As a child in South Africa, spending summers exploring the wild with his boyhood friends, Lyall Watson came face to face with his first elephant. From that moment on, Watson's fascination grew into a lifelong obsession with understanding the nature and behaviour of this impressive creature. Around the world, the elephant - at once a symbol of spiritual power and physical endurance - has been worshipped as a god and hunted for sport. In this captivating portrait of the elephant, Watson draws from scientific research, anthropological studies, and personal experience to document the animal's wide-ranging capabilities to remember and to mourn; and he reminds us of its rich mythic origins, its evolution, and its devastation in recent history. Part meditation on an elusive animal, part evocation of the power of place, Elephantoms presents an alluring mix of the mysteries of nature and the wonders of childhood.
Delightfully multidimensional, Watson's latest describes how through an enchanted childhood and a lucky adulthood he has been haunted by elephants. Watson fills his memoir with metaphorical tales, creating a spiritual and emotional rendering of elephants. He retells the old fable, for instance, of a group of blind men trying to describe an elephant when each can only examine a portion of it: its tail, its ear, its leg. Watson's is an adventure story filled with explanations of natural history. Seemingly tangential discussions enrich every topic, from the family tree of languages demonstrating the rarity of the click language of a Bushman he meets to the philosophy of tracking elephants. Like a shaman, Watson (Jacobson's Organ) conjures up the spirit of the massive beasts who can disappear in plain view and can be felt from miles away. He describes how elephants have shaped the land and people around them for as long as they have existed. They are intelligent, self-aware and profoundly emotional. Elephants have filled mystical spaces in the world, and Watson illustrates this through such examples as cave paintings, the royal white elephants of Siam and a story about a boy who, possessed to draw monsters until a Bushman intervenes, finds calm in drawing elephants. The fantastic adventures of Watson's youth in South Africa and his later years studying elephant history and zoology are tantalizing, and his chronicle of these majestic creatures will cast a spell on readers.