Anthropomorphism vs. Personification

Tubby the Tuba 1963

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human-like characteristics, feelings, and behaviors to non-human characters such as animals, Gods, and supernatural creatures. Anthropomorphism is a similar literary device to personification.


anthrop = human

morph = shape

Doctor Le Quack from Courage The Cowardly Dog
A view into ordinary lives 1887 Theodor Kittelsen
A view into ordinary lives 1887 Theodor Kittelsen
Pierre Probst (1913-2007) introduced Caroline And Her Friends to the French public in 1952
Pierre Probst (1913-2007) introduced Caroline And Her Friends to the French public in 1952
Postcard c. 1950s for Mainzer cats illustrator Eugen Hartung 1897-1973
Postcard c. 1950s for Mainzer cats illustrator Eugen Hartung 1897-1973

In pop culture the two terms seem to be used interchangeably. See, for instance, 10 Movies That Will Traumatise Your Child With Anthropomorphism from io9.

The Flowers Personified by French Caricaturist and illustrator (Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard), nom de plume J.J Grandville, 1847
The Flowers Personified by French Caricaturist and illustrator (Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard), nom de plume J.J Grandville, 1847

But some people like to maintain a distinction, despite the overlapping usage. I like this explanation:

Both personification and anthropomorphization assert intangible human characteristics — such as consciousness and thought — onto an inanimate object, entity or animal. The difference is that anthropomorphization imposes physical or tangible human characteristics onto the subject to suggest an embodiment of the human form.

from the forum

Personification pretends (for literary effect) to ascribe one or two human attributes (especially thoughts, feelings, intentions) to non-human things.

Anthropomorphism turns non-humans into humans completely — such as Bugs Bunny, the animals of Aesop’s fables, the three bears who chased Goldilocks, or the Uncle Remus characters.

Another way of looking at anthropomorphism is that it is actually talking about humans — but pretends that they are shaped like animals.

This is a popular device in children’s literature, fairy tales, and comic strips. One benefit is that the characters don’t have any race or gender, so all children everywhere can identify with them. [For more on that see Why So Many Animals In Picturebooks?]

from someone at Yahoo answers.
Elmer Cecil Stoner Mr Peanut
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Strat and Chatto by Jan Mark and David Hughes Analysis

Strat and Chatto is a picture book created by Jan Mark and David Hughes. Jan Mark was a British children’s book author who died about 10 years ago in 2006. She wrote for the picture book and chapter book age range. Her subject matter was mostly ordinary kids in ordinary settings. She also wrote plays and collections of short stories.


David Hughes describes himself as “a graphic designer who happens to illustrate” which sounds suspiciously to me like he’s actively avoiding the condescension experienced by creators of children’s books. The truth is, though, that he hasn’t really illustrated many picture books compared to all the other work he has done. He also writes children’s books.

His background/forte in graphic design shines through on these pages, which are all double page spreads, with the action flowing beautifully across the page. (I haven’t scanned any of the double page spreads — the hard copy is necessary to enjoy those.)

White space is preserved, and busyness minimised, with the technique of filling some objects with colour and leaving others as outlines.

Another standout feature of these illustrations are the disgustingness of the creatures. Hughes achieves this by creating skeletal, long-fingered hands, spiny tails and wavy antennae.


Strat and Chatto is a story set in London, with a strong Cockney influence coming through in the rat. This rat is an animal version of the Rag and Bone man of yesteryear — a white, working class guy who gambles, drinks and plays darts at the pub when he’s not at work.

Like any ancient city, London is in a state of constant change — out with the old, in with the new. This cycle is emulated at the micro level in this story about the rotation of animals inclined to infest urban dwellings: cockroaches, rats, silverfish and also bats.




Our viewpoint character is the put-upon cat. The cat is presented as somewhat cuter than the other characters, though lacking in drive. This is his downfall.



All Chatto wants is this one rat out of his house.


The original (off-stage) opponent may be the rat throwing lentils onto his head, but this story begins with a far stronger opponent coming along.

See here for why rats are the baddies and mice are the goodies of children’s literature.

Readers do love tricksters, and the rat is an example of that archetype.


We don’t see the rat’s plan for a while, though we’re encouraged to guess.

This part of the story is very similar to Julia Donaldson’s A Squash and a Squeeze, in that a small dwelling becomes unbearably overcrowded with creatures, upsetting the original inhabitant. Donaldson’s story is created more like a modern fable with a message about not complaining about the size of your house, but this is a purely comic tale in which the reader is invited to guess at what the wily rat is up to.

I suspect the illustrator is not a huge fan of Nana Mouskouri.
Possibly the only instance of camel toe I have seen in a children’s book.


The climax is a busy scene where all the invaders come together.

Then Strat climbed in at the cat flap and yelled, “EVERYBODY OUT!”

And out of the cat flap came the bats and the cockroaches and the silverfish.


We realise the rat’s plan. We’ve been wondering all along why he’s been moving all his friends and acquaintances into the cat’s house — it’s because he wants to move in himself, since his own house is about to be demolished.


