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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Anthropomorphism: Genre or Style?

After my post last week talking about urban fantasy, a reader emailed me asking if I knew the name for the subgenre of books told from a dog's perspective.

I had to think about it at first. I emailed an author friend of mine who's a regular here on the blog, J.A. Campbell for her thoughts. Turns out, we were thinking along the same lines.

First, what is genre? For the purposes of this post, I'm using this definition from Merriam-Webster's online dictionary:
1: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content
2: kind, sort
3: painting that depicts scenes or events from everyday life usually realistically

I'm pretty sure it's not a sub-genre but more of a style. Technically, I think it would be anthropomorphism, which Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines as
": an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics : humanization
an·thro·po·mor·phist noun"
For instance, "Black Beauty" by Anna Sewell is told from the horse's perspective, just as if a human were talking and thinking. Rita Mae Brown uses this device in her cozy mystery series, Mrs Murphy, where the cats and dogs belonging to the main human engage in their investigations into the murders that occur and talk to each other as well as other animals e.g. horses, owls, etc. Speculative fiction author J.A. Campbell also uses anthropomorphism in her Doc Vampire-Hunting Dog short stories. There are plenty of other stories and series that use anthropomorphism but those were the first ones to pop into my mind.

There are different ways of using anthropomorphistic animals. Disney even has them talk like humans (pick the Disney movie of your choice for an example :D). Sometimes, as in the examples I mentioned above, the story is told from the animal's perspective, complete with human style thoughts but they talk normally i.e. barks, meows, neighs, etc. But always, they have been endowed with human characteristics in some fashion.
It's a style that works in different genres - mysteries, mythology and fairy tales, fantasy of most varieties, etc. There's a part of me that would like to see stories told from a dog's perspective as a separate sub-genre, especially as it sees to be occurring more often these days. But at this point in time, I think stories told from a dog's perspective are a style not a genre or sub-genre, and are anthropomorphism.

So, have you read any stories told from a dog's POV? What do you think, is it a style, a genre...? What do you think of it, do you like it? Is there another existing term besides anthropomorphism that would be applicable?


  1. I read them and write them ^.~ LOL. I think it is more of a style than a true genre. We were on the same page about that idea. Especially since you can write from an animal's perspective in various genres. I write fantasy and urban fantasy. Richard Adam's Watership Down has been claimed by the literary folks as a literary classic, yet it's a story about rabbits, told from their point of view. I still think it's more fantasy than literary, but it's certainly not urban fantasy.

    I'll be interested to see if it gains in popularity and does become it's on genre over the years or if it stays a style.


  2. I would have to say it is more a style, as well. Interesting post. This used to be my favourite writing style as a child. I might just have to scope out more books where the animal tells the story.

  3. I like anthropomorphic art. Or those cat people in Doctor Who. But when it comes to adult literature, I haven't heard of much.

  4. I've wondered about this. Sentient non-humans are often thought of as difficult to market unless they're in children's books or secondary world fantasy. Surely a succinct category word would make marketing easier, but there doesn't seem to be one catch-all term.

    I'd imagine the genre designation depends on what the story's focus. If it's about the anthropomorphic dog revealing the truth to his human owner and expanding the human's awareness of the world, fantasy realism or urban fantasy might fit. But if it's something like Watership Down where the anthropomorphic animal is front and center for the reader's consideration, to provide an illuminating viewpoint, I'd be more inclined to say literary fantasy. (It seems like Richard Adams imagined Watership Down as a children's adventure story, but I don't think that label does the work justice.)


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