Chronarchy (chronarchy) wrote,

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West With the Night has me in its grip again. . .

As I read more of Beyrl Markham's West With the Night, I am more and more astounded at her ability to write clearly, conveying what she wants to. I just finished her description of her time as an elephant spotter for hunters in Africa, not justifying her work hunting these creatures, but simply telling about it.

The absolute respect, the awe in which she holds the elephant is obvious. It transcends the page, combining humour and wit with this awe and respect for a powerful description.
It is absurd for a man to kill an elephant. It is not brutal, it is not heroic, and it certainly is not easy; it is just one of those preposterous things that men do like putting a dam across a great river, one tenth of whose volume could engulf the whole of mankind without disturbing the life of a single catfish.

Elephant, beyond the fact that their size and conformation are aesthetically more suited to the treading of this earth than our angular informity, have an average intelligence comparable to our own. Of course they are less agile and physically less adaptable than ourselves -- Nature having developed their bodies in one direction and their brains in another, while human beings, on the other hand, drew from Mr. Darwin's lottery of evolution both the winning ticket and the stub to match it. This, I suppose, is why we are so wonderful and can make movies and electric razors and wireless sets -- and guns with which to shoot the elephant, the hare, clay pigeons, and each other.


Elephant hunters may be unconscinable brutes, but it would be an error to regard the elephant as an altogether pacific animal. The popular belief that only the so-called 'rogue' elephant is dangerous to men is quite wrong -- so wrong that a considerable number of men who believed it have become one with the dust without even their just due of gradual disintegration. A normal bull elephant, aroused by the scent of man, will often attack at once -- and his speed is as unbelievable as his mobility. His trunk and his feet are his weapons -- at least in the distasteful business of exterminating a mere human; those resplendent sabres of ivory await resplendent foes.
The description is quite a bit longer, but these three bits sort of stand on their own. I very much like the subtle satire on the hunters she spotted for, the comparisons she makes. I particularly like her jab at the hunters at the end, where she notes the status of human foes compared to others.

It amazes me, the way Markham talks about things that environmentalists today would cringe at, and how she does it in such a beautifully simple, easy way that presents it not as something to be justified, but as something that was, simply, a way of life and isn't really fit to be categorized as "justified" or "not justified".

I particularly like the honesty of the book. Markham isn't afraid to tell us anything, it doesn't seem. She's open about her absolute fear of the Siafu, her struggles with a proud horse that she loved, and her encounter with the lion who tried to eat her. Every page is, perhaps, more remarkable than the last. The adventure and the wonder I find in it has not ceased to amaze me, and I don't think that the final 70 pages will be any different.

There are some books that should be read by every child before they leave high school. This is one such book. If you have not read it, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I'm sad that I have to finish it this weekend. . . I've enjoyed the book, but classes start on Tuesday. . .
Tags: books

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