We realise now that this is a very clever circular story. The original rat probably weasled his way into the cat’s apartment by similar means.

Notice the tails here, intertwined, but in a stranglehold.

The long, bulbous fingers which have been emphasised throughout the book are framed for attention here. Long fingers indicate a long reach, and we find them creepy. I’m sure that’s why depictions of grey aliens feature similar hands.

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Slinky Malinki by Lynley Dodd Analysis

Slinky Malinki cover

Slinky Malinki is a picture book by New Zealand author illustrator Lynley Dodd.

A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.

Old proverb


Sometimes it is difficult not to resent their apparent success, and they are good or evil according to their creator’s feelings. […] Perhaps Kipling was right, and cats are neither for nor against us, but both or neither, as they wish or feel*. As characters they have great possibilities and depths that few writers, with the possible exception of Paul Gallico, have made use of. Their long history of connection with witchcraft has suggested tales of magic cats such as Barbara Sleigh’s Carbonel, 1955, or, in a more down to earth setting, Rosemary Weir’s Pyewacket, 1967; and their urbanised versatility (dog stories are more usually about country life) is categorised unforgettably in T.S. Eliot.

Margaret Blount, Animal Land
* When creating the character of Slinky Malinki Lynley Dodd absolutely makes use of this historical duplicitousness: Slinky is one thing during the day, another thing altogether come nightfall. The werecat, in other words.

Writing in the 1970s, Blount, in the paragraph above, mentions some mid-century books I haven’t heard of. Here are their covers:

Carbonel Barbara Sleigh book covers


Jennie by Paul Gallico

Jennie is regarded as one of the best cat stories of the 20th century. It makes use of the Black Beauty formula — a modified moral tale that’s both exciting and moving. Ideology: “How would you like if if you were the poor cat and a cruel boy teased you?” As in Black Beauty, the reader is to imagine that the cat is actually a human trapped inside a cat’s body.

See also The Guardian list of Top 10 Cats In Children’s Literature. Slinky Malinki is one. Can you guess the others?


Most of the cats one knows are typecast in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, 1939. They are Gumbies, or Jellicles, Rum Tum Tuggers or Macavities or like one or other of his feline varieties: Criminal, Ole Thespian, Railway, Conjuror, Oldest Inhabitant, Pirate, or just the kind that sits about for ever. Their psychology is placed, wittily and firmly, among the humans whose lives the cats share; the only difference is one of size and shape, though even appearance is doubtful, from Growltiger, baggy at the knees, to Bustopher Jones with his well-cut trousers of impeccable black. The message is that these are cats we should be proud to know, described in verse so pleasing that it demands to be said, from the Rum Tum Tugger’s jogging perversities to Growltiger’s Kiplingesque ballad and the intricate jazz rhythms of Mungojerrie and Rumpeltazer*.

Margaret Blount, Animal Land

*For a full list of cat tropes from this book, see the entry at TV Tropes.

The Criminal Cat Trope

TV tropes calls this character type the ‘Diabolical Mastermind‘.

Lynley Dodd, too, has created a cast of cat characters which closely align to the cat characters typecast by T.S. Eliot. You’ve got Growltiger with Scarface Claw — the other main cat, and a wonderful nemesis for Hairy. Slinky Malinki is, of course, a modern Criminal, related to the Macavity (who sneaks about) and Mungojerry (who plans naughty things) from T.S. Eliot.

This is a crime story for the very young.

Criminal cats are not a fantastic invention for the sake of literature, either. The siamese breed in particular is smart, and some of them seem to have evolved a collecting instinct, much like a butcher bird.

Slinky Malinky irl

Tonkinese cats can be ‘quite obsessive’ too, and here’s one who has a penchant for male underwear. (Tonkinese are a Siamese-Burmese cross.) There must be quite a history of cats thieving, or at least lurking about looking like they’re thieving: consider the English word ‘cat-burglar’.

For a parallactic insight into the cat’s reasons for thieving from neighbours, see comedian Tom Sainsbury channel a cat, which he calls Gingerbread.


The character arc of Slinky Malinki


but at night he was wicked

Although Slinky is perfectly nice during the day, he is transformed by the ‘magic’ of night…


…by some primal instinct to hunt. But because he lives in the suburbs and not in a wild forest, his hunting ground is the domestic realm of human neighbours.


There is an unseen opponent in this story — young readers know that Slinky is not supposed to be taking those things, and that the things belong to people. For the reader, the opponents are the owners of the stolen items, who will get him into trouble if he is caught. For Slinky, his opponent is probably some unseen creature of the night. Slinky is an adrenalin junkie.


This thieving is a habitual thing rather than a once-off, so I’d say his ‘habit’ is to wait until nightfall when all the humans are asleep, then break into people’s homes and drag stolen items to a hidden place at his owners’.

Big Struggle

CRASH went the bottles,

BEE-BEEP went the clock,


went the dogs on the block.

