A Pop-Up Tiger And Other Animal Tales At The British Library

Animal Tales at the British Library ★★★☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 105 months ago

Last Updated 08 August 2015

A Pop-Up Tiger And Other Animal Tales At The British Library Animal Tales at the British Library 3
Multiple cut-outs of the cloned sheep Dolly are included in this limited edition book that features the original article about the cloning in the journal Nature. Copyright Karen Bleitz

Animals are an integral part of many of our best loved books. Just imagine what Moby Dick would be like without the whale or Watership Down without the rabbits — as for the latter, our childhoods would have been less traumatic but we would be missing out on some brilliant novels.

This exhibition celebrates the role of animals in literature with some historic books and beautiful illustrations. Classic stories on display include Peter Rabbit, The Tiger who Came to Tea and Kes.

A type of book that has gone out of fashion is the bestiary, which used to be popular as it introduced readers to exotic beasts they would feasibly never see in their lifetimes. Clearly this isn't the case in today's world, with easier access to zoos and travel to other countries. However, these bestiaries feature some fantastic illustrations including a striking, if not anatomically correct, woodblock print of a lion.

We also were enchanted by a giant storm cat that looms over a fishing boat in choppy water, and disgusted by the bloated Napoleon from Animal Farm.

One of the most modern books on display is a rather clever one on Dolly the famous cloned sheep, where multiple cut-outs of Dolly are included within the book. The most striking display features a pop-up Shere Khan from an edition of Jungle Book, and it is frankly terrifying with his jagged claws.

Not all of the illustrations grabbed us in this way but it's a charming free display, complete with a healthy dose of childhood nostalgia.

Animal Tales is on at The British Library until 1 November, entrance is free. Also still on at The British Library is the last month of the excellent Magna Carta exhibition. Nearby is the copper mummification of Alice Anderson at Wellcome Collection and for another literature exhibition check out the Judith Kerr retrospective at The Jewish Museum.

Aesop's fables is another book that relies heavily on animals. Copyright The British Library.
A first edition of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Copyright British Library.
One of several Doty & Waterson's aquatint etchings. Courtesy of the artist and DC Moore gallery.