Late in the Narnia series there is a montage of creation, showing how Aslan, the Christ figure, first drew them out from among ordinary animals and called them into being. They sing: “We hear and obey. We are awake. We love. We think. We speak. We know” — all things that would be impossible without their new awareness.
A more distilled, whimsical presentation appears in C. S. Lewis’s allegorical world of Narnia, with the contrast between ordinary creatures and the “Talking Beasts.” Their animal natures give them certain innate qualities — steadfastness in a bear, valor in a horse — but their speech gives them control over their animal instincts by the powers of thought and self-direction it endows. They are the moral equals of human characters because of this, and anyone who treats them as equivalent to ordinary animals instead is sure to be suspect in other ways.
It is worth noting that selectively, the decision tree here can go both ways: drop out of musth, avoid the fight, and live to try again another day; or don’t, and make the best play you can to pass your genes on then and there. It is easy to see how either behavior might be rewarded and reinforced by reproductive success over time, either explained just as handily. But the bigger problem is the assumption that in a way, the choice is already determined prior to the interaction, even prior to those two elephants’ births, because as an encoded response there is no room for it to be a choice at all. This automatically excludes a key factor in the scenario, as Poole continues:
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.
~George Gordon, Lord Byron,
You cant be suspicious of a tree, or accuse a bird or a squirrel of subversion or challenge the ideology of a violet.
That may be an extreme example, but it is unthinkable at an elite school. Just as unthinkably, she had no one to appeal to. Students at places like Cleveland State, unlike those at places like Yale, don’t have a platoon of advisers and tutors and deans to write out excuses for late work, give them extra help when they need it, pick them up when they fall down. They get their education wholesale, from an indifferent bureaucracy; it’s not handed to them in individually wrapped packages by smiling clerks. There are few, if any, opportunities for the kind of contacts I saw my students get routinely—classes with visiting power brokers, dinners with foreign dignitaries. There are also few, if any, of the kind of special funds that, at places like Yale, are available in profusion: travel stipends, research fellowships, performance grants. Each year, my department at Yale awards dozens of cash prizes for everything from freshman essays to senior projects. This year, those awards came to more than $90,000—in just one department.
Once you have heard the lark, known the swish of feet through hill-top grass and smelt the earth made ready for the seed, you are never again going to be fully happy about the cities and towns that man carries like a crippling weight upon his back.
With hard work and careful observation, a better explanation was eventually forthcoming, as there may one day be for other elephant-related phenomena that seem a little spooky. Many people, for instance, report a kind of sixth sense about when an elephant is in the area, one they cannot actually perceive in any identifiable way but seem almost never to be wrong about. Poole describes it as “a vibrancy in the air, a certain warmth,” or by contrast “a stillness, an emptiness” in the landscape when elephants are absent. Conceivably, this elephant radar may be produced by the talking tremors, felt viscerally rather than audibly — but less obviously explicable is Poole’s similar sense of whether she is about to find a carcass with ivory attached.
Lyall Watson’s fascinating 2002 book is largely devoted to exploring this sort of not-intrinsically-unreasonable event that verges on the uncanny. One of his more straightforward stories concerns an incident witnessed by a ranger in Addo Park, South Africa, home to a line of elephants with special historical reasons to distrust human beings. An effort to repair a fence had resulted in a mother and baby being stranded on opposite sides of it. Becoming very agitated as the workers approached, the ranger said, the cow “stopped, put her trunk through the cables to calm the calf and seemed to be thinking about her next move.” He said he could not prove what happened next, nor did the other rangers believe him, but this is what he saw:
(Because of this enhanced pedestrian sensitivity, the feet are also especially susceptible to distress — sometimes, as Mark Shand writes in his 1999 book , when an elephant goes rogue, it is because a stick that it was using to clean between its toes has splintered off and lodged in out of reach. And severe elephant foot problems are depressingly common in zoos and other captive situations, where the animals must stand on concrete so much of the time instead of walking long distances over soft dirt and vegetation.)
To the south of it a little garden stretched away in natural terraces; on the east a small, but luxuriant fruit orchard reared its graceful young trees, whose branches even thus early in the season hung low with their promise of gold and crimson harvest.
She talked to that kid. She told him exactly what to do, and without any further fuss, he did. He turned out away from her and the fence and went into the deep shade of a tree twenty yards away, where he stood motionless, becoming virtually invisible. I knew exactly where he was, but could hardly find him again when I looked away. I saw her rush down to the gap and out onto the road, and as the truck appeared, she raised a huge cloud of dust, stamping and blowing, making short charges at the vehicle, frightening the crew sufficiently to get them to back off and go away.... And when the noise and confusion was at its height, the calf in camouflage made his move. He sidled over to the fence, slipped quietly through the gap, and went over to wait in the cover of the succulent forest.
And after half a miles ride through a beautiful grove, they emerged into a little clearing, which seemed to Bessies astonished eyes like a patch of beauty dropped from heaven.