These words are accompanied by an image of chaos — the legs of the human family members have caught him in a compromising position, tangled up all of his stolen gear. Here it looks like Slinky has been fighting with the stolen goods themselves; he is tangled up in wool and has a glove on his head. You could argue that the main opponent in this story are the alluring goods that he can’t help but steal. The items are almost personified.

Here we have a startled teddy bear face to contrast with Slinky’s malevolent eyes. The bear seems to be looking at the reader for help.

slinky malinki teddy bear


We see from his face that Slinky is feeling ashamed of himself.

This is a black and white shot from the app, but you can see the repentant look on his face.
This is a black and white shot from the app, but you can see the repentant look on his face.

New Situation

Seventeen Cats on a Ledge, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, L'Illustration magazine, March 1901
Seventeen Cats on a Ledge, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, L’Illustration magazine, March 1901

The final page: ‘NEVER again did he answer the call, when moon shadows danced over garden and wall. When whispers of wickedness stirred in his head, he adjusted his whiskers and stayed home instead.’

The image on the final page reminds me very much of the image from a now out-of-print book by Kenneth Grahame (of Wind In The Willows fame), in which Bertie the pig escapes from his sty, breaks into the farm house and eats all the Christmas goodies. He is found the following day in a state of overstuffed bliss.

Bertie's Escapade last page_700x877



More picture books than you might think start with the horror genre and modify the symbolism and tropes for little kids. Stories which manage to achieve this are surprisingly popular. Kids love happenings that take place at night — this is an opportunity for the carnivalesque. The horror genre is really great for making use of symbol, because it is one of the most highly symbolic genres (along with Westerns and sci-fi, which are less common in picture books.)

There is something reassuring about the perfect mixture of scary things and familiar: Here we have a dark, scary sky and a cat that’s ‘blacker than  black’ creeping about stealing familiar, and sometimes humorous, items.

slinky malinki milk bottles

On the front cover Slinky holds a glove in his maw. If this were a straight horror story, that glove would likely be a disembodied hand. Take as an example the 1963 movie The Crawling Hand. These days, the disembodied hand is more often seen in horror comedies, as it is here.

Bloody Knuckles 2014
Bloody Knuckles 2014


In Slinky Malinki we also have the trope of the Werebeast, which is associated with a number of subtropes. Slinky’s night-time personality shift comes with nightfall and is psychological rather than outwardly manifested.

Kinks and Curlicues

The illustrations make use of classically horrific line work, with the kink in the tail and the spindly branches on the trees. Even the native New Zealand flax seems sinister as it looks as if it might reach out and grab any passerby.

The Moon

Lynley Dodd has used the technique of connecting symbols to the setting, to great effect.

Sometimes a story is not actually magical, but something is infused with a supposed supernatural set of forces.

The moon plays a prominent role of course. First, the illustrator needs a light source, but more importantly, according to folklore (and modern hospital workers), strange things happen when there’s a full moon. In one image we even see Slinky carrying a perfectly round balloon (as well as a slipper and a sausage link), and the blood-red balloon partially obscures the moon. This makes Slinky seem as if he is at one with the moon, and like he might be carrying a moon replica in his very own mouth. The moon, we gather from this picture, is the reason for his personality transformation.

Other examples in which the moon is almost magical but not quite: Melancholia, Moonstruck, A Walk On The Moon, Once Upon A Time In The West.

Because we all know a cat or two, cat stories tend to take place at night, when cats are most active.


One day I look forward to delving in deeply to Lynley Dodd’s perfect scansion, but for now I’ll point out the following techniques, also used by T.S. Eliot:

Added Alliterative Appeal: Lots of picture book authors make use of alliterative names, but Lynley Dodd’s names would have to have some of the best mouthfeel in the biz. They’re more like Awesome McCool Names.


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The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr Analysis

The Tiger Who Came To Tea (1968) is a picture book written and illustrated by British storyteller Judith Kerr.


A tiger comes to tea. Or, a mother and daughter are at home waiting for father to get home from work. An unexpected visitor arrives. It’s a tiger. Mother invites him inside to drink tea and eat buns, but the tiger eats every morsel of food in the house, and ‘all the water from the tap’. He then leaves. When father arrives home he takes the mother and daughter to a cafe for dinner, since there is nothing to eat at home. The following day, mother and daughter buy more food at the supermarket, and a can of tiger food in case the tiger comes back. It is revealed on the final page that he never does come back.

Man Vs Pink humorously reads a deeper meaning into The Tiger Who Came To Tea:

After a bad day of parenting, who hasn’t wanted to blame the tiger for all the things you haven’t done around the house.

A Peep At The Circus
The visual gag and ridiculousness of the jungle animal arriving to drink tea was a fairly common one during the second golden age of children’s literature.


The humour in this story comes from its typically ‘picturebook world’ irony: The young reader expects the little girl to be terrified when she opens the front door only to be met with the sight of a ferocious tiger. Instead, the mother and daughter are delighted. They treat him as a guest.

