Tag Archives: endangered animals

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.

What’s it like to be an animal?

My friend, Jenny, heard an environmentalist called Bob Mack on the radio. She was so impressed, she went to meet him to talk about nature. They went for a walk while they chatted. He took her to a secluded nook of Studley Park and said, ‘Right. Get your gear off.’

She thought, ‘Uh oh. Here we go.’ But, no, he insisted, there was an environmental reason to get naked. After some badinage she very reluctantly agreed and eventually squatted down amongst the saplings and sparse scrub with no clothes to protect her. He pointed out that she was now as close to a wallaby as she could get.

How do you think that felt?

Vulnerable, sitting naked in the bush, hoping that nobody came along and ready to run like hell if anyone saw her.

He gave her empathy.

Yellow-tailed wallaby at the Adelaide Zoo

Yellow-tailed wallaby at the Adelaide Zoo

He helped her to understand what it might be like to be an animal because we don’t really know.  We have to imagine.

EKTEK up and ready for your assistance!

The pool was strewn with flowers. It was tiled with detailed mosaics depicting endangered wildlife; a blue whale’s tail dominated the bottom of the pool. A rhino, a seal, a panda, an Iberian lynx and a bison rose along the sides in precise pattern. There, at the edge, frogs, lizards and turtles scuttled towards various birds; albatross, egrets, storks and a large condor. The big picture was exquisite.

Hardback lay in all this majesty, listless. His eyes were glazed. Was he drugged or just despairing?

A fountain, in the shape of a thylacine, vomited water from its mouth in the centre of the pool. Nearby, a chilling ice sculpture of a dodo was melting under the lights.

From Last Chance To Eat