Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Ivory, Castles and Dreams

(For those of you who are not avid Blackmore's Night fans, the title is a reference to this song.)

Ivory is a material that comes from the tusks and teeth of various animals (most often elephants and hippos). It also stands for the pale white-yellow color of these teeth. While a lot of people associate ivory with pure white, is is more of the pastel shade.

One of my favorite stories involving ivory is the Greek myth that says that dreams arrive to people through two doors: One made of horn, and one made of ivory. Horn stands for true dreams, while ivory stands for illusion and deception. In the Aeneid it is stated that the gates of horn are the passage for true shades that have messages for the living, while the gates of ivory are where the haunting spirits go through.

Ivory is also featured on a later Greek folktale call The Son of the Hunter. I swear I am not doing this on purpose, but this one is also included in my book, filed under Geokinesis, because it involves a character that can make the earth shake and tremble. The tale itself is about a young hunter who is given impossible tasks to accomplish by his king, who is tricked into messing with him by his evil adviser. One of the quests he has to accomplish is building a palace solely made of ivory. The young hunter learns from his mother that his father knew a place where elephants go to drink. He fills the pond with alcohol, gets the elephants drunk, and harvests all the ivory he needs. Later on, the king tasks him with retrieving a princess who just happens to be the little sister of forty dragons. In the end, and with the help of a team of people with various superpowers, he finds the princess, falls in love, wins her hand, and the villain gets punished for his intrigue.

Here is the thing about telling this story: The ivory trade has been and is still known for endangering several species, and is often judged for poaching, animal abuse, and various other sins. For that reason, I usually change this folktale when I tell it. I either change it to the mother telling the young hero about an "elephant cemetery," skip the scene, substitute for another material, or add a side note about the history of the ivory trade in the end (in educational settings). I wrote about this in detail in my notes on the story. Keep the issue in mind, and tell the way you are most comfortable with.

Still on the topic of ivory: If you have not read Michael Ende's The Neverending Story yet (watching the movie does not count!), go read it. Trust me on this.


  1. I like the idea of the doors for dreams. Glad the villain got his just deserts in The Son of the Hunter. Why was he going after the young hunter in the first place?
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  2. In reading this I was actually thinking how you "address" the whole 'No to Ivory' thing in your story-telling. Happy to read the last paragraph there!

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  3. Those doors are an interesting conceit - ivory is the source of deceit, horn is where the truth lies. I wonder what led to those associations. Good change to the folktale, because the original way of getting the ivory does sit uncomfortably given all the poaching.
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  4. According to Wikipedia (huh) it's a play on words for 'reveal' and 'deceit' in Greek. I'll have to look into that, I only took Latin.

  5. This was a big dilemma for me when picking out a wedding gown. But I ended up with white.

  6. The poaching part of ivory is awful.

    I'm ashamed to admit I haven't read it. What's wrong with me?

  7. I had no idea about the myths about ivory. I continue to greatly enjoy your blog posts!

  8. I haven't read The Neverending Story. I'm really not sure why, I loved the movie