The humour continues as the tiger breaks social norms by eating far more than he is offered. It is funny that he drinks all the water in the tap, since this is a technical impossibility. The irony of non-surprise is repeated when father comes home and finds no food in the house, but instead of being angry about the tiger, decides to turn the event into a special occasion, and treats mother and daughter to a trip to the cafe.

The Tiger Who Comes To Tea is therefore an example of a ‘carnivalesque’ text.  A ‘carnivalesque’ text is a kind of book form children in which the child characters interrogate the normal subject positions created for children within socially dominant ideological frames. Carnival in children’s literature:

  • is playful
  • is non-conforming
  • opposes authoritarianism and seriousness
  • is often manifested as a parody of prevailing literary forms and genres
  • often has idiomatic discourse
  • is often rich in language which mocks authority
  • often stars a hero who is a bit of a clown or a fool

When a little girl sits down to tea with her mother in 1960s England, she is being trained in ladylike behaviour. I noticed the page one illustration of Sophie shows her sitting with her legs splayed out in ladylike manner. There is nothing sexualised about this as she is wearing tights, but it’s interesting that she sits like an uncultured little girl, but only under the table, where she cannot be corrected by her mother.

Perhaps it’s significant that Judith Kerr herself only came to England at the age of ten. It’s quite possible that she found the culture of drinking tea at a table quite stifling. Let’s imagine there is another text going on in tandem, one in which Sophie sits nicely at the table with her mother, drinking tea without slurping, eating buns without dropping crumbs. In this story, the story about the tiger either happens entirely in her imagination in order to provide some childlike entertainment in a very adult tradition, or the story about the tiger is simply an illustration of how Sophie would like to behave if she were given free rein.

In picture books the climax of the story tends to happen a bit earlier than in other kinds of stories. In this case, the denouement allows the child reader to relax back into normality; we see that order has been fully restored only after all the food in the house has been replaced.


Notice how on the front cover illustration the eyes of the girl are mere dots with a line to suggest the upper eyelid, whereas the eyes of the tiger are quite a bit more detailed and human-like.

The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr cover

(The almond-shaped, comical eyes remind me quite a lot of the eyes on the zebra in the much more modern Z Is For Moose.)

The advantage to drawing child characters in basic form (dots for eyes, single lines for noses) is that the child can then stand in for ‘children in general’ rather than ‘a specific child’, and the child reader is therefore more likely to see themselves in the depiction. The fact that the eyes of the tiger who comes to tea are so human-like add to the humour that derives from his anthropomorphism: Tigers do not come to tea. Nor do tigers look human. The reader’s expectations are constantly foiled throughout this story. First we see a tiger who behaves surprisingly like a human, so we accept him as a human stand-in. He then foils our expectation by behaving badly, eating everything in sight, just as you’d expect of a wild creature.

The Tiger Who Came To Tea drinking from tap Judith Kerr
The Tiger Who Came To Tea drinking from tap Judith Kerr

Is the tiger the mother? Or is the tiger Sophie? I argue that the tiger is both. The cover depicts Sophie with the tiger, whereas page one depicts Sophie with the mother, suggesting the tiger is the mother. But the carnivalesque tradition of picture books suggests that this wild animal is a fantasy that Sophie herself would like to embody: drinking tea from the spout, gobbling as much food as she would like to eat.

Notice too, that while the tiger is present, she breaks a few tea-time traditions by standing on her chair to offer the tiger some buns, with the chair-cushion pushed onto the floor. Sophie looks adoringly at the tiger as he rummages through the pantry cupboard. Meanwhile, the tiger smiles knowingly at the child reader; the reader knows very well that the tiger is up to mischief, and children are encouraged to revel in his bucking against social norms.

Sophie smiles at the reader on a later page when it’s discovered she can’t have a (dreaded?) bath; the tiger has drunk all the water from the tap. Sophie continues to buck social norms a little when she wears a coat over top of a nightgown with gumboots to a cafe.

The excitement of being out at night is evoked with a double spread full of colour and a dark blue that contrasts with the white space of the previous pages. Notice also, the cat. This is a cat with stripy, tiger-like markings.

Sophie and her parents have just walked past it. Has Sophie perhaps seen this cat before on her outings, and been inspired by him? The cat has certainly been positioned on the page so that the reader will notice him; he is flanked by the family and a man in a coat heading the other way, hunched over and not noticing anything. The posture of this man seems to say: Are you like this man, or are you noticing, really noticing, the illustrations?

night scene
So they went out in the dark, and all the street lamps were lit, and all the cars had their lights on, and they walked down the road to a cafe.

In a more literal reading of the story, this cat (with its knowing smile and off-page gaze) is that this cat is the tiger in disguise, and that he’s off to make mischief at someone else’s house… perhaps yours!


Between 28 and 32 pages, depending on the various publishers

499 words

First published in 1968, the family dynamics are typical for this era of England: Mother is a housewife who is concerned about preparing Daddy’s dinner. This is a story in which the female members of a family are shut inside. It is the father who leads them into the outside world by ‘taking them’ to a cafe. Notice how the mother is surprisingly small in stature next to the father, perspective aside. The mother as well as Sophie have been involved in this imaginary tale — both can be seen as children for this one afternoon:

The Tiger Who Came To Tea Dad

This was Judith Kerr’s first book. She followed The Tiger Who Came To Tea with the hugely popular Mog series, about a pet cat rather than a tiger.

