Reviews 2015

U carstvu životinja. Animalističko čitanje hrvatskih dječjih časopisa [In the animal kingdom: An animalistic reading of Croatian childrenʼs magazines]

U carstvu životinja. Animalističko čitanje hrvatskih dječjih časopisa [In the animal kingdom: An animalistic reading of Croatian childrenʼs magazines]. Ana Batinić. Zagreb: Hrvatska sveučilišna naklada, Filozofski fakultet – Periodica Croatica, 2013. 341 pages. 180.00 HRK (paperback).

Animal studies, more specifically cultural animal studies, are a relatively novel, burgeoning field of study within Croatian academia. Building upon the theoretical foundations laid down by Nikola Visković in his pioneering study Životinja i čovjek: prilog kulturnoj zoologiji (Animal and man: contribution to cultural zoology, 1996) and Kulturna animalistika (Cultural animal studies, 1998), a collection of essays he co-edited with Nenad Cambi, a growing number of researchers are examining different animal issues from a variety of humanist perspectives. Of particular note are the sustained efforts of Suzana Marjanić and Antonija Zaradija Kiš, editors of two rich, interdisciplinary volumes: Kulturni bestijarij (Cultural bestiary, 2007) and Književna životinja (The literary animal, 2012).

A recent addition to the growing number of Croatian scholarly books on animal studies, U carstvu životinja. Animalističko čitanje hrvatskih dječjih časopisa (In the animal kingdom: An animalistic reading of Croatian childrenʼs magazines) by Ana Batinić, a junior researcher at the Institute for the History of Croatian Literature, Theatre and Music (the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts), focuses on a previously unexplored topic: animal themes in Croatian childrenʼs and youth magazines. The extensive research corpus, spanning almost 150 years, encompasses three magazines: the first Croatian youth magazine Bosiljak (Basil, 1864–1868), the most significant and long-lived Croatian childrenʼs magazine Smilje (Immortelle, 1873–1945), and their successor Smib (acronym of Smilje and Bosilje, 1970–present). Based on the authorʼs doctoral dissertation, this well-researched, interdisciplinary study is situated at the intersection of animal and cultural studies, literary history, philosophy, ethnology and anthropology.

According to Batinić, articles and other contributions found in magazines reflect dominant cultural, political, social and scientific practices of the periods in which they were published, which is why the author turns to them to examine the changing portrayals of and attitudes towards non-human animals and the animalistic in general. Given the three magazinesʼ self-designation as entertaining and educational, both literary and non-literary contributions (including illustrations) are taken into consideration and analysed with regards to animal characters, their characteristics, portrayals and functions. The discussions presented in the bookʼs five chapters follow a chronological trajectory and are organized around specific genres and themes.

In the introductory chapter, the author elaborates on the multifarious focal points of her research: the relationship between humans and non-human animals as depicted in (non-) literary magazine contributions, the magazine as a medium, and the development of Croatian childrenʼs literature within the framework of childrenʼs and youth magazines. She then proceeds to provide an overview of animal studies in Croatia and abroad, as well as the history of Croatian childrenʼs and youth magazines.

Chapter two is dedicated to literary contributions published in Bosiljak, Smilje and Smib. The chapter is organized into five parts: oral literature, poetry, prose, drama, and simple forms (phrases, morals, proverbs, sayings, riddles). The section on prose is further divided into the following generic, thematic and chronological sub-sections: fairy tales, fables, didactic and moralistic tales, tales featuring anthropomorphized animals, tales combining artistic and scientific elements, fantastic tales featuring animal characters (special attention is given to etiological animal tales), realistic tales based on observations of the animal world, biographical tales about animals, and contemporary animal tales. Batinićʼs classification follows the one found in the magazines themselves, which is not always accurate, so some discussion on genre would have been helpful.

In chapter three, Batinić examines non-literary contributions published in Bosiljak, Smilje and Smib, such as news; articles on popular science, history and geography; curiosities; readersʼ letters, etc. Special attention is given to linguistic, ecological, theological and moral issues concerning animals addressed in these contributions, such as animal protection, hunting, animal speech, and Christian views on animals. Chapter four discusses visual representations of animals published in the three magazines, while the fifth and final chapter summarizes previous findings and conclusions. The book is concluded by an appendix containing reprints of select illustrations, magazine covers, comic strips and other magazine contributions (19 altogether), an index of names, and a list of references.

Taken together, the three magazines provide a veritable encyclopaedia of animal species, as animals are mentioned or portrayed on almost every single page. In fact, if one were to "erase all contributions describing animals or those in which animals are mentioned, there would be little left of the four volumes of Bosiljak, the 73 volumes of Smilje and the 42 volumes of Smib" (293, my translation). Batinićʼs analyses show that the number of texts about animals and illustrations featuring animal characters in the three magazines has progressively increased over the years. The author also notes significant shifts from stylization and neotenic images of "cute," child-like animals to more realistic portrayals and photographs, from overt didacticism to entertainment, as well as a gradual development and increasing importance of ecological awareness and sensitivity towards animal welfare and protection. However, despite noteworthy positive changes, the general attitude towards animals in the three magazines remains largely anthropocentric, and true biocentrism and biophilia, Batinić claims, have yet to be achieved.

In addition to making illuminating observations about the social and cultural attitudes towards animals and the relationship between humans and animals in different periods of Croatian history, Batinićʼs close examinations of innumerable magazine contributions bring to the forefront an impressive array of under-analysed and obscure texts, and ignored writers. Furthermore, the author assumes a zooethical perspective throughout, continuously promoting biocentrism, sensitivity and respect for all living things. Boasting a successful interdisciplinary mix of methods and approaches and an impressive breadth of research, this comprehensive and highly informative book presents a valuable contribution to a variety of humanistic disciplines, particularly magazine and cultural animal studies, as well as the study of childrenʼs literature.

Nada Kujundžić
University of Turku, Finland
University of Zagreb, Croatia