Tag Archives: Richard Adams

Animals threatened by humans

Many books explore the relationship between humans and animals. Pleasantly, in Emily Rodda’s Dog Tales and Dodie Smith’s The 101 Dalmatians, dogs keep pets. Human pets. Very happily.

Cover of Emily Rodda's Dog Tales

In Watership Down by Richard Adams and Toad Rage by Morris Gleitzman, careless drivers offer great threat to innocent animals by accident. (Flattened and dried cane toad relatives are stored like old vinyl records.)

The rats and the bandicoots are having a war over scarce food in Patricia Wrightson’s Moon-dark. The animals have to call on the moon spirit to help them. The human threat is short sightedness and ignorance – clearing a forest has caused a food shortage for animals already crowded by habitat loss.
In The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell, the human threat is greed. The very day her foal is born she knows

…her son would be hunted as she was and as her own cream-coloured mother had been before her. (Pg 5 Brumby)

Forest by Sonya Hartnett is about a cat and two kittens; lured into a cardboard box and abandoned by a mean human in the forest. They find they are surrounded by feral cats and have to learn the ways of the wild cat tribe. Kian cannot relinquish his hold on his old tame ways and sets out to lead the kittens in a return to domestic life. They have finally left the dark forest, crossing fields towards more heavily populated areas, when they find a path and coming toward them, down the path are two men.

It seemed to Kian there was no reason to run: running was the reaction of a wild cat, a frightened cat, a cat who had no need of the human’s respect, but Kian was not wild, and he would not let the kittens be wild. Soon he would bring them home, and the siblings’ lives would be misery if they learned the wild cats fear. (Pg 201 Forest)

But he was wrong. He should have been afraid. Very afraid, because the humans kill him. For fun. Similarly in The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Dodie Smith explores human cruelty.

Cover of 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith

            They went through the open gate and up the cobbled path, wagging their tails and looking with love at the little boy—and the bread and butter. The child smiled at them fearlessly and waved the bread and butter. And then, when they were only three or four yards away, he stooped, picked up a stone and slung it with all his force. He gave a squeal of laughter when he saw the stone strike Pongo, then went in and slammed the door. (Pg 67 Dalmatians)

…[…]…

Missis said: “The bad little boy was only bad because he had never known dogs.” And she was probably right. (Pg 131 Dalmatians)

In Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White about a pig called Wilbur and The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith about a pig called Babe, things are a bit more deliberate. Animals are dinner.

“That was a pig.”

“What will the boss do with it?”

“Eat it,” said Fly, “when it’s big enough.”

“Will he eat us,” said another rather nervously, “when we’re big enough?”

“Bless you,” said his mother. “People only eat stupid animals. Like sheep and cows and ducks and chickens. They don’t eat clever ones like dogs.” (Pg 17 Sheep-Pig)

The fact that humans can threaten animals: subdue them and have dominion over them, means that humans must be different to animals.  We’ll explore this idea in my next post.

Cover of Charlotte's web by EB White

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.