Two weeks ago, I sat on my bed with my kids to read them The Story of Babar: The Little Elephant. While I had heard of the book, I had no knowledge of the ludicrous events waiting within.
Babar starts predictably enough: a baby elephant is born, and his mother loves him. She rocks him to sleep and sings to him. Babar grows, makes friends and plays in the sand. His life is quite lovely. Then some dude in a white hat strolls in and pops two rounds into Babar’s mother. She’s dead.
I tossed the book to the ground in disgust. After realizing my kids didn’t really care the mother was killed (what is wrong with them?!), I picked up the book and continued with what would become a bizarre interspecies rom-com.
After days spent running away from the hunter, Babar stumbles into a town with buses and automobiles and houses, which he somehow knows to identify as “buses, automobiles and houses.” He also has the ability to appreciate a finely tailored men’s suit and says to himself, “I wonder how I can get them.”
We solve that problem on the next page: “Luckily, a very rich Old Lady who has always been fond of little elephants understands right away that he is longing for a fine suit.” What a fortuitous fetish: rich lady with a thing for elephants. Pre-Internet, finding this perfect of a match would have been impossible. Everything is coming up Babar since the slaughter of his mother.
With great haste, Babar’s newfound sugar mommy stuffs his pockets full of Kohl’s Cash to get right with some Van Heusen. They dine together, and he stays the night. In the morning, Babar is dressed in a Speedo, doing yoga with “The Old Lady,” as the book insists on calling her.
"Babar is made king because the other elephants admire his cool car, just like how the U.K. picked Queen Elizabeth."
As a now properly socialized, Parisian elitist, Babar begins driving fancy cars, solving complex math problems, and leaning casually against fireplaces in a tuxedo to regale other high-society types with stories of the forest.
Life is perfect, until his two broke and suit-less cousins appear out of nowhere to expose him for what he is. But the joke’s on them. Soon, they too are taken to Kohl’s and fed bonbons. Finally, the only two voices of reason in this debacle show up – the moms of the cousins – to take all pachyderm back to the forest. The Old Lady’s work has been wasted.
Unfortunately, there are about 50 plotlines left in the final pages of Babar. But in the interest of your sanity and mine, I’ll summarize:
Babar returns to the forest with his cousins, the current king eats a poisonous mushroom, dies, and Babar is made king because the other elephants admire his cool car, just like how the U.K. picked Queen Elizabeth.
The story ends with Babar and his childhood sweetheart getting married and going on a honeymoon to their next adventures—more manically structured books is my guess. I know this book is French, from the ’30s, and probably aptly espouses universal themes on colonialism and class, but it’s too hard to get past being jealous of the Dudley Moore of elephants to draw any concrete conclusions.