This imposing allegorical fantasy takes place back when the world is the center of the universe and is inhabited by talking animals--whose purpose, though they do not yet know it, is to prevent the giant, stinking Wyrm, evil incarnate, from breaking out of his confinement inside the earth. The land is ruled by strutting Chaunticleer, ordained by God to keep life orderly and predictable with his regular, reliably timed, and very seriously undertaken crows. But then Wyrm's ""mini"" Cockatrice is hatched in an adjoining land; he in turn sires a host of slithery basilisks; and the Battle is on. Without bombast, Wangerin makes it a resounding one, with boiling, basilisk-bearing waters covering the land, and the earth cracking open to its very mantle. Chaunticleer heroically defeats his monstrous counterpart the Cockatrice, but despairs upon realizing that the final battle, with Wyrm, is yet to come. In the end it is the mournful, intrusively self-effacing outsider, Mundo Cani Dog--Chaunticleer's humble ""rug""--who assumes the guilt for all that's happened and saves them all by jumping into the abyss, to be sealed inside the earth with Wyrm. The Dun Cow, ""God's messenger on earth"" (and as such a likely Holy Ghost in line with Mundo Cani's Christlike sacrifice), appears only briefly and silently, to grieve and comfort. Other creatures in Chaunticleer's flock--with their sometimes baffling names (John Wesley Weasel, Lord Russell Fox, and for relief Corningware Turkey) and their comic speech peculiarities--have a sort of emblazoned presence rather than the flesh tones of fictional personality. Similarly, Chaunticleer's relationship with his lady Pertelote is idealized, but not false. And Chaunticleer himself, all type-cast self-importance at first, takes on real grandeur in battle and a pitiable humanity in his subsequent frailty and remorse.