Anthropomorphism

Clearly, Ektek is anthropomorphic, there’s no getting away from it. Or you could think, like the scientists in The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, as they discuss his own work;

People like Adams represent animals acting as if they were humans, when actually it’d be nearer the mark to consider them as automata controlled by the computer they inherit in their genetical (sic) make-up. (pg 442 The Plague Dogs)

Cover of The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams

Cover of the Plague Dogs, thanks dangblastedcritic.blogspot.com

I have been writing about animals, particularly endangered creatures, since 1993. My play, It’s NOT the end of the world, was first presented by Polyglot Puppet Theatre in 1994. Instead of animals, anthropomorphism animated an endangered family of string bags threatened by a hamburger corporation.

In 1996 I commenced work on an unsolicited bible for a television series (working title Ektek) about endangered Australian animals. In 1997 I realised production would be unlikely unless I could get the stories published as books first. The first book was rejected seven times. Three of the rejections came about at John Marsden’s Publisher’s camp. When I pitched the idea to the publishers represented they said Ektek would never work because young adults do not like anthropomorphism.

When I prepared the proposal for the second draft of the book I included a list of anthropomorphic books, such as Animal Farm, Wind in the Willows and Watership Down, to demonstrate that books written from the point of view of animals might be profitable for a publisher. This proved unconvincing, as that ms was also rejected seven times. I placed Ektek deep in the bottom of a drawer. Of course, it’s since been retrieved, reworked and resubmitted and rejected many more times. Now, it’s free for you to examine as you will because publishers are reluctant. Is anthropomorphism to blame?

As I looked at more and more books about animals and thought about anthropomorphism, it slowly dawned on me that when a book is about a type of animal, be it horse in The Silver Brumby, Dog in The101 Dalmations, or Cat as in Forest, there is always reference to the other species – the most dominant of all. I began to wonder if when writers use animal characters, they are actually exploring what it means to be human.

Zoologist Colin Tudge, writing in Last Animals at the Zoo, believes anthropomorphism is a primitive and easy way to attempt to understand animals. He explains

… the portrayals of animals from Aesop to Edwin Landseer – cunning foxes and noble stags – are anthropomorphism of a kind, animals with human qualities, presented as symbols of those qualities. The animals of children’s stories – Two Bad Mice and Jeremy Fisher, Wind in the Willows, Rupert Bear, Donald Duck – are humans, in tweeds and spats and sailor suits.  Because of the way they look and behave, however, they are presumed to have some of the character of the animals whose physiognomies they have assumed; pompous Jeremy, bumbling Mole, irascible Donald. (Pg 193 Zoo)

cover of Last Animals at the Zoo; how mass extinction can be stopped

Humans have told anthropomorphic stories for hundreds of years. Ektek is just one more.

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