physcial and emotional world of a biologist working in solitude on a study of penguins in Antarctica and was written after he had spent eighteen months working there as a journalist.’

The Roots of Heaven, by Romain Gary. (White Lion Publishers, 1973) “Barely alive, starved, exhausted, we would clench our teeth and follow our great free herds obstinately with our eyes, and see them march across the savanna and over the hills, and we could almost hear the earth tremble under that living mass of freedom. We tried not to speak of it, for fear the guards would notice, and sometimes we would just look at each other and wink, and then we knew that it was all right, that we could still see it, that it was still alive in us. We held on to the image of that gigantic liberty, and somehow it helped us to survive.” Romain Gary

*A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. (Oxford University Press, 1949)  A classic of nature writing, mixing essay, polemic, and memoir to elaborate a land ethic that is based on a balance of nature. One respondent remarked: I read Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and the accompanying Round River at least once a year (I have a volume falling to bits). Another considered this to be one of the best books ever written.

Six Pointer Buck, by David Stephen. (Swan Hill Press, 1992) ‘An intimate and closely observed portrait of the life of a roebuck, written with all the insight of an experienced naturalist allied to the descriptive skills of a first-class country writer.’

Gazelle Boy, by Jean-Claude Armen. (The Bodley Head, 1974) An intriguing account of Armen’s quest for this boy in the Spanish Sahara where he found him living with a herd of gazelles. True or hoax – the jury is still out. (I think Jean-Claude Auger finally came clean, MM)

Wild Animals I have Known, by Ernest Thompson Seton. (Scribner, 1898) ‘If you want to learn the laws of nature and better understand animals and their ways, these accounts of a hunter-trapper will reward you with hours of enchanted stort-telling.’

Grey Owl: Three Complete and Unabridged Canadian Classics, by Grey Owl. (Firefly Books, 2001) A favourite that influenced me as a boy is most of Grey Owl’s adventures in Canada. I remember especially how he came to a stand of ancient trees and remarked how rare that is – even more so now!  His understanding of beaver is excellent and relevant today.

The Once and Future King, by T.H. White. (Collins, 1958) The description of geese is unforgettable. ‘White’s glorious and rich narrative paints a vivid picture of twelfth century adventure, chivalry, treachery, despair and ultimately, tragedy.’

Animal Farm, by George Orwell. (Secker and Warburg, 1945) ‘While this novel portrays corrupt leadership as the flaw in revolution (and not the act of revolution itself), it also shows how potential ignorance and indifference to problems within a revolution could allow horrors to happen.’

* * * * *

Next postings will list Zoological and Children’s animal books. Let me know if you have an all-time favourite!

About Martyn Murray

I fell in love with nature when I turned twenty-one camping under Acacias in East Africa, surrounded by giraffe and zebra with my nape hair raised by the distant roaring of lions. I went on to work for fifty years in Africa, Europe and Asia as an ecologist and conservation consultant. A few years ago I moved to the Isle of Lismore to pursue my passion for reconnecting people with the natural world. My first book, The Storm Leopard, is a journey across Africa and into the heart of the environmental crisis. My second, Origin of Species: Bite-Sized, contains the essence of Charles Darwin's greatest work – his theory of evolution by natural selection – in a text that is 15% the length of the original. The third, Beyond the Hebrides, is the story of a sea voyage in an old leaking boat and on how to keep personal freedom alive. I am currently working on a fourth which is about the global collapse of the natural world. Its working title is, In This Together. It challenges us all over our current connections with nature. More details are on my website, www.martynmurray.com.
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1 Response to Favourite Animal Books: Part 2

  1. Three late recommendations for the Novels category:

    Call of the Wild, by Jack London (Macmillan, 1903) The plot concerns a previously domesticated dog named Buck, whose primordial instincts return after a series of events leads to his serving as a sled dog in the Yukon during the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush, in which sled dogs were bought at generous prices.

    The Silver Darlings, by Neil Gunn (Faber & Faber 1941) The Highland people have been uprooted from their traditional lifestyle of crofting by the clearances and have re-established themselves by the sea, which they harvest as once they did the land. They slowly develop a bond with the sea… This is a novel brimful of what Finn’s mother calls ‘the sweetness of life’.

    The People of the Sea, by David Thompson (Turnstile, 1954) In the stories centuries old, handed down to the people of the Hebrides and West Ireland by their forefathers, men are rescued by seals in stormy seas, babies are suckled by seal-mothers, and men take seal-women for wives.)

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