verb (used with object), verb (used without object), an·thro·po·mor·phized, an·thro·po·mor·phiz·ing. to ascribe human form or attributes to (an animal, plant, material object, etc.).
The anthropomorphization of animals in literature goes back centuries and has been used in some of the most beloved stories ever published. Most assume that the use of anthropomorphization is limited to children’s books and fairy tales. Books like Watership Down, by Richard Adams, and Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White are prime examples, as are Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Others, like George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, take a far darker turn, not necessarily meant for children but with a more adult message.
Despite the popularity of these books, the attribution of human characteristics to animals has been traditionally frowned upon by the publishing industry. Watership Down, for instance, was rejected by publishers thirteen times before it was finally published and George Orwell was told by a publisher that “it is impossible to sell animal stories in the United States.” Likewise, Martell’s Life of Pi, now a best-selling novel and the subject of a movie, was initially rejected by five publishers. Many literary agents, too, refuse to take on any works where animals are given a voice, clearly stating in their guidelines “no anthropomorphism.”
This was the history I faced when I tried selling The Elephant Gate to publishers. Neither of the publishers I had worked with in the past were a good “home” for the manuscript; Bold Strokes Books dealt primarily with erotic works, which The Elephant Gate is not, and Walrus Publishing focuses mainly on local topics. I approached a publisher whose books deal mainly with the topic of World War Two and, while I was offered words of encouragement, was told that they only published works of non-fiction.
After a few more rejection letters (a writer gets used to them), I put the manuscript aside, hoping that somebody would eventually show interest. I let The Elephant Gate gather dust for two years when, finally, I decided to self-publish the manuscript. After all, I told myself, other authors had done the same thing, sometimes with great success, and the story of Siam deserved to be told.
Self-publication is a thankless job. Without the backing of a traditional publisher I’m responsible for everything; designing the cover, proof-reading the manuscript, marketing, royalties, booking readings, creating a website…everything. Nevertheless, I’m proud of the book, even with the embarrassing typos (did I mention that I’m in charge of proof-reading?). To me, it seems a fitting tribute to the animals of the Berlin Zoo and to Siam, in particular and a statement about the stupidity of war. If my book only manages to touch one person all of my hard work will have been worth the trouble.