Anthropomorphism–or Why My Animal Characters Can Talk


When I was really little, I had a crush on Mighty Mouse. I really don’t think it registered that he was a mouse. Hey, I also loved Sister Lucy, my first grade teacher, and I’m heterosexual. Go figure. Childhood is weird.

But have I really left childhood behind? I have written several books in which animals can speak (often they don’t shut up)–a parrot named Guinness in Ghosts of Key West (sadly not currently available), a lizard/dragon in Wizard of Time, a fantasy big cat in my WIP…more to come.

Sometimes I think shapeshifting is a grown-up version of this fantasy world. Your stuffed animals cannot only talk and move, they can become hunky guys who make love to you. It’s an interesting human condition, this anthropomorphism. We do it with big concepts (Father Time), gods and goddesses, and yes, still cartoon characters. I love the psychology of this, although I don’t really understand it.

Did you know you could have a fear of anthropomorphism–human characteristics ascribed to non-human entities? There’s a subclass of folks who get skeeved by robots who almost look human. Evidently, the closer they look to humans, the more creeped out folks get.

“Anthropomorphism is a well-established device in literature. Aesop’s Fables, a collection of short tales written or recorded by the ancient Greek citizen Aesop, make extensive use anthropomorphism, in which animals and weather illustrate simple moral lessons. The Indian books Panchatantra (The Five priniciples) and The Jataka tales employ anthropomorphized animals to illustrate various principles of life.

Anthropomorphism is commonly employed in books for children, such as those by Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl, Brian Jacques, C.S. Lewis, and Beatrix Potter. Rev. W. Awdry’s Railway Series depicts steam locomotives with human-like faces and personalities.

However, anthropomorphism is not exclusively used as a device in children’s literature: Terry Pratchett is notable for having several anthropomorphic characters in his Discworld series, the best-known of which is the character Death. Piers Anthony also wrote a series regarding the seven Incarnations of Immortality, which are Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil, and Good. Neil Gaiman is notable for anthropomorphising seven aspects of the world in his series Sandman, named the Endless, Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium.”

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2 thoughts on “Anthropomorphism–or Why My Animal Characters Can Talk

  1. Ann(ie) says:

    I don´t much like the shifter novels. If I´m going for non-human, I am going all the way. Gimme an alien, maybe even some tentacles. I loved Odo from DS9. So I guess I can´t answer the anthromorphism issue except to say, I prefer humans or aliens, none of the tween-ness for me, thanks. Oddly I kinda like demons too. Not sure what that says about my psyche.

  2. Robin L. Rotham says:

    Great topic, Ciar! I’ve always found anthropomorphism utterly fascinating — especially the too-close-to-human-for-comfort robots. I, Robot is one of my favorite movies.

    Before I started writing fiction, I took a creative writing class and chose to focus on poetry. (What was I thinking?!) Being a non-traditional student (read: old), I took my homework seriously, doing exercises for the various techniques, and found that I enjoyed using personification anthropomorphism.

    I wrote a poem about my grandmother where I referred to her pinned-nightly curls as having envied my natural ones, and when my turn to be critiqued by the class came, the instructor scratched his head and asked, “How could her curls envy yours?”

    That’s what I get for taking a creative writing class in rural Nebraska.

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