Circle of LifeJuly 03, 2014

"A wonderful bird is the pelican,

His bill will hold more than his belican,

He can take in his beak

Food enough for a week,

But I'm damned if I see how the helican."

- Dixon Lanier Merritt

One would figure out from the premise of "Storm Boy" that Colin Thiele penned a children's book. A laddie and a pelican becoming good mates would be poppycock, as the relationship between pelicans and adults was rather contentious. But the author is thinking of something else, with rural Australia more than a backdrop.

Set in Coorong National Park, a refuge to migratory birds during Australia's drought season, Hideaway Tom lives in the sand dunes with Storm Boy, his young son. He is a recluse, so the nickname given by some of the locals. But their existence is far from unhappy. The lad's adventures begin when he sees three chicks. The pelican mother is shot, so the boy's chance to nurse them, calling them Mr. Proud, Mr. Pounder, and Mr. Percival respectively. His old man knows the nature of pelican too well, so when the chicks reach adulthood, tells the boy to let go of them. But Mr. Percival returns to Storm Boy, becoming his best mate.

The novel revolves around the cycle of life and death, with a Kafka-esque touch. It's reminiscent of "Woman in the Dunes", another novel set in the sand dunes. But the similarity ends there, as Kōbō Abe's tale is closer to Kafka's vision. Coorong, a lagoon ecosystem southeast of Adelaide, supports coastal dune systems and vegetation. Many species of birds and fishes abound, and what more with the Southern Ocean facing it. Storm Boy's existence is unique, such that Mr. Percival, with beak and in black and white plumate, gives his life a purpose.

The subplot reveals Storm Boy's struggles to intergrate into school, as the young laddie is unaccustomed to the rules. Thiele, an educator himself, alludes to the bond between Storm Boy and Percival. One must need to do a little research to know that the Murri people have an origin myth about the pelicans and how they acquire their colors. But there's no need to probe deeper, as this is rather to take notice of its significance.

The book not only depicts the countryside, but also a tale of friendship found in least-expected places. Its publication came after the celebrated account of Elsa the lioness, of how Joy Adamson, naturalist and wife of a game warden, raised the cub like her own flesh and blood, and decided to give her a chance to live in the African wild. It was nothing short of amazing, as the ecosystem could be unforgiving. But (the adult) Elsa did learned the basics in survival, even managing to intergrate into a pack of lions. Elsa gave birth to three cubs seasons later, whom she showed to Joy. Maybe it was concidence in Thiele's part, but don't be surprised if he was inspired and wanted something uniquely Australian.

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