The Englishness of this story is apparent from the title. (Tea.) The parents are called ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’. Regular visitors to the door are the milkman and the grocer boy on his bike. Everyone is still wearing a hat when venturing outside.

Here is an earlier, Picture Lions version of a cover, this time showing the mother as well as Sophie and her tiger:

The Tiger Who Came To Tea has also been adapted into a stage play for children.


This story reminds me of Gorilla by Anthony Browne. In both of these stories, a child imagines (though the imagining isn’t mentioned) a wild animal who comes to the house because the father is not there as a protective figure. The loneliness of Hannah is far more pronounced than the simple playfulness of Sophie. The Tiger Who Comes To Tea is a warm story, in which everything that happens is good; even the tiger’s mischief is great fun for Sophie to watch.

Another childhood classic in which a cat comes to the door is and makes mischief, of course, the famous Cat In The Hat. The Tiger Who Came To Tea is more similar in tone to that of Dr Seuss than to Gorilla. First published in 1957, it’s likely Judith Kerr was influenced by the Dr Seuss classic.

Then there is Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, in which Max leaves his bedroom to visit monsters in their own environment. This story is perhaps more similar to Gorilla in that the internal conflict of the child protagonist is resolved by the invention of a wild creature.

Perhaps the most similar to The Tiger Who Came To Tea, however, is May I Bring A Friend, a carnivalesque tea time adventure from 1964.

May I Bring A Friend book
Kate Greenaway Marigold Garden The Cats Have Come To Tea
Kate Greenaway Marigold Garden The Cats Have Come To Tea


If a child encountered a wild animal what would the wild animal naturally do? Now, what’s the inverse of that? How might this wild animal slip up and down the scale of anthropomorphism in order to surprise and delight young readers?

from St Nicholas Magazine for boys and girls 1938 September


The Tiger who Came to Tea: Owp! from We Read It Like This

Tigers and other big cats in illustration

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Literary Cats

“I meant,” said Ipslore bitterly, “what is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?”
Death thought about it.
‘CATS, he said eventually. CATS ARE NICE!’

Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

The Tiger’s Bride by Angela Carter Short Story Analysis

“The Tiger’s Bride” is a short story in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber collection.

Marina Warner writes of stories in The Bloody Chamber, published during the post-war feminist movement which largely denounced fairytales and everything they stood for:

[Carter] refused to join in rejecting or denouncing fairy tales, but instead embraced the whole stigmatised genre, its stock characters and well-known plots, and with wonderful verve and invention, perverse grace and wicked fun, soaked them in a new fiery liquor that brought them leaping back to life.


In this inversion of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty ends up transformed into a fabulous Beast. Carter’s story is quite different from the original literary tale by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, but readers will recognise it quickly because we still have Beauty, The Beast, the rose, the father who gives her away (gambles her away at cards) and the castle.


Having just moved from Petersburgh, Russia to a small, unnamed town in Italy, everyone who arrives must play a hand of cards with the grand seigneur (a great lord or nobleman — here, the Beast), though Beauty and her father’s Italian is not good enough to fully understand the repercussions of doing so.


Much is established early, in a single sentence:

There’s a special madness strikes travellers from the North when they reach the lovely land where the lemon trees grow.  

There’s something about a story that opens in a bright, sunlit environment with bountiful food. We just know something bad is going to happen there. Happy family road trips which start with everyone singing along to the radio are a sure sign in horror films that all is not well.


This is a melancholy, introspective region; a sunless, featureless landscape, the sullen river sweating fog, the shorn, hunkering willows. And a cruel city; the sombre piazza, a place uniquely suited to public executions, under the heeding shadow of that malign barn of a church.

This story, along with the others in this collection, is set in traditional fairytale territory, in castles sans electricity, with forests and tundras and attics and dark basements:

The candles dropped hot, acrid gouts of wax on my bare shoulders.

The chill damp of this place creeps into the stones, into your bones, into the spongy pith of the lungs (milord’s castle is an oasis of chill even though the Italian climate is sunny – The treacherous South, where you think there is no winter but forget you take it with you.)


This is an ancient world in which transmogrification is a thing. In our world, there are no magic mirrors, but when Beauty looks into a mirror she sees not her own face but the face of her father. When the Beast cries his tears turn into teardrop earrings.



Like the nubile protagonist in The Company Of Wolves, Beauty has agency and thinks for herself. She has since early childhood:

My English nurse once told me about a tiger-man she saw in London, when she was a little girl, to scare me into good behaviour, for I was a wild wee thing and she could not tame me into submission with a frown or the bribe of a spoonful of jam.

