The Magician’s Elephant
by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Yoko Tanaka
In the city of Baltese, Vilna Lutz is raising an orphan 10-year-old boy named Peter Augustus Duchene to be “a soldier brave and true.” Vilna Lutz knew Peter’s father on the battlefield, and as a veteran soldier he should know the importance of being brave and true. One day, Peter goes into town to buy fish and bread with the florit that Vilna Lutz has given him, and instead uses the florit to ask a fortuneteller a question. The answer to that question will change his life. For Peter feels quite certain that he is not alone in the world. Peter believes, despite Vilna Lutz’s repeated protestations to the contrary, that he has a sister named Adele, and also that she lives. The fortuneteller tells Peter that an elephant will lead him to her. “There are no elephants here,” says he. All the woman says by way of explanation is, “The truth is forever changing.” And so, in the face of impossibility, Peter begins to believe her because, as he says, “It is a bad thing to have love and nowhere to put it.”
This exquisitely paced fable dares to ask the question, “What if?” What if an orphan boy named Peter was not completely alone in the world? What if a magician could conjure an elephant that would crash through the glass ceiling of the Bliffendorf Opera House? These characters play essential roles in answering these questions: Madame La Vaughn, an opera lover whose legs are crushed by the elephant; Hans Ickman, her manservant who once owned a small white dog; the countess Quintet, who was not at the opera house when the glass roof shattered but who houses the elephant so that she may nonetheless be at the center of the social season; Bartok Whynn, the stonecutter who sculpted gargoyles high atop the cathedral and survived an impossible fall and now looks after the elephant; and Tomas the beggar and his dog, Iddo, the carriers of important messages. In the words of Leo Matienne, the small policeman who lives downstairs from Peter Augustus Duchene, “What if everything was to be irrevocably, undeniably changed by the elephant’s arrival?” Read on and find out.
Full disclosure: In recent years, Kate DiCamillo has become a good friend. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I wouldn’t showcase a book here that I didn’t love, and, to use one of Kate’s favorite words, it’s “astonishing” to me that she continues to surprise her readers with each new novel.
Here Kate DiCamillo talks about The Magician’s Elephant.