Gentle and Fierce is a new book of illustrated memoir essays by Vanessa Berry. 

Lassie Come Home/ Collie ‘Perfect Companion’ Pullover

One of my aims with Gentle and Fierce was to reflect on the presence of animals in everyday urban or suburban life. Part of this was thinking about the animals of my childhood, a time of life when the boundaries between beings did not seem so fixed. So many of the books and toys through which I learnt about the world featured animals. These in turn taught me particular ideas about animals, which then I went on to further learn or realise to be untrue.

Some of the animals of my childhood came to me from the American tv series from the 1950s and 60s, which regularly screened on television in the 1980s. In these shows animals, like the faithful collie dog of Lassie, or the talking horse Mister Ed, or Flipper the dolphin, were most often companions or sidekicks, usually for wholesome and slightly goofy white American men. In these shows the animals were far more interesting to me than the humans, and despite the anthropomorphism of their portrayals, there seemed to be one thing they had right: the animals were the smart ones.

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