By the time Beauty is adolescent, she understands people and describes her father as ‘profligate’. Even for the times, this Italian village is 200 years behind. Beauty has chosen it because her father is a gambler and this place has no casino. So Beauty make the most of her own agency, thinking things through. She is certainly more than just beauty. There is nothing less satisfying in a story than good-looking female characters who make stupid decisions. (See many B-grade horror films for examples, the kind where you find yourself yelling, ‘Don’t go in there!’ at the screen.) Beauty acknowledges her own good looks but recognises them for what they are:

Since I could toddle, always the pretty one, with my glossy, nut-brown curls, my rosy cheeks…My mother did not blossom long; bartered for her dowry to such a feckless sprig of the Russian nobility that she soon died of his gaming, his whoring, his agonizing repentances. … For now my own skin was my sole capital in the world and today I’d make my first investment.

Unlike many traditional fairytale girls, she is not the epitome of feminine grace:

I let out a raucous guffaw; no young lady laughs like that! my old nurse used to remonstrate.

(Nor is she the ‘tomboy’ trope we see more recently in stories such as Brave, in which Merida is an expert markswoman.)


The Beast (milord, the grand seigneur) has an unpleasant aroma about him:

My senses were increasingly troubled by the fuddling perfume of Milord, far too potent a reek of purplish civet at such close quarters in so small a room. He must bathe himself in scent, soak his shirts and underlinen in it; what can he smell of, that needs so much camouflage?

As in the original tale, the Beast is a recluse, shunned from polite society:

The Beast bought solitude, not luxury, with his money.

In his rarely disturbed privacy, The Beast wears a garment of Ottoman design, a loose, dull purple gown with gold embroidery round the neck that falls from his shoulders to conceal his feet.

The most terrifying aspect of the Beast’s description, for me, is the uncanny mask and wig:

only from a distance would you think The Beast not much different from any other man, although he wears a mask with a man’s face painted most beautifully on it. Oh, yes, a beautiful face; but one with too much formal symmetry of feature to be entirely human: one profile of his mask is the mirror image of the other, too perfect, uncanny. He wears a wig, too, false hair tied at the nape with a bow, a wig of the kind you see in old-fashioned portraits.

(See Uncanny Valley.) Creatures who look human, but not quite, are the most terrifying of all, and explains why humans have traditionally had more trouble developing empathy for apes than other fluffy creatures such as dogs and cats, who are very little like us. The automaton servants of this story are another version of uncanny.

…a strange, thin, quick little man who walked with an irregular, jolting rhythm upon splayed feet in curious, wedge-shaped shoes.



It’s interesting that the simulacrum maid resembles Beauty:

This clockwork twin of mine halted before me, her bowels churning out a settecento minuet, and offered me the bold carnation of her smile. 

Note that the machine smiles even though Beauty cannot. And the maid offers Beauty her very own riding costume that she left back in Petersburg. What are we to make of this resemblance? That Beauty is not happy in her human form, perhaps. That she feels like a shell of a twin compared to the happy being she might be. The story points towards Beauty’s transformation being the thing that allows her to achieve happiness. This is all made clear eventually, with:

That clockwork girl who powdered my cheeks for me; had I not been allotted only the same kind of imitative life amongst men that the doll-maker had given her?


Significantly, Beauty is only asked to stand naked, but offers her lower half for penetration. (That he should want so little was the reason why I could not give it.) When she looks in the mirror (which may be magic or not) she sees the face of her father; she is channelling her father in order to get the transaction over with. But by the end of the story, her father has been forgotten. She is no longer under contract to be beautiful in order to get him out of debt; she has reclaimed her own baser instincts, turning literally into a beast.

I wished I’d rolled in the hay with every lad on my father’s farm, to disqualify myself from this humiliating bargain.

It becomes clear why Beauty feels so uncomfortable naked that penetration to her feels like a lesser thing:

I felt as much atrocious pain as if I was stripping off my own underpelt.


Apart from standing in as a lifeless version of Beauty, the maid simulacrum expresses thoughts about the sexual objectification of women:

…the smiling girl stood poised in the oblivion of her balked simulation of life, watching me peel down to the cold, white meat of contract and, if she did not see me, then so much more like the market place, where the eyes that watch you take no account of your existence.

And it seemed my entire life, since I had left the North, had passed under the indifferent gaze of eyes like hers.



The Beast’s castle is a world in itself but a dead one, a burned-out planet. 

The cold is important to this story, especially because Italy is not traditionally cold. Beauty and her father have ‘brought the cold with them’. In other words they have brought the unhappiness of their life in Russia with them, with the father unable to escape his gambling addiction in a village which insists newcomers gamble.

The first-time reader is unprepared for the inversion at the end, though on re-reading we’ll notice that Beauty is more at home with horses than people (and certainly more than ‘fake’ people):

I had always held a little towards Gulliver’s opinion, that horses are better than we are, and, that day, I would have been glad to depart with him to the kingdom of horses, if I’d been given the chance.

As the story draws to an end, the cold morphs slightly — still cold, there is brightness with it — a glimmer of hope:

Cold, that morning, yet dazzling with the sharp winter sunlight that wounds the retina.


