A whimsical modern bestiary in which Mercatante sketches the ""mythological profiles"" of birds, beasts and fish. Since animal symbolism is universal, Mercatante draws on the widest range of sources: Greek mythology, the creation stories of American Indians, saints' lives, Aesop's fables and Chinese and Hindu legends. Although a handful of animals have clear-cut reputations for good (the dolphin) or evil (the serpent), the character of most beasts varies from culture to culture. Thus the Hindus venerated the monkey, the Hebrews saw him as an omen of bad luck and medieval Christians associated him with lust and shame. The fox's European reputation as a thief and trickster does not extend to Japan where in the guise of the lovely fox-maiden, the animal is a portent of good luck, loving and self-sacrificing. Mercatante also mentions Freudian and Jungian interpretations of animal tales (Freud thought that the fairy tale frog who was transformed into a handsome prince by the kiss of a beautiful maiden symbolized the penis) but he is generally hostile to such psychoanalytic didacticism. What's lacking here is some overall theory of the social and imaginative function of animism. Why have animals been universally anthropomorphized? Without some analysis of these mythologies the book is no more than a slight, though charming, collection of tall tales and cultural fantasies.