Anthropomorphism is defined as, “the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to a god, animal, or object”. Thoughts of a snail brought the word to mind, the particular snail being Brian, a puppet from the children’s television programme The Magic Roundabout.
Brian possessed an entire range of human characteristics as he and Dougal the dog held their conversations with Dylan the rabbit, Ermintrude the cow, and Zebedee, the jack-in-the-box. The daily human representatives were Mr McHenry, the bearded roundabout operator, and Florence, who were almost dully conventional when compared with snails and dogs exchanging witticisms, but being puppets were still anthropomorphic.
Running through the names of the characters, there seemed to be someone missing. In memory, there was another female human character. Who else was on the roundabout?
A Google search revealed her name, Rosalie. Along with Rosalie, there were Basil and Paul, the three of them making very rare appearances in the four hundred and forty-one episodes of The Magic Roundabout that were made. Without them, Florence would have gone around on the roundabout by herself.
To search for the names of forgotten puppets seems to be to take anthropomorphism to an extreme length. What did it matter if they were on the roundabout or not? What did it matter if they had names or not?
The tendency to invest animals or objects with human qualities is common throughout children’s television. There are the many cartoon series, the animations, the numerous series that featured dogs or horses. Stories of animals that behave as humans go back to ancient times and the fables of Aesop.
Anthropomorphism may mean taking a step further than just attributing human characteristics to animals or objects, it may mean imagining the feelings of the characters. Without a certain degree of empathy, the animals or objects remain animals or objects; imagining their feelings endows them with a humanity they do not possess of themselves.
Perhaps the reason why Basil, Paul and Rosalie mattered was that it was possible to endow them with thoughts and feelings. They were not centre stage, but they were content to be present in the background. They were a trio, never lonely or isolated. They had their places on the roundabout, they were secure. They were onlookers to the silliness of Dougal and Brian, retaining an aloof sense of detachment.
Of course, endowing puppets with feelings is an anthropomorphic activity, but even in childhood days there seemed something attractive in the idea of there being other characters in the background. From the perspective of half a century later, I think it was because they represented a sense of how I saw myself.