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File:Syrischer Maler von 1354 001.jpg

Personification is the attribution of human characteristics (or characteristics assumed to belong only to humans) to non-human animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts, such as spirits or deities. Personification, sometimes referred to as anthropomorphism, is a Figure of speech that has been used as a well established literary technique from ancient times.


It extends back to before Aesop's Fables[1] in 6th century BC Greece and the collections of linked fables from India, the Jataka Tales and Panchatantra, which employ anthropomorphised animals to illustrate principles of life. Many of the stereotypes of animals that are recognised today, such as the wiley fox and the proud lion, can be found in these collections. Aesop's anthropomorphisms were so familiar by the 1st century AD that they coloured the thinking of at least one philosopher:

And there is another charm about him, namely, that he puts animals in a pleasing light and makes them interesting to mankind. For after being brought up from childhood with these stories, and after being as it were nursed by them from babyhood, we acquire certain opinions of the several animals and think of some of them as royal animals, of others as silly, of others as witty, and others as innocent.

Apollonius noted that the fable was created to teach wisdom through fictions that are meant to be taken as fictions, contrasting them favourably with the poets' stories of the gods that are sometimes taken literally. Aesop, "by announcing a story which everyone knows not to be true, told the truth by the very fact that he did not claim to be relating real events".[2] The same consciousness of the fable as fiction is to be found in other examples across the world, one example being a traditional Ashanti way of beginning tales of the anthropomorphic trickster-spider Anansi: "We do not really mean, we do not really mean that what we are about to say is true. A story, a story; let it come, let it go."[3]

Fairy talesEdit

Anthropomorphic motifs have been common in fairy tales from the earliest ancient examples set in a mythological context to the great collections of the Brothers Grimm and Perrault. The Tale of Two Brothers (Egypt, 13th century BC) features several talking cows and in Cupid and Psyche (Rome, 2nd century AD) Zephyrus, the west wind, carries Psyche away. Later an ant feels sorry for her and helps her in her quest. Characters from the story Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story are great examples of Anthropomorphism.

Modern literatureEdit

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Building on the popularity of fables and fairy tales, specifically children's literature began to emerge in the 19th century with works such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll, The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) by Carlo Collodi and The Jungle Book (1894) by Rudyard Kipling, all employing anthropomorphic elements. This continued in the 20th century with many of the most popular titles having anthropomorphic characters,[4] examples being The Tales of Beatrix Potter (1901 onwards),[5] The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) by A. A. Milne. In many of these stories the animals can be seen as representing facets of human personality and character.[6] As John Rowe Townsend remarks, discussing The Jungle Book in which the boy Mowgli must rely on his new friends the bear Baloo and the black panther Bagheera, "The world of the jungle is in fact both itself and our world as well".[6] Another notable work is George Orwell's Animal Farm.

The fantasy genre developed from mythological, fairy tale and Romance motifs[7] and characters, sometimes with anthropomorphic animals. The best-selling examples of the genre are The Hobbit[8] (1937) and The Lord of the Rings[9] (1954–1955), both by J. R. R. Tolkien, books peopled with talking creatures such as ravens, spiders and the dragon Smaug and a multitude of anthropomorphic goblins and elves. John D. Rateliff calls this the "Doctor Dolittle Theme" in his book The History of the Hobbit[10] and Tolkien saw this anthropomorphism as closely linked to the emergence of human language and myth: "...The first men to talk of 'trees and stars' saw things very differently. To them, the world was alive with mythological beings... To them the whole of creation was "myth-woven and elf-patterned".'[11]

In the 20th century, the children's picture book market expanded massively.[12] Perhaps a majority of picture books have some kind of anthropomorphism,[4][13] with popular examples being The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969) by Eric Carle and The Gruffalo (1999) by Julia Donaldson.

Anthropomorphism in literature and other media led to a sub-culture known as Furry fandom, which promotes and creates stories and artwork involving anthropomorphic animals, and the examination and interpretation of humanity through anthropomorphism.[14]

Film and televisionEdit

From the 1960's through the 1990's, anthropomorphism has also been involved in various animated TV shows such as "Biker Mice From Mars" and "SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron".

In the mid-2000's, a Canadian-New Zealand-American animated TV show called "Turbo Dogs" starred anthro dog characters. In 2010, a French-American animated TV show "The Mysteries of Alfred Hedgehog" was mostly consisted of woodland anthropomorphic characters. Another anthromorphic character would be Scooby Doo.

The upcoming 2011 animated Hindi remake of the 1998 film "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai": "Koochie Koochie Hota Hain" will consist of three anthropomorphic dogs (one female and two males) and the supporting cast of anthro farm animals.

See also Edit


  1. The Hawk and the Nightingale, recorded by Hesiod in his Works and Days is regarded by some as the earliest fable attributable to a literary work. See for instance Britanica. 1910. pp. 410. : "The poem also contains the earliest known fable in Greek literature"
  2. 2.0 2.1 Philostratus, Flavius (c.210 AD). The Life of Apollonius, 5.14. Translated by F.C. Conybeare. the Loeb Classical Library (1912)
  3. Kwesi Yankah (1983) (PDF). The Akan Trickster Cycle: Myth or Folktale?. Trinidad University of the West Indes. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "The top 50 children's books". The Telegraph. 22 Feb 2008. Retrieved May 12, 2010.  and Sophie Borland (22 Feb 2008). "Narnia triumphs over Harry Potter". The Telegraph. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  5. "Beatrix Potter". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 2 May 2010. : "Beatrix Potter is still one of the world's best-selling and best-loved children's authors. Potter wrote and illustrated a total of 28 books, including the 23 Tales, the 'little books' that have been translated into more than 35 languages and sold over 100 million copies."
  6. 6.0 6.1 Gamble, Nikki; Yates, Sally (2008). Exploring Children's Literature. Sage Publications Ltd;. ISBN 978-1412930130. 
  7. John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, p 621, ISBN 0-312-19869-8
  8. 100 million copies sold: BBC: Tolkien's memorabilia go on sale. 18 March 2008
  9. 150 million sold, a 2007 estimate of copies of the full story sold, whether published as one volume, three, or some other configuration.The Toronto Star 16 April 2007
  10. Rateliff, John D. (2007). The History of the Hobbit: Return to Bag-end. London: HarperCollins. p. 654. ISBN 978-0-00-723555-1. 
  11. Carpenter, Humphrey (1979). The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Their Friends. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 43. ISBN 0-395-27628-4. 
  12. It is estimated that the UK market for children's books was worth GBP 672m in 2004. The Value of the Children's Picture Book Market...
  13. Ben Myers (10 June 2008). "Why we're all animal lovers". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  14. Patten, Fred (2006). Furry! The World's Best Anthropomorphic Fiction. ibooks. pp. 427–436. ISBN 1-59687-319-1. 

External linksEdit


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