The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo


Happy Birthday Kate DiCamillo! I discovered Kate DiCamillo a couple of years ago and I have fallen in love with her work and with her words. A couple of DiCamillo’s books have been made into films, the first being Because of Winn-Dixie, the other The Tale of Desperaux; great books, but both of which I offer the ‘Better Than the Movie‘ guy.

Now, I have gushed in the past about DiCamillo’s skills as a writer, I think so much of what she has written has been so eloquently described, beautiful in description, and heart warming in terms of story. One of my first blog posts was a review of her gorgeous story The Tale of Desperaux, which also made it into my Top Five of 2012. DiCamillo once said “I decided a long time ago that I didn’t have to be talented. I just had to be persistent.” I would disagree with her and say that she has got a talent, and for someone that has the ability to write such beauty with such simplistic tools and environments, she manages to make even the smallest aspects of life magical and terribly profound; you only have to read Despereaux or Edward Tulane to see that. Today, in honour of her birthday, I am posting the review of another of her works that I thought was very touching: The Magician’s Elephant.

Published: September 8th 2009
Goodreads badgePublisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 201
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction/Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars


What if? Why not? Could it be?

When a fortuneteller’s tent appears in the market square of the city of Baltese, orphan Peter Augustus Duchene knows the questions that he needs to ask: Does his sister still live? And if so, how can he find her? The fortuneteller’s mysterious answer (an elephant! An elephant will lead him there!) sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that you will hardly dare to believe it’s true.

This is the story of Peter Augustus Duchene, a ten year old who went to a fortune teller and made magic happen. Peter’s story is as an orphan in the care of a soldier, looking for answers and wishing for miracles. When miracles begin to happen it is the start of something extraordinary.

The magician’s elephant is unintentional and yet her arrival is one of great joy for Peter, if only he knew what to do about it. The magician himself is an interesting character in the story, he plays such a large role yet he is limited as well. So much of his story is unknown, yet what we see of him is his remorse and his confusion about his actions. I think that for him we do not need a glamorous and detailed back story, for me I think watching him reflect and deal with the aftermath of his magic gave a beautiful insight into who he was as a person.

Behind Peter’s storyline of looking for answers and discovering truths is the strange relationship between the magician and Madam LaVaughn, as well as many others in the city. All the characters in this story have their own sense of magic about them that make the so likeable, even those who do not possibly deserve it at first glance. DiCamillo manages to give them histories and depth in so few words, it really is amazing. There are connections between these characters and you feel connected to each no matter how fleeting they appear.

There are some great quotes in this book, some are very beautiful and touching, but there are funny ones as well, one favourite was “Is the child having some hat related fit?” Little things like that make characters come alive and add that little something extra to a story. It isn’t probably needed, but that what makes them so great.

I thought this book was not as emotionally profound as her previous books like Despereaux or Edward Tulane but it still managed to be heartfelt and beautiful nonetheless. DiCamillo’s books always show that she is such an eloquent write. So many of her books are filled with such simple scenes and characters, yet they are somehow also filled with such depth and beauty. It is superb.

The ending is magical and we are given answers to the questions in the same way we are not given answers. This is ideal because we can take what we can from it ourselves. There is a lot in this book about humanity and how we see the world, but also about kindness to one another. There is also a lot of emotion displayed on the surface of this story that makes it wonderful, it does not always need to go any deeper than that. A very special story that reveals humanity at its best and with its failings I think. Such a small snippet of human life, such a seemingly innocent action, told like it had the importance and magic of the world. After all, the magician “had intended lilies; yes, perhaps. But he had also wanted to perform true magic. He had succeeded.”

As I leave you with these thoughts on this fine Monday morning, I offer you something else. I discovered last night, as I snooped around the interweb until all hours of the morning, that Reading Rockets has posted snippets of an interview with DiCamillo that is really interesting to watch; she talks about becoming a writer, her novels, and she offers advice to new writers. It is always interesting to listen to authors in interviews; some offer the same advice, some recall their hardships into publishing, but somehow, no matter how many versions of ‘to write you must read’ you hear, it is always comforting to get that little bit extra motivation to follow in the footsteps of those writers you adore.

The link to this interview is below, watch it, enjoy it, then ignore the socially imposed unhappiness of Mondays and read something spectacular.

Reading Rockets interview with Kate Dicamillo.

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