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Hyena

HyenaHyenas are almost universally regarded as vile, scheming creatures, skulking in the alleyways of the animal kingdom. Scorned as little more than scavenging carrion-eaters, vandals and thieves, they have long been associated with the malevolent and macabre. This book offers an alternative view of these mistreated and misunderstood animals and proves that the hyena is in fact complex, intelligent and highly sociable.

Hyena (Reaktion Books) takes us on a tour of the hyena throughout history, detailing the magic, myth and ritual associated with this remarkable animal. Although shrouded in taboo, the hyena has been the source of and inspiration for talismanic objects since the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. Many cultures use parts of the hyena – from its excrement and blood to its genitalia and hair – to make charms and totems that variously avert evil, promise virility and promote fertility. This book also considers portrayals of hyenas in modern popular culture, including The Lion King and The Life of Pi, in which they are often stereotyped as villains, cowardly henchmen or clowns, and their more impressive qualities ignored.   Rightly returning hyenas to their proper place in the animal pantheon, this richly illustrated book will be enjoyed by any animal lover with an interest in the unusual and offbeat”.

“Is there a creature more unlovely and less loved, or more loathed, than the hyena, the slope-backed, mighty-jawed, yammering, cowardly skulker of the night? In much of Africa, hyenas are no laughing matter; more feared than lions, they have been known to come into villages and carry off children. But in the latest entry in this invaluable (if sometimes uneven) series on individual animals, U.S. psychoanalyst and cultural critic Mikita Brottman reassesses these maligned creatures. Hyenas, she claims convincingly, are complex, intelligent and highly social – and can even be easily trained to live with human beings. She also examines the hyena as a totemic object in tribal culture (amulets to avert evil woven from its hairs, virility treatments) as well as the portrayal of hyenas in such works as Life of Pi, The Lion King and the Tarzan novels, where they come off less well. As usual, beautifully and plentifully illustrated.” (Toronto Globe and Mail, August 3 2012)

Review, Elizabeth Bachner, Bookslut, August 2012
Review, Anne Marie Thornburg, Humanimalia, Volume 6 No.1 Fall 2014
Interview with Phillip Adams, Late Night Live, ABC Radio National (Australia)
Buy the book at Amazon here.