Paleofurs— The Anthropomorphic Fans of the Past

In many ways I’m not a very typical fur. I’m almost fifty-three as I write this, work in a blue collar field, and have little to no interest in furry art or artists. (I’m into furry fiction to the near-exclusion of all else, fandom-wise.) I don’t have a “furry-name” or “fursona”, and my first fursuit, if I still had it, would be older than the word itself. I would never have heard of half the fandom-famous anthro-cartoon characters if it hadn’t been for the fandom itself, because I was already an adult—even in many cases middle-aged—when the programs aired and became part of the rest of the fandom’s childhood. Perhaps most tellingly, I was thirty-seven years old before I ever heard the word “furry” used in its fandom sense. In other words, I lived most of my life in the universe that existed before there was a furry fandom, and remember it well.

This world was the world of the “paleofur”. The time before any of us knew there were others like us, who shared our interests and tastes. Before the internet brought us together, in other words, the long, long era when being a fur was a terribly lonely and to some degree even shameful thing.

One of my other great avocations is history, particularly military history of the early and middle twentieth century, and I continually read books on the subject. While I’ll admit that while I’ve made no dedicated effort to dig up paleofurs, having no idea of where to even begin looking, I’ve sort of kept my eyes open along the way for clues in the hope of coming across a kindred soul or two. And so far that’s exactly how many candidates I’ve come across—two.

The first I was very, very lucky on. Over a decade ago I was reading about P-47 strafing tactics during the latter part of World War Two when I came across a link on P-51 ground attacks. This in turn led me to an article…

…written by a man who claimed to have made several combat P-51 sorties over Germany at the very end of the war in a bunnysuit.

Now, I’m familiar with the fact that American flyers were often issued big, puffy coveralls called bunnysuits meant to keep them warm at altitude. This was most emphatically not one of those. The pilot in question, who had a nice eight- or ten-page website, said that he’d written home to his wife for a warm one-piece garment, and she’d sent him a bunny suit complete with ears and tail. Since it was all that he had that was warm and fit well enough he sort of had to wear it. (Longtime furries like myself, I’m quite certain, can take one look at the previous explanation and know a bowl of complete mush when they see it.) At any rate, as near as I can recall he flew two or three sorties right at the war’s very end in the thing, and slept in it as well despite what must’ve been a truly titanic wave of wisecracks coming his way. This man, I submit, was clearly a paleofur.

Sadly, I came across this truly excellent website very late at night and didn’t finish reading it (though I noted it hadn’t been updated in some time). I carefully bookmarked the page and got back to it about a week later. But it was gone. My guess is that the gentleman passed away. I failed to even note his name, which saddens me greatly. And no, I no longer have the bookmark—that was at least five computers ago. At the time I never dreamed I’d ever write an article on the subject or anything like that—the fandom was still far too small to have generated much in the way of a demand for such and showed few signs of ever getting to be a tenth the size it is today.

My second paleofur “find”, while less certain, was a huge shock. It was Winston Churchill—you may’ve heard of him. While I’ve covered the subject in some depth elsewhere, I’ll point out quickly that he owned and loved to play with children in a fursuit (gorilla), exchanged what looks very much like modern furry RP letters with his wife all the way down to her playing a cat and he a dog, and also (though this is entirely subjective) was enormously creative and artistically gifted, traits which seem quite common among furs. (He won a Nobel for literature and was a gifted-enough watercolorist that many experts agree he was a significant artist of the twentieth center totally apart from his political and literary life.)

So, I can hear my gentle readers asking right about now. Furries have existed in the past as well as the present. This is no great surprise.

No it’s not, really. After all, we see half-humans featured in Egyptian and even cave-wall paintings as well. Wondering what it’s like to experience the universe from behind the eyes of another species is probably nearly as old as sentient man. But what’s fascinating to me are the common threads, the similarities and sense of brotherhood that we—or at least I, being a former paleofur myself—instantly feel once the connection is made. More than a few social scientists and probably a fair number of psychologists and psychiatrists as well have looked with wonder upon our fandom and attempted with greater or lesser degrees of effort to figure out what makes us tick. I would submit that one valid approach to the truth would be to study the lives of those who were demonstrably furry before there even was a supportive fandom-base to welcome them out of the wilderness, who can’t be said to have simply joined a highly-accepting fandom for social support, but who instead revealed their inner furriness only at the risk of social censure, sometimes quite intense.

