Half of an Elephant, 2004 in Mexico, 2006 in USA


I just happened upon a book called Half of an Elephant. It’s a frank story, sincere without being sentimental. I like these things. And I like this book. It goes like this: one night, the world suddenly splits in half. An elephant awakens to find himself also split in two, and now the other half of himself is missing. The front end and back end of this elephant are our heroes, and we follow each as they begin their journeys to look for one another. As I was reading the book, I thought to myself, I know this story. I’ve heard it somewhere before…

Remember Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a rock musical from 2001? Well, it’s got this one song– “The Origin of Love”— that lays out a vague Greek myth. When the gods first made people, they were barrels with four arms, four legs, and a face on each side of their head. In essence, two people joined at the back. Some two men, some two women, and some one of each. But the gods grew angry at the strength and defiance of these people and split them in half to make them weaker. The result: since that moment of separation, all people have been doomed to forever be in search of their other half. Sound familiar?

theMythOfAristophanesPicture by Dr Tom Stockmann

But it goes even deeper. The real origin of this story comes from a speech made by Aristophanes and recorded in Plato’s Symposium (dating around 385 BC). “Origin of Love” basically preserves the original story (perhaps with less glitter and ethnic vagaries), but the two seem to differ a bit in their focus. They both make a solid case for homosexual love, one of the main reasons Hedwig uses it. But while Aristophanes version is a bit of a Just So Story– it explains how humans came to have sex as they do and to procreate as they do– Hedwig uses the tale to justify love and soul mates. Brings in the feelings and the romance and the candle light.

Now bring it back to Half of an Elephant. Just think of a ladder, interpretation upon interpretation upon interpretation… It’s another tale of halves searching for one another. But, as all reinterpretations do, this story decides to find it’s moral in a modern definition of what it means to be whole, what it means to be happy in love. In their search, the elephants try on other animal halves (turns out all the animals were split in the night), TheyWereAllMissingTheirOtherHalvesthey pine for the rest of themselves, and they cannot find peace without their other half. But then, eventually the elephant halves both learn to like themselves in their altered, singular way. They see the bright sides of their singularity. And independence is born. Soul mates and their predetermined fate are disregarded. And, bam, it’s a modern day ideal of what it means to be in love: choice and independence!


At the end of the book the world miraculously becomes whole again in the night, and the elephants find one another. But now they have discovered their modern selves. They decide to be together, but “not THAT together”. The final image is of the trunk holding the tail, walking together but separate, being both two and one at the same time. Would you expect a kids book to tackle what one should shoot for in a relationship? Not really… but props to this one for jumping into the dialogue and doing it. Even if unintentionally…

(Interesting note.  It was first published in Spanish, in Mexico…)

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