Thursday, March 15, 2007

Faithful Elephants

Sorry about the lack of posts. I’ve been editing and fixing up our big book release (Non-Coloring Book, available April 6th at the Godfrey Daniels Show- go here for details and to reserve your ticket go now do it do it) so the writing portion of my brain has been showing the “occupied” sign, much like an engaged toilet on an airplane.

Podcasts are up here, and I think they’ve been going OK. This week’s show featured a big chunk of the Q&A from the Wired Gallery gig, so if you’ve never experienced THAT, you can podcast yourself into Geologic oblivion.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Did you ever read or hear of the book Faithful Elephants? I read a story in TIME magazine about some zoos in the US that are relocating their elephants to larger more humane holding areas, and for SOME reason I was reminded of this book that my Mom read to me when I was a kid. I think I must have been six or seven years old when she read me this “children’s” book at bedtime. I say “children’s" because from my recollection it was a pretty heave subject.

Faithful Elephants is a beautifully illustrated (via watercolor) picture book that apparently is based on a true story. During World War II, a zoo in Japan was forced to kill off all of their animals, because they were unable to care for them- and they were worried that allied bombs could destroy some holding areas and release these animals into the city, causing havoc. All of the zoo’s animal residents were humanely killed, except for their three elephants. The staff tried to poison them , but they wouldn’t eat their poisoned food. They tried to inject them with something that would put them to sleep, but the needles couldn’t puncture their tough skin. The staff painfully realized that their only option was to kill these creatures by starving them.

The book then goes through the process where these elephants get weaker and weaker, until they finally die. I haven’t seen this book in 30 years, but I can distinctly remember these VIVID watercolors showing the skin hanging off of these poor creatures. At one point in the story, the three barley living elephants, in an effort to receive a food reward, perform their signature “trick”, which is standing on their hind legs. The elephant keeper is so overcome that he can’t stand it anymore and he throws food at them. “Eat eat!” he yells, and he looks up into the sky and shouts at some allied planes flying overhead. “Stop the war! Stop ALL wars!” he screams.

I can remember being REALLY confused as a kid. I asked my Mom why Americans would drop bombs on poor animals, and I think she tried to explain that in war there are a lot of awful things that happen, and most of them are very unfair. After reading this I was upset, and sad, and angry, and scared, just plain old CONFUSED. I DON’T remember wishing that I hadn’t heard the story though. I was glad that my Mom read this to me, and I think being exposed to something this REAL and inherently SHADED with meaning very easily set up the brain pathways that would influence the way I think.

Looking back I’m quite surprised that my folks would have read this, but I am SO GLAD they did. It obviously has stayed with me, and (again) I haven’t seen this book or even really consciously thought about it since that night- but the effect it’s had on me is undeniable.

Is the book an anti-war tome that says we should never have to sacrifice the innocent? Or is it the complete opposite and is trying to show that in life there are sometimes incredibly difficult choices that need to be made? I don’t know. Maybe a little of both. The book begins with a boy looking at a plaque that speaks about the three elephants, and wondering what their story is. He’s told the tale by an old worker, and then the story ends with this boy still in the zoo looking at the current animal residents including some elephants. I guess this shows that life does somehow go on…

Having just read an AMAZING interview with Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan’s widow) in the newest issue of Skeptic, I was struck by her comments that we need to be HONEST with our kids. Being honest includes being honest about death, and being honest about the randomness and unfairness of a lot of life. She made the point that kids are often much more resilient and CURIOUS than we give them credit. Reading a book like Faithful Elephants to a child could be a very difficult, even scary proposition- but ultimately I think it would provide an incredible opportunity to honestly expose and share with a child what everyone (on SOME level, at SOME point in life) has to go through.

Faithful Elephants by Yukio Tsuchiya- check it out.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

That being said- This Sunday I have to do a 30 minute presentation to kids (in Ukrainian!) about music. Wish me luck.


John said...

Honest with kids. Got one, working on it.

Value systems can sneak up on you, and leave you staring in shock at something you were about to say, that'd been taken on faith until you pointed the barrel of that gun at your progeny, right?

Sounds like your godfathering anecdote on the podcast, George, and it's one of the reasons the damn thing's a regular dose of sanity in thought and insanity in humor and -well- you-ness.

Thanks for the lead on 'Faithful Elephants', got to find that.

George Hrab said...

Thanks John- I love that phrase- "sanity in thought and insanity in humor"... I'll have to use that in my promo materials.

Thanks for reading- and listening!