Reindeer and Angels

It’s that time of the year.  A time to get a bit fanciful and so I thought we could look at Reindeer and Angels, maybe not as you know them.

For those of you who follow the blog, you will realise that both of these feed back into a pet project – flight with functioning forelimbs.

It is an interesting intellectual problem to try and establish an anatomy that would allow for functioning wings whilst still allowing forelimbs to work.  I’m not sure its possible with what we know about avian and mammalian anatomy.   Of course, anything with functioning wings and forelimbs wouldn’t be avian or mammalian and therefore might have an anatomy we are yet to discover (if such a winged thing existed.)

Reindeer are interestingly different to this whole story line.  We are quite prepared to accept that Reindeer can fly without the need for wings.  Obviously not actually accept it, but we are happy for stories to exist that don’t incorporate wings whereas we tend to put them onto other flying beings – some superheros excepted but you have to look at that whole thing with capes.) . This reindeer is an example from the BodyWorks exhibition.  Its not how we normally see Reindeer but even it is posed in flight.  This is just accepted – at Christmas, Reindeer fly.

There are a number of spoof scientific publications along the lines of ‘Why Rudolph’s nose is red’ and this year there is even a book out about the science of Christmas looking at how reindeer fly.

Although they don’t really fit into the Christmas story (unless you are watching TV this year), Dragons are the really interesting issue in this conundrum.  Their depiction differs.  Sometimes they have functioning forelimbs and wings or sometimes, as in Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, the producer has thought about it and depicts them like bats; where their forelimbs are actually their folded wings.  The really interesting thing about Dragons is that stories of them appear in every civilisation at almost the same time period.  There isn’t a lag that would have allowed stories to move across continents with travellers which means each civilisation independently came up with the same idea!  Isn’t that fascinating? (We shall gloss over the alternative theory)

Angels are another interesting topic with which, I have to say, I have an interest in their depiction.  The ones we see at Christmas are all peaceful and spreading good news.  In fact the word angelic sums up that sort of image.  I prefer this sort of depiction in the painting by Reni.  Much more feisty.  Either way, they always have wings.  I had an interesting discussion with an artist about this, who suggested it was more to do with early painting techniques.  It used to be hard to judge whether a small figure high up in a picture was actually angelic or simply far away (I’ll wait while you all think about Father Ted).  This problem could be solved by adding wings which then made it clear to the viewer how that figure should be viewed.

It’s hard to reconcile functioning arms with functioning wings with the anatomy that we know.

These are interesting puzzles to muse over but let’s not forget that we are dealing with mythical beings.


I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.  I have several projects on the go next year, amongst which is the publication of a fiction tale revolving around angels (optional wings).

Author: Anatomy Fundamentals

Janet Philp has spent a lifetime exploring fitness and wellbeing. Starting in group exercise, travelling through rugby to representing the UK at martial arts before including Yoga, meditation, Budokon and personal instruction. Her passion is anatomical function and educating people to use their bodies to their full potential.

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