The Shadow Elephant: A Tender Illustrated Fable About What It Takes to Unblue Our Sorrows and Lighten the Load of Our Heaviest Emotions

The odd thing about life, the fascinating feature of life, is that it is impossible to dull one hue of our emotional experience without dulling the whole spectrum, difficult to feel deeply at one end of it without feeling as deeply at the other. And without the chromatic strength of feeling life deeply and completely, why live at all?

That is what Canadian author Nadine Robert and Italian artist Valerio Vidali explore with terrific subtlety and inflammation in The Shadow Elephant (public library).

This essential truth is especially pronounced in a creative life– a life that requires of us what Virginia Woolf called, in her transcendent existential surprise, the “shock-receiving capability” that makes an artist an artist. It is also dehumanizing, for just when we let the blues rush in with their full intensity do we become awake and totally alive to the dazzling spectrum of sensation that makes life worth living.

The book opens with a lovely quote from The Little Prince, line-broken like a poem:

The Shadow Elephant comes from my good friends at the visionary Enchanted Lion Books, makers of uncommonly poetic and extensive detailed websites into the emotional universe– treasures like Cry, Heart, But Never Break, Big Wolf & & Little Wolf, The Lion and the Bird, Bertolt, This Is a Poem That Heals Fish, and The Forest (also shown by Vidali).

The other animals of the savannah– intense and joyful and suncast– try to lift the elephant out of his gloom by telling him silly stories, dancing him silly dances, bringing him their favorite foods.

The story unfolds, introducing the melancholy lead character– a terrific blue elephant, prostrated with a heavy sensation versus a terrific gradient of blue.

Complement this particular treasure with The Heart and the Bottle– Oliver Jefferss tender highlighted myth of what we stand to lose when we reject our tough emotions– then revisit a moving animated brief movie about anxiety and what it takes to recover the light of being.

Some stated the elephant was gloomy.Some stated he was attempting to hide his sadness.Some stated he preferred the shadows.

Not a smile. Not a sound.The elephant listened diligently, however remained in the shadows.

Gradually, “drained pipes of his tears,” the elephant increases, large and light, and hoists the mouse onto his back, providing to give her a ride house. Carefully, without anxiousness or demand, she welcomes him to inform her his own story.

The elephant is at very first incredulous that the mouse isnt there to sidetrack him from his blues with some trick. However then she begins to inform him her own story– how she had gone out into the savannah to discover her siss most precious belongings, a golden secret; how she had walked a whole day, just to end up being as lost as the key; how she is now frightened that she would find neither what she went looking for nor her way home.

Something about the mouses plight, about the ease with which she shares her sorrow with him, unlatches something in the elephant. He starts to weep– big, silent tears. Then she begins to sob, by that charming natural bond of creaturely sympathy that binds us when we cease to feel separate and alone in our grief.

And when you are comforted( we all become) you will more than happy to have known me.You will always be my friend.

” I can attempt,” he exhales as they vanish together behind the horizon of aloneness.

And then, one day, a small mouse out of breath emerges from another scale of existence and asks simply whether she can sit beside the elephant and rest a little. This small ask– this nonjudgmental and unanxious presence with the elephants unhappiness– becomes the website of his improvement.

Illustrations courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books; pictures by Maria Popova

Something about the mouses predicament, about the ease with which she shares her sadness with him, unlatches something in the elephant. She starts to sob, by that exquisite natural bond of creaturely compassion that binds us when we cease to feel separate and alone in our sadness.

This essential fact is particularly pronounced in an imaginative life– a life that needs of us what Virginia Woolf called, in her transcendent existential epiphany, the “shock-receiving capability” that makes an artist an artist. And yet we go to severe lengths to avoid receiving this shock of aliveness, to avoid fully feeling the parts of the spectrum we deem unhandsome or inconvenient, to dull our own unhappiness and divert others from theirs, then walk away when we stop working. It is also dehumanizing, for only when we let the blues rush in with their complete intensity do we become awake and completely alive to the dazzling spectrum of sensation that makes life worth living.