She describes the horses in human terms:

An equine chorus of neighings and soft drummings of hooves broke out

Her own feet ‘clop‘ on the marble as she is lead up the stairs. This affinity for animals points to the likelihood of Beauty’s happiness as a she-Beast, with a half-man-half-beast who himself shares a dining room with horses. She describes the horses as ‘beasts in bondage’, as she herself is a daughter in bondage. The foreshadowing gets more and more obvious as the story progresses. Finally:

I always adored horses, noblest of creatures, such wounded sensitivity in their wise eyes, such rational restraint of energy at their high-strung hindquarters. I lirruped and hurrumphed to my shining black companion and he acknowledged my greeting with a kiss on the forehead from his soft lips.

She is, of course, about to kiss another kind of beast.


There are ancient turns of phrase scattered throughout the text:

My tear-beslobbered father

mutilated stumps of the willows flourished their ciliate heads athwart frozen ditches

‘Tantivy! tantivy! a-hunting we will go!’ (‘Tantivy’ is used as a hunting cry.)

Disturbing phrases:

The valet has the innocent cunning of an ancient baby – an excellent way of describing something uncanny, since ‘baby’ and ‘ancient’ don’t go together at all.


More than in many retellings of Beauty and the Beast, the reader is treated to a detailed description of the Beast, with details dripfed to us slowly. And sometimes we are offered animal symbolism indirectly, here through his chair:

The feet of the chair he sits in are handsomely clawed.


Written in past-tense in first person point of view.

Found in the short story collection The Bloody Chamber published 1979

The Tiger's Tale can be found in The Bloody Chamber and Other Adult Tales

7700 words


Can you think of a popular modern children’s film that inverts a classic fairytale trope, with the Beauty ending up looking like the Beast?

I’m no fan of Shrek, though the gags are good when taken out of the context of story. Puss in Boots is great. But the message seems to be ‘Know your level’. Inversion is not subversion; in a subversion of the trope, the beautiful Fiona would have married the ugly Shrek, or better still, a handsome prince would have married (or lived in sin with) an ugly princess or pauper and they would have lived happily ever after despite their beauty differential. Instead, we’re told that we belong with people who are just as ugly/beautiful as we are. If they can’t both be beautiful, they must both become ugly. (This eclipses anything else about being ‘beautiful on the inside’, in my opinion.)


This is why it’s so hard to write a good modern fairytale. By simply inverting, are you really fixing anything up? What would true subversion look like in your favourite childhood tales?


Fight clubs aren’t real, you aren’t in one. (The less flippant thing I have to say is that the horror of the human body is a deeply important and nearly inexhaustible topic for literature, but it is close to impossible to find a white, male, famous writer whose writing on this subject is anything but a thinly disguised demonstration of violent misogyny, and maybe you should read Angela Carter or Carmen Maria Machado instead.)

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Lemon girl young adult novella


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Scarface Claw by Lynley Dodd Picture Book Analysis

Scarface Claw is a wonderful animal villain.

Honestly, for a close-reading I could have picked any of Lynley Dodd’s Slinky Malinki series (or from the even-better-known Hairy Maclary series set in the same world). I find it impossible to pick a favourite. But if I have a favourite character, it is probably a tie between Slinky Malinki and Scarface Claw. Although I grew up in New Zealand I’m a little too old to have grown up with them. Still, I have collected the entire series and enjoy reading them to my daughter, over and over again. Every New Zealander who has ever read a picture book will be familiar with these animals. Teachers will be able to name all of them. If there’s an archetypal New Zealand picture book series, this is it. For a read-along experience, Penguin has partnered with Kiwa Media and turned some of the Hairy Maclary books into apps. While not created from the ground up for a touch screen, the app versions do offer word highlighting, which can be useful to an emergent reader perhaps.


Most readers will already know from previous books that Scarface Claw is ‘the toughest tom in town’, introduced thus in Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy. This book focuses specifically on his toughness, presenting a range of scary scenarios that are not the least bit daunting to Scarface Claw. Finally the reader finds out that there is ONE little thing Scarface Claw is scared of **SPOILER ALERT**: Scarface is scared of his own reflection.

Scarface Looks Into The Mirror


The most amazing thing about Lynley Dodd’s books how nice they are to read aloud, over and over and over again. Actually, I think the weakest in this regard is the first and most famous Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy. I’ll admit I sometimes get ever-so-slightly tired of the repetition of that, which may be as much a comment on how many times I have been called upon to read it aloud. Hairy Maclary is a book which builds on itself, which is excellent for child literacy and speech development and so on, but taxing on an adult reader. For a repetitious book, Hairy Maclary is still excellent. But it is in the subsequent books that Lynley Dodd’s poetic language really shines. To borrow from culinary-world, the mouthfeel is wonderful. It’s all to do with the scansion.

Font is also important. The reader is given clues on how to read with use of all caps:

is the roughest
and toughest
of cats?

The boldest,
the bravest,
the fiercest of cats?

