Impossible Creatures

Illustrated by Tomislav Tomić

“He’s a guardian. He had not been clear, until this moment, what that meant: it meant this feeling. It meant burning to keep watch, for that which needed to be watched. It meant burning to keep it safe. It meant a ferocious and careful love.” (277)

In Katherine Rundell’s Impossible Creatures, Christopher’s adventures begin when he rescues a drowning griffin and discovers the lake near his grandfather’s house is a portal to the Archipelago: secret islands where enigmatic mythical creatures like sphinxes, krakens, unicorns, and ratatoskas live. Christopher dives through to help Mal, who is being hunted by a murderer. The murderer inadvertently reveals that Mal may be able to restore the failing magic of the Archipelago’s sea, sky, and soil and so stop its creatures dying out. With a fearless but great-hearted smuggler to defend them, a quiet but passionate ocean researcher to advise them, a gossipy green squirrel to navigate, and a baby griffin to give them hope, Christopher and Mal sail between islands on a soul-searching quest to find the tree at the heart of the magic.

Impossible Creatures demonstrates biodiversity loss since the mythical animals are at risk of extinction or forced into climate migration by the magic failing in their habitats, an analogy for climate change. The source of this slow violence is an ancient tree whose power is leeched by a man determined to control the world, raising the fundamental importance of plants to all life, and exploring the combination of human fear and thirst for power that drives some humans to control nature—a great way of understanding the Anthropocene.

Rundell’s inspiring multisensory descriptions conjure the Archipelago as a place of glorious species richness that has survived after being hidden from most humans and the array of nonhuman and part-human characters emphasize nonhuman personhood, reducing anthropocentrism. Yet this wilderness includes humans, modelling the possibility of living together. The two human children suffer significant grief after the unexpected death of an animal companion (205) and this turns to eco-anxiety as they regret that they have “already, in a short life, done such hurt,” almost believing “hope is a little lie that the powerless use to comfort themselves” (292). Mal rightly protests when the responsibility of saving the world is put on her small shoulders (188). Ultimately, their deep-rooted biophilia and belief in people’s potential for good overcomes despair, and Impossible Creatures demonstrates the power of hope and resistance in a triumphant planetarianist ending.

 ©2024 ClimateLit (Catherine Olver)


Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Book, 2023

Pages: 326

ISBN: 978-1-5266-6898-1

Audience: Ages 8-13

Format: Novels

Topics: Animal Companions, Animals, Anthropocene, Anthropocentrism, Biodiversity Loss, Biophilia, Climate Change, Climate Grief, Climate Migration, Eco-anxiety, Extinction, Habitats, Mythical Creatures, Non-Human Personhood, Planetarianism, Plants, Slow Violence, Species Richness, Wilderness