The Elephant Keeper’s main human character is Tom Page, a stable boy turned elephant expert in 18th century England. Tom’s story starts with the arrival of two half-dead baby elephants on a boat returning from India. Tom grows up with the elephants on a village estate and becomes the only person able or willing to understand the mighty beasties.
As the Fates (in the form of increasingly nasty people) try to manipulate and abuse the elephants for various reasons, from ivory farms to 18th century rapemobiles, Tom ties his own fate ever tighter to the lady elephant, Jenny. Jenny is the true star of the novel and Nicholson writes her with quiet, noble humor. Of all the characters in the book, Jenny is the only one you would wish as a friend. She’s portrayed so lovingly it becomes totally believable that Tom would sacrifice human interaction to stay by her side.
Tom himself is a bit of a washout, Jenny really deserves better. Nicholson’s depiction of Tom is of a man not quite gullible enough to be a lovable naif but too dumb to be an appealing hero. Still, Tom does his best to keep Jenny safe, and considering the sad end most menagerie animals faced during the 1700s, and even today, the story would have been far shorter had the elephant been without a keeper.
Filed under Fiction, Review
Natures is not a loving mother. Nature wants to eat you. Eat you or lay eggs in you, or lay eggs in you and then let the eggs hatch and eat you. Nature is powerful and overwhelming, and at the very least, Nature should be thought of like Lenny from Mice and Men; liable to kill you accidentally and not even notice.
People are always wandering off in to Nature and coming to grief, and at first glance, that is the case of Chris McCandless in Into the Wild. Actually, at second glance too, that’s pretty much what happened, but the story surrounding Chris’ misadventure is more interesting than simply “Doofus Dies through own Foolishness” (the preferred title of my own biography; take note, friends. Clearly, one of you will be responsible for writing it).
Chris himself is not terrible fascinating (except to the author, who seems fairly smitten). He’s got unfair and impossible ideas about how other people should live their lives, and like many people who claim a strong moral path, he leaves a trail of broken hearts and worry behind him. What is fascinating is how the story brings up ideas of personal freedom, “healthy” social interaction and the human relationship to wilderness (Is it there to be conquered? To teach us humility? Does it exist just so bears stay out of our swimming pools?)
Chris McCandless doesn’t have a unique story and Krakauer discusses the history of men being eaten by Nature. Everett Ruess, who regularly ventured off in to untamed wild to escape the corruption and overwhelming civilization of city life also disappeared and was never seen again. What’s startling about this particular narrative is that Ruess was trying to escape the overly structured life of society of the West in the 1930’s! What would he have thought of today with our traffic cameras and state-fair-no-lard regulations?
Krakauer wrote Into the Wild as a follow-up to a magazine article published after McCandless’ death. He shares some of the letters he received from magazine readers expressing surprising hatred towards Chris and others like him. Why do we as a people get so enraged by other people’s tragic mistakes? Is it jealousy of those who follow a dream? Fear of them that seem to have no need for the society which both binds and supports the majority of us? Perhaps it’s resentment of someone who willingly endangers their life, when we have all had to say goodbye to someone beloved who left this world unwilling.
I apologize for a review made mostly of questions, but in the end, Into the Wild leaves more unanswered than solved. What drives us to try to live as cavemen, or to climb mountains made of pointy ice? Perhaps more importantly, do bears write books detailing the tragic stories of cubs who simply couldn’t resist the call of human trash cans and picnic baskets?