Wicked of eye
and fiendish of paw
is mighty,


The poetry has a distinctive meter, and if you tap the rhythm on the table you’ll see how scary it sounds, sort of like the narrative poems of yore, a la The Highway Man (though this is different again).

Something that may pass unnoticed until it is pointed out is that the animals do not talk. There are many picture books about animals, which I would divide into two distinct types: First are the anthropomorphised animals who are human stand-ins. This is of another kind, in which the animals are actual animals, thinking and behaving as humans expect animals might. This requires a good understanding of animal behaviour, and it’s clear Lynley Dodd has a history of living with pets.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to complexity of vocabulary for young readers, and apparently Lynley Dodd’s work has sometimes been criticised for including words beyond the comprehension of her audience. Another school of thought believes that children should be exposed to vocabulary beyond their comprehension; this is exactly how they learn. I fall into the second camp, and I doubt Dodd would have achieved such perfect rhythm and meter if she had limited herself to words from a children’s dictionary. In the end, does it matter if children don’t know the exact meaning of some words? The illustrations and the language are more than enough to compensate.


As with pretty much every picturebook, a lot of the story’s success rests upon the facial expressions of the characters — or animals.

Who needs talking animals, when so much language is exchanged in the eyes?

Booksellers New Zealand Blog

In this particular story, even the scary black spiders have big, expressive eyes. As for Scarface Claw himself, this is not a truly scary creature — few creatures really are in picture books, which are often read right before bedtime. The young reader is instead encouraged to laugh at Scarface, and also to emphasise with him; children will be familiar with the feeling of being scared of some things and content about others. Here, the contentedness of Scarface is achieved via the closed eyes. Plus, isn’t it always funny to see a cat licking his leg? There’s something graceful and private about it, and when the reader sees Scarface in a more vulnerable moment, empathy is encouraged.

scarface claw content licking leg
Scarface Licks His Leg

The real gem illustration occurs on the penultimate page. After seeing Scarface in a variety of relaxed poses (and scary ones, in previous books) the reader sees for the first time Scarface looking both terrified and adorable. He now has big eyes and flat ears. I accidentally skipped this page when reading to my daughter, who realised a page had been missed. She knew the word that went with it, too. “Where’s the page with EXCEPT…?’ she asked. This was an interesting exercise, borne of nothing more than two pages being stuck together, because I realised just how important this penultimate page was to the story, which could have worked without it, but wasn’t nearly so good.

Another technique Lynley Dodd uses in a number of her books is an intriguing object only just visible on the page — it’s usually someone’s tail, propelling the reader forward to the next page, where fans will know exactly whose tail it is; the next page need only confirm it. In this book, the reader sees Scarface Claw’s tail dangling down from the wall. On the following spread we see Scarface himself, in repose:

Scarface Relaxes Fencetop

The technique isn’t limited to tails — the reader sees the leg of the oh-so-vital mirror before seeing the mirror itself, a good three pages later. So this technique doesn’t necessarily need to be used on consecutive pages, but can foreshadow well in advance.

To go with the ominous rhythm, horror elements have been included judiciously into the illustrations. The picture of Scarface Claw at night outside in a lightning storm features trees with curved, finger-like branches which I have since learnt to associate with Tim Burton. But overall, the book’s scariness is tempered by insertions of comedy. The dogs are supremely comical with their ‘lolloping and leaping’, and their tongues hanging out, with Hairy Maclary grinning like a muppet.


This is one of Lynley Dodd’s later books, first published in 2001 by Puffin. Dodd has said that it takes her a year to write and illustrate each book. My softback edition places the colophon at the back of the book. The back side of the front cover very cleverly doubles as both a promotional poster for other books in the series and a checklist of cats which my daughter loves to name before the story begins. As far as she’s concerned, it’s a part of the story.

slinki malinki and friends
Slinky Malinki And Friends, inside the front cover

This story leaves a big impression at only 160 words.


Scarface Claw may have been inspired (consciously or not) by the American Little Golden Book classic The Large and Growly Bear. Like Scarface Claw, the Large and Growly Bear is an outwardly fierce creature who takes great delight in scaring the creatures around him. The climax is that he is scared of his own reflection in a pond. I expect this plot comes from something even older — probably a folk or fairy tale. I simply haven’t found it yet.

Some people are terrified of mirrors, mostly because of superstitions related to reflections and the dead. This fear is called spectrophobia.

For an example of a picture book that is written around the technique of ‘tails first then turn the page’ (or whatever it’s actually called) see the Australian classic I Went Walking, which doubles as a book for toddlers as well as an early reader for slightly older children.

I Went Walking Written by Sue Williams Illustrated by Julie Vivas
I Went Walking Written by Sue Williams Illustrated by Julie Vivas
I Went Walking Tails First

When a character is scared of something a child doesn’t find scary, this is a sure source of humour for a child, and is utilised by other writers, too. In series one, episode eleven of Lake Campbottom, the character of Gretchen fails to be frightened of all sorts of nasty things, but is then terrified of a cute chipmunk with big eyes.

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