Art & Culture: Creative Compassion, Literature and Animal Welfare by Michael J. Gilmour

Creative Compassion

Michael J. Gilmour, a Canadian professor of English and biblical literature, argues that fiction contributes much toward humane education.

“Animal-friendly storytellers and poets undermine entrenched dominative attitudes toward the nonhuman,” says Gilmour is his latest book. “They bring animals from the margins to the centre, and in doing so urge a broadening of our understanding of community and inclusivity.”

In Creative Compassion, Literature and Animal Welfare (Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics series), Gilmour considers the enormous potential of advocacy-inclined fiction. “Defenders of animals often identify books as formative influences. Jane Goodall, for one, writes of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan stories nourishing her childhood fascination with and love for animals. Richard Adams of Watership Down fame credits Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle adventures for his turn toward advocacy.”

Gilmour, who is also a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics says that “Human-caused animal suffering tends to be hidden from view. The illegal, and therefore clandestine cockfight. The No Trespassing sign at the factory farm. The restricted access laboratory. The wounded deer deep in the forest, left with a lingering injury from a hunter’s bullet. But writers take us to such lonely places and allow us to see the often-unseen consequences of human actions.”

Gilmour posits that literature can take us places we otherwise might not go. Places where we might see things that alter our worldview. “Fiction is thus an education on the need for protectionist efforts, affording occasions to ‘meet’ cows facing slaughter or lab mice enduring surgeries. Through stories, we experience the foxhunt from the vixen’s point of view, and we see zoos through the eyes of those who once roamed free but now languish in cages. Such exercises of the imagination potentially disrupt habitual indifference and awaken compassion.” ◊

Centre Director Professor Andrew Linzey commented: “We need to dig deep into the causes of humane and inhumane treatment of animals, including literature. We should congratulate Professor Gilmour on his excellent work.”


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