Andy's Reviews > The Magician's Elephant

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
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Nov 17, 09

bookshelves: 2-star
Read in November, 2009

Sparse and efficient text create an atmospheric and magical fairy tale of sorts. Set in a gloomy and grey "other-worldly" european town, DiCamillo brings life to a community of characters. The orphan boy Peter, who is being raised by an unstable soldier, takes center stage. His persistent "what if's" send him to a fortuneteller who reveals that his sister is indeed alive. There is also a magician who longs to perform a great feat of magic, but accidentally brings an elephant crashing through the opera ceiling upon a noblewoman in the audience. The message and theme is of hope and interconnection.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Julie (new)

Julie what a nicely written review! can't wait to read it.


Julie Suzanne So why is it two stars?


Andy I initially gave it three stars, but sometimes I look back at my entire list of books to see how they compare to each other. This one didn't seem as strong to me as some of the other titles I've given three stars to, primarily because of its predictability and neatness. I'm conflicted as to whether I think it is magical and beautiful or just contrived and formulaic.


message 4: by Ka (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ka I have to say I think rating this book based on the plot being predictable is a bit unfair; as someone else said, it's more of a fable or allegory than a story, exactly. Everything is neat and convenient because a departure from that would be, well, messy and realistic. It's more of a really long poem or the memory of a lovely dream than a story.

If you've ever read "The 101 Dalmations" there is this vomitously sweet bit during the journey back to London when the puppies hide out in a church for a few hours and the smallest, who is obsessed with TV, is very taken with the church's nativity and "watches" it for hours. The atmosphere is of silence, love, peace, a bit of melancholy, stillness. It doesn't do anything, it's simply there. This entire book was like that, a kind of enclosed snowglobe dream. Stuff happens, but there is never a moment of what you'd call action or excitement. It's sort of like drinking a really nice cup of tea, in book form. XD

The story itself has all the elements to make up an adventure (even if you could see them all coming), so it COULD have been told in a more exciting manner, but the author chose this slow and deliberate pace instead. What happens is frankly not all that important (which I think is illustrated by how "what happens" is total nonsense). This book is held together not by what it says, but by what it means.

(I personally had to give it high ratings because I thought it was very beautiful, and since that was clearly its only goal, I felt it succeeded. Reading it gave ME a sense of peace and stillness I haven't felt in my own life for quite a while.)


April I agree about the pacing and a focus on what it means rather than what it says- I guess I just felt like a book that's focus is "what if" doesn't have that lofty a fantasy going when the main mysterious element (whether the sister exists or not) is so easily resolved. It left me feeling like couldn't that mystery have been revealed without an extraordinary event like the appearance of an elephant? That is my complaint but the theme, the pacing I loved.


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