The Elephant Bell

elephantbellThe wooden bell is one of those interesting things I stumbled across while researching elephants, and I decided it had to be in the book somehow. (And then it ended up being one of my favorite things).

elephantbellcoverThis book from 1950, Elephant Bill, is a memoir by a British soldier who was stationed in Burma during World War II. (Burma is also known as Myanmar now, but most people from there still use its traditional name). I started reading it as part of my research about elephants, but I was fascinated by the Burmese families I learned about, who took care of their elephants like they were family members. The elephants were allowed to wander around when they weren’t working, and their keepers would find them by the sounds of the wooden bells around the elephants’ necks. Although there would be many elephants walking around (and many bells ringing) in the jungle, people could locate their own elephants by the unique sound of the bell they’d carved.

I decided while reading about Burma that I would make Hastin’s mentor character from there, so the character of Ne Min was born from the descriptions of the Burmese people who worked with the elephants in the teak forests. The way these families cared for the elephants is so different from the way the adults at Hastin’s workplace treated elephants, and I liked the contrast that added to the story. Plus it gives Ne Min an interesting backstory about how he grew up and why he’s so far from home.