So, I’m making a rather bold suggestion here. To the best of my knowledge, I’m the only one in the world so far who’s taken any real interest at all in the paleofur phenomenon, and I’ve mostly gotten a whole lot of nowhere. At least a small percentage of the fandom, I think, might be at least marginally interested in a web page devoted to collecting information on more paleofurs; our cultural furfathers, so to speak. Such a page would be fun, educational, and perhaps might even serve as a useful research tool for the sociological types. I’d do it myself, but I’m so computer-inept (and exist so far from the social centers of the fandom) that my efforts would certainly be doomed before I even began.

Is anyone else out there interested?

About Rabbit

Rabbit Is the author of over thirty published furry novels and novellas as well as numerous columns and articles in other furry venues. He's a retired Tennessee auto worker.

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31 thoughts on “Paleofurs— The Anthropomorphic Fans of the Past

  1. Hmm. I’m older than you, Rabbit, by nearly a dozen years.

    Yes, this is a topic that interests me as well. I RP’ed with my younger brother, both of us as dogs, as early as about 1954. My collection of plush animals was (and still is) extensive. I was fascinated by Bambi, Black Beauty, and other anthropomorphic stories, too. In my case, I never felt shame or tried to conceal my interest. My family allowed me to do as I chose, and encouraged me when I began to write furry stories on my own around the time I got to junior high.

    I’ll nominate another author as a potential furry: Jack London. His preferred nickname was “Wolf.” His best writing was done from the point of view of canine characters. He chose a life of adventure and generally avoided deep human attachments…

    I have found that a lot of today’s furries, fans, or whatever we choose to use as an appellation, are completely unaware of what came before their own awareness. Most seem to be convinced that furry fandom, or culture, or whatever it is, started with the internet, and have no idea that we predate that by decades and probably centuries or millennia. In relatively modern times the imagery, tales, and activities of Native American peoples are as much as example to us as the Ancient Egyptian gods and demigods were. Coyote, Fox, Bear, Loon, Elk… all are anthropomorphic avatars.

    As for building a website on the subject, I’m not sure where we’d start. Building a series of interlinked articles on the existing WikiFur site might be easier than going it from scratch, though I’ve not had the best experience with posting or editing stuff there in the past. It’s a possibility, though.

    (I could help to build an independent website, but not yet. It would have to wait until I’m retired from real life work, which is at least 18 months away I think.)

    1. Hello, Altivo! Forgive my delay in replying, as I’ve been at Furry Fiesta and just arrived home moments ago. (I’m still foggy from twelve hours on the road, too…)

      My suggestion would be to start with a central website coordinator, and I think the person to do it should be pretty much whoever volunteers who can also attract significant public exposure. (If more than one person volunteers, the more the merrier. Who is entitled to pick and choose? No one that I know of.) I reckon the right approach might be to get the infrastructure up and ready for submitted names and articles, and then publicize ihe page’s existence now and again in forums such as Flayrah and here. Personally I’d simply accept contributions as they come in without much in the way of editing or comment, as there really is no agreed definition of a furry. But my opinion really isn’t the one that matters here, as I know full well that I personally am not up to such a task.

      Thanks as always for reading, Altivo! Hope to see you again in person soon!

  2. I think the first step in such research (which would be fascinating, and to which I may be able to contribute) would be to recognize that “furry” didn’t exist before the first fan groups coalesced in the 1980s, just as “the homosexual” (or, for that matter, the “heterosexual”) didn’t exist before those words were coined (and didn’t exist as a sort of essentialized, hypostatized identity until decades later). Those who study queer histories, then, often have to swim in a murkier sea than they might prefer; in a past where there is no “straight” or “gay,” things that would be today termed as homoromantic (say, male-male embracing in a bed) carry no such valence.

    Thus, we would need to determine what sort of markers would be recognized as “furry” today and cast a wide net in our historical analysis. Some historical figures might identify or empathize with a certain species to some degree (for instance, the traditional story about Nietzsche’s lapse into insanity was that it happened as he rushed to protect a horse being beaten in Turin); there might be performance of nonhumanity, costumed or not (though fursuits as today understood would be unlikely in many cases, given the necessity of disposable income, extant resources, and leisure time necessary to make and maintain them); there could be anthropomorphized literary, artistic, or otherwise cultural understandings of real animals. Having a fragmented, wide lens of analysis would fracture the idea of a sort of unitary “furry” prehistory, but would be both more accurate. We might never find a “furry” (and we should be cautious of reading indigenous traditions as “proto-furry,” just as we can’t lump together two-spirit people with trans* people), but we’d see the cultural building blocks that have come together to form a sort of furry consciousness in the present.

