This is a love story venue in anthropomorphism; a means to humanize animals, not to be confused with inanimate personification. The cosmic black hole tugging impetuses to engage in literary metamorphosis of imbuing non sentient animals with human attributes are manifold. Then, there is, a clique of us, biologist, with fertile minds willing to empirically explore plausible scientific mechanisms to explicate these fantasies of anatomical amalgams. As the author of Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White, has written, “all writing is both a mask and an unveiling.” Let us with scalpel in hand; liberate the mask from anthropomorphism and ultimately, the allegory of this intimate animation.
Why and when is anthropomorphism appropriate? The biologist with erudite filters of objectivity implementing the scientific method, which obviates tendentiousness with the regimented formulary of hypothesizing, experimenting, and quantifying subject/s of interest; will demur that animals share comparable cognitive, social, emotional virtues. However, capitulating to empathy and elucidation, some scientists objectively falter: Renowned primatologist and ethnologist, Frans de Waal writes, “To endow animals with human emotions has long been a scientific taboo. But if we do not, we risk missing something fundamental, about both animals and us.” Even the apotheosis naturalist, Charles Darwin, coddled naïve anthropomorphism with the annotation, “Even insects play together, as has been described by that excellent observer, P. Huber, who saw ants chasing and pretending to bite each other, like so many puppies.” There is a controversial hypothesis however, that plausibly could produce anthropomorphic chimeras, and it is called Hybridogenesis, conceived by Donald Williamson, British planktonologist and carcinologist. This Frankensteinan feat is specific to organism with external fertilization or male gamete dispersal, where the genome contribution of one distant animal would control the development of the planktonic larval anatomical stages and the co- contributor of genetic material would coordinate the development of the adult anatomical structures: voila, comingling attributes.
Regardless of whether science can empirically fortify demonstrable substantiation, the boundaries in the world of literature are predicated on the limits of the imagination. Recognizing the profound power of anthropomorphism as a literary implement that is inextricably tethered to storytelling with antediluvian roots, one’s search for its inception could lead to The Holy Scripture for the genesis. It is in the chapter of Genesis that the snake receives its anthropomorphic ignoble reputation:
Genesis 3: 1-14 …And the women said unto the serpent, we may eat of the fruit of the trees
of the garden…And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And
the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat…And the Lord God said unto the
serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above every beast of the field; upon thy
belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life..
The inerrant sacred text makes mention also of the willful, obstinate, and strength of the unicorn, Job 39: 9-12, which fortuitously, inertia free, segues into the other literary genres of fairy tales and fables. All the ancient cultures, Egyptians, Greeks and Roman employed this literary tool to teach life lessons, which are to include the dusty tomes: Aesop’s Fable (6th century BC, Greece), The Tale of Two Brothers (13th century BC, Egypt), and Cupid and Psyche (2nd Century AD, Rome).
In a stowaway capacity, we could hitch a ride with the time traveler of H.G. Wells, The Time Machine leaving the catacombs of the ancients to return to the Victorian era, my favorite time period of History for anthropomorphism and other iconic figures: Charles Darwin. In the 19th & 20th century children’s books were coming into their own right utilizing the paved roads of fables and fairy tales. These page worn classics are: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland (1865), Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1894), Helen Beatrix Potter, illustrator, mycologist, conservations, and author of a series of stories of Peter Rabbit (1901…), Charlotte’s Web (1952) E. B. White, and a/the political satire, Animal Farm (1945) by George Orwell. This anthropomorphic motif has continued up to present with books such as Mary Manatee, Sammy Shrimp, and Harry Horseshoe Crab by Suzanne Tate—and now, contemporaneous to this list The Porcupine Dilemma, which has adult tones and the Aesop Fable’s poignant mores.
It is hard to imagine two porcupines as cuddly and romantic; but, paradoxically as it may be, Nick and Zelda are smitten with each other. There love story is Shakespearean in flavor without the dire consequences; but, physical desires are ironically abated. Nick frustrated and despaired inadvertently consults friend and stranger alike for guidance. We meet characters such as Geoff, the giraffe, married to a cat who he met in a tree, who is a patient and friend with chronic neck ailments requiring the services of Nick, his acupuncture therapist; and Poe, the bird, I envision a Raven for the obvious reason, is a factory worker who stuffs pillows with his own feathers, and is a melancholic chain smoker who readily dispenses with advice. The story hums with Nick and Zelda circumventing discussions of their forlorn predicament; but, failed to address the elephant in the room. The new up and coming author, Hostetter, enlist his trenchant wit deploying a ruse to counter the millennial old anathema of unrequited lust. Hostetter puts under the microscope the sacrificial toll repleting human love; its transformation is as stark and astonishing as the metamorphosis of the sea squirt from its tadpole-like larval stage to its adult hallow flask form tethered to the ocean floor’s substrate.