The Animals

Let’s start with some unusual furry roleplay.

Dear Longed-for Colt:

 

When a certain cat saw the enclosed full-color picture of a Dub in holiday decoration, he shed tears of sadness and longing. He misses and worries about his Old Dear so terribly.

 

Kitty only lives to be with his Darling Drub again. He has set April 1 as the deadline for their reunion, if that fragile feline stamina persists, and if it does, upon arrival in the stable Kitty will need massive intravenous doses of Horse Essence.

 

All of a kitten’s unswerving love and devotion,

 

It’s creative and a bit unusual, but unmistakably furry. And it is excerpted from a letter that was written in 1966.

The feline is portrait artist Don Bachardy. And Old Dub/Drub the horse is Christopher Isherwood, one the great English novelists of the 20th century. His work includes The Berlin Stories, source material for the Cabaret musical and film, which starred Liza Minnelli and won 8 Academy Awards.

Isherwood and Bachardy are paleofurs, furries who existed before the furry community.

We at [adjective][species] have our very own paleofur, author Phil Geusz, who writes for us as Rabbit. Earlier this year he wrote an important article wondering if he could add to the collection of paleofurs he had discovered hidden in history books: a number that (aside from himself) totalled two. I am very proud to be able to add to his small tally.

(Phil’s article inspired a blog dedicated to the phenomenon of furries-before-furry: Paleofurs on Tumblr.)

Bachardy and Isherwood’s animal-person roleplay is collected in a book titled The Animals: Love Letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy. It is a memoir of sorts, less published in the hope of commercial success and more an attempt to document the history between the two. It seems to be largely marketed as a curiosity for Isherwood completists, but it makes for a superb furry conversation piece.

87-theanimals

It is long, charting about half of the three-decade-long relationship between the two, which started in 1953 and ended with Isherwood’s death in 1986. Included with the letters are explanatory notes to keep everything in context, but otherwise the animal-themed affection and whimsy is unfettered.

The theme is startlingly similar to a lot of furry roleplay. Pet names abound, and expressions of love and lust are couched in almost entirely anthropomorphic terms. And like furry roleplay, the animal themes are largely dropped when they are exchanging factual information. The impact is charming, as the pet names allow them to explore and discover language to express their obvious love without falling into cliche. For example:

Kitty’s dear letter just arrived and made Dobbin very happy. Again and again he kissed the portrait of Kitty with his wet muzzle. It is exactly how Kitty looks when at his prayers or watching a plump juicy bird on a tree.

 

It does get a bit cloying: this is not a book to read in long sittings. It also makes me thankful that internet lingo was not available, otherwise these letters would be dusted with lols and ttfns and I shudder to think what else. This is not to disparage the utility of internet lingo, just that this book is saccharine enough as it is—it does not need the further whimsical and sweary touch of wtf or lmao.

The creativity on display is remarkable, and if anything Bachardy outshines his famous literary partner. In many ways it provides useful reference material for anyone looking to add an old-timey touch to furry flirting: Bachardy and Isherwood’s language has many similarities with today’s furry lingua franca, but also dozens of exciting neologisms and new turns of phrase. Consider:

Kitty pants at the thought of the return of his Only Muzzlelove and lives only to lick that salty old Hide with his rough little pinktongue and make it tingle again.

 

Furballs and pink catkisses, Purrpuss.

 

Their respective furry characters are full and fleshed out, acting as representatives of their true selves. Their human selves are reserved for the less-important real world. They are forever longing for their shared home—their basket—a retreat from the world where they can drop the human pretence and be their animal selves, together.

Their names for one another change over the years, but generally Isherwood is Dobbin, a sturdy old horse that can be relied upon to keep things steady. He is safe and friendly but prone to boredom without Bachardy’s spark. Bachardy is Kitty, an unpredictable feline, prone to bouts of excited flights of fancy, mixed with depression and borderline agoraphobia. Together, they are clearly a balanced and loving couple, each providing the other with affection but also support.

Bachardy's portrait of former California Governor Jerry Brown
Bachardy’s portrait of former California Governor Jerry Brown

The quality and longevity of their relationship is more remarkable for the difference in age: when they met, Isherwood was 48 and Bachardy just 18. While such age differences are rare nowadays (and would probably be subject to suspicion), there is a long history of such relationships in homosexual couples, especially in the less enlightened decades of the 20th century. Examples of such relationships include Sir Laurence Olivier, who (almost definitely) had a relationship with Henry Ainley, 28 years his senior, and Stephen Fry with Steven Webb, 26 years his junior.

Isherwood and Bachardy are proof that a big age difference is no barrier to a functional relationship. They stayed together for 33 years, broken only by Isherwood’s death at age 81.

Isherwood is British and Bachardy is American, which partly accounts for the number of letters collected in The Animals. They also found themselves apart on occasion due to work commitments. The relationship communicated in the letters is therefore long-distance. In this way it bears many similarities to the situation that many furries find themselves in today, where couples may be separated for long periods of time. It is just another way that these letters from the 1950s, 60s and 70s are relevant to furry today.

The Animals is easy to find on Amazon and other online bookstores. It’s a terrific book to share with guests, and dive into every now and then. It’ll even help make your furry roleplay extra classy. Just don’t try to read it all at once.

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

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6 thoughts on “The Animals

  1. Wow, what a great find! The greymuzzle in me loves articles like this. Keep up the good work!

    Out of curiosity, how did you find this collection?

    1. Thanks Sketchy, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun reading through the book and choosing the quotes to drop in here.

      The Animals was reviewed pretty widely when it was released a few months ago. I read about it in the London Review of Books.

    1. Thanks. I suspect that the cutesy roleplay isn’t really your style (it isn’t really mine either) but it’s rather nifty in its own way.

      1. No, not my style. But very much… Paleofurish. I’m sort of developing the idea that the basic “forms” and “social pathways” of the fandom have existed both in the larger culture and the pathways of certain individual minds for perhaps a very long time, and it was only with the development of new methods of communications– the internet– that these latent possibilities manifested themselves in a large way. So large in fact, that human culture as a whole– or at least the entertainment industry– is already being seriously affected. Given the nature of the furry phenomenon and the sort of tech it might encourage, it’s even possible that ultimately the realization of these pre-existing tendencies will render terms like “species” and “evolution” and even “human” far more plastic than they are today. All because of a deeply-implanted flavor of whimsy!

        I also wonder how many other unexpected human potentialities the internet will awaken?

        1. I have to echo the general sentiment and say this is a crazy-great find! :D I never would have suspected that a prominent British writer and his American boyfriend would engage in such an extended and light-hearted role-play over so many years.

          Isherwood and Bachardy remind me quite a bit of myself and dear old Ryan; not in terms of age, but in that we complement each other well, push each other away from potentially bad impulses. The juxtaposition of dragon and rabbit symbolizes a balance between ambition and fierceness, amiability and comfort.

          This is a great recommendation, and it’s being added to my Amazon wish-list as we speak. :D

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