    1. I’m not comfortable applying the “furry” label to people of the past who happened to share common traits with the furry fans of today because that seems to imply that there has been a continuity or even direct inspiration. It’s like saying that “hyper” characters with exaggerated breasts and genitals draw inspiration from primitive figures like the the Venus of Willendorf: there is a clearly strong correlation between the two art forms but in most cases there is no direct ispiration, and I’m fairly sure that the artists who first introduced hyper furries were just illustrating personal fantasies without caring about similarities with art of the past.
      I think that the contemporary furry fandom and past instances of the same practices found in the furry fandom stem from the same deeply rooted human insticts, but for the sake of clarity and intellectual honesty I think it’s important to stress that it’s a matter of instincts and archetypes being rediscovered indipendently.
      This said, “paleofurs” is a very cute term. :-)
      I might actually try to submit an article on the topic since it’s something I’ve been reflecting about a lot and I’ve collected several examples of striking similarities between furry practices and practices of other small cultural niches of the past.

  3. I feel positively young now! –6 years younger than Rabbit and 18 younger than Altivo, but I can certainly clearly remember a time before the internet.

    Khedhorse, perhaps it is a semantic issue, but I would disagree with you and say I was definitely furry before the eighties. I don’t understand the reasoning behind saying you couldn’t have been furry before the first fan groups formed.

  4. I can see the value of such a website, and I can help run it too.

    In unrelated news, nice to know all that about Churchill. Reminds me of a Romanian prince we only ever hear about in history class, despite the fact that he was a lousy ruler, while his real and very significant contributions to civilization were cultural. But that’s people for you. Good research there!

  5. As I was thinking about this later last night, it occurred to me how odd it was that your focus is almost entirely anthropomorphic fiction, and yet you seemed to use an interest in fursuiting as your marker for paleofurs (and Churchill’s role play).

    I can see why both would be striking, but it just seemed an odd contrast given your own interests. Did you look at writers of anthropomorphic fiction? Perhaps consider if any of their correspondence or other non-fiction writing gave evidence of furriness?

    1. I can help there. The 1944 novel Sirius, by Olaf Stapledon, is an early uplift story, considered very insightful by those who’ve read it. Which of course doesn’t mean Stapledon was a potential paleofur, but it could be an avenue of investigation.

      1. My own opinion would be that “furry” is a mindset, a fascination or even fixation focused on anthro animals powerful enough to have wide-ranging impact on many if not most aspects of one’s entire life. Walt Disney made a lot of money off of antrho characters, but was he a paleofur? I honestly don’t know, but if I wanted to find out I’d scour the best available biographies and the man’s memoirs (if any) for clues rather than watch his studio’s movies. I also tend to give the most weight to stuff like risking one’s life in mortal combat above Germany while wearing a bunny suit and other personal anthro-related quirks and foibles that stand out and grab the attention of furs and non-furs alike. Professional involvement with anthros, unless said professional involvement is simply overwhelming in size and scope, can often be just for the dinero. I don’t, for example, suspect the advertising people who wrote Tony the Tiger’s lines over the years of being furry just because they made money off of an anthro character now and again.
        This is also why, were I setting up a page on this subject, I’d simply create a list of nomination-posts and not attempt to judge the relative merits of any of them. “Furry” means too many different things to too many different people for any other approach to be workable, in my opinion, and while I’ve discussed my own judging-prejudices in the paragraph above, they remain exactly that– both prejudices and strictly my own. Maybe once “furry” is defined to everyone’s satisfaction we can pick out paleofurs in such a way as to please everyone.
        But I doubt it, even then.

    2. Hello! And thanks for both of your comments!

      Actually, the issue is sample-size. I’ve only found two candidates so far utilizing my highly unscientific and statistically unsound methodology, which consists solely of keeping my eyes open while reading totally unrelated history. Both of my “hits” to date just happened to be suiters. It’s not a matter of the criterion I used, but rather that the very low numbers I discovered aren’t enough to form a representative body. I’d absolutely include avid anthro-artists or authors, if I’d happened to have run into any and knew enough about their personal lives to hazard a guess as to their true inner nature.

  6. Pamela Mitford was a definite protofur, according to her sister Jessica:

    “”I longed passionately to go to school. The warm, bright vision of living away from home with girls my own age, learning all sorts of fascinating things, dominated my thoughts for years. But no arguments I could advance would move my mother on this point. Besides, she had heard them all before; the older children, with the exception of Pam, had all in turn begged to go. Pam was the only one of the older four who had consistently loved living at home in the country. As a child she had wanted to be a horse, and spent long hours practising to be one, realistically pawing the ground, tossing her head, and neighing.” (– HONS AND REBELS, 1960)

  7. I’ve actually done some research myself out of assumptions I’ve made about why people are furries in the first place and sadly I’ve only found a small select few that fit my criteria to be considered a furry. This may be because they didn’t have a subculture to actually join into or to really, kindle that furry fire-hehehheh.
    (Btw you might want to look at Kemono etymology/eastern history, might find some people there)
    http://www.flayrah.com/4117/retrospective-illustrated-chronology-furry-fandom-1966-1996
    ^might find some of these things interesting as well~
    Here’s a list of a few people who possibly could be because of one reason or another
    Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard Grandville -his artwork
    Tokugawa Tsunayoshi – love of dogs, believed he was possibly a dog in his past life
    Robert Crumb -Friz the cat, enough said http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritz_the_Cat
    Osamu Tezuka – created a large amount of anthropomorphic animals as well as personified quadrupeds , a big one to note is “Bagi, Monster of Mighty Nature”
    Adolf Hitler- but I think you knew about that, not really certain about that one but I read somewhere he did draw Disney characters often

    Also, you could possibly consider a good chunk of people who are in the fandom to be paleofurs, before I found out I thought anthro characters were neat and I made one that was supposed to be me; a friend of mine showed me neopets at around age 12 which lead to me to fandom.
    In that moment I realized, instantly that this is possibly something a bit bigger then how it actually portrays itself. (I’m getting off subject sorry) I’ve compared the furry fandom to other fandoms and it’s something completely different. Most of the time theirs some resentment to the fandom once a person finds out about it, people denying it for a very long period of time then eventually joining and finding acceptance. That’s really strange; its become a subculture, who knows what label it might have in the future.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts and ideas, Caster!
      Hitler identified with wolves to a degree– he named his headquarters for much of the war “The Wolf’s Lair”, for example. But not exceptionally so in my opinion. For historical purposes (and to satisfy my own curiosity about how such a catastrophe could befall the world as the one he largely caused) I’ve read at least four biographies of the man, three of them quite lengthy and detailed. I don’t see a lot of evidence of furriness in him aside from the wolf-thing, and forgive me if I don’t expend much effort trying to find any. If it’s actually there, you see, I really, truly don’t want to know.

  8. It is strange, but I never thought of the idea of Paeofurs until this article. But I can easly see how this as come about long before the 1980s. I’ve known of ones like Ra, or Loki, and others of mythology.

    When I read this article, I discussed on TheZOO, and a few other places about Cordwainer Smith, where rumors abound he loved cats dearly. His daughter too has suggested he was a bit on the odd side, but never went into details. I must admit too; (giggle) the pictures I’ve seen of C’mell – the catgirl from his stories was quite attractive. Was that because of the artist, or writer, I cannot tell. But it gives one an idea, yes?

    But this also points out something we all must be cautious about. What an author writes, or artist draws does not mean it’s what they feel. By walking though my own personal library I spotted Lewis Carols brillient “Alice” series — and he has been rumored to be a pedophilie. But without proof one should not judge him guilty. So was Smith a fur? I have no evidence for or against so I’m not passing judgement. This also points out to some of the great children’s writers and artists such as Richard Scary, and Beitrix Potter. Has there been any evidence of they being in this catagory?

    I’ve contacted a former lover of mine about this article. He is an artist, and one of his passions — which is what brought us together — is history; specifically on his end, art history. He said he’ll check a few artists about possible links to this subject. He mentioned one artist in particular; a Jordan, Jordans, something in that area that made some incredible mythological characters such as saytars, and centaurs of photorealistic quiality.

    I’ll be in touch, if I find anything. Excellent article, I’ll be following your blog, and on G+

  9. Rabbit, you might want to consider this born-in-Hungary, American actor whom we both certainly saw on television shows when we were younger, though we probably never saw his human face: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janos_Prohaska (1919-1974)

    Very possibly acting in animal and alien costumes may only have been a career speciality of his, but it would be nice to believe he personally felt more connection to animals. I would like to think that, had he lived, he might be a frequent guest at furcons today.

    1. That’s another one to look into for sure! Thanks! Most likely we’d need memoirs or interviews with surviving family members or somesuch to gain much insight into the “why” of his career choices, however.

  10. Thinking in terms of fursuit cosplay, another name comes up. Actor George Ali specialized in playing animal roles in film and on stage, including two famous dogs:

    Nana, the Darling family nurse dog, in the 1924 silent film of Peter Pan

    Tighe, Buster Brown’s dog in shoe advertisements of the 40s and later

    Photos of Ali in human guise are scarce. Photos of him dressed as various dogs and other animals are easier to find. Wikipedia has the background story but tantalizingly few details. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Ali

    He was a professional actor, of course. But for one to specialize in such roles is fairly uncommon. Also, if you’ve never seen that 1924 version of Peter Pan you should look it up. It’s available on DVD, and Ali’s dog impersonation is so good it’s hard to believe it’s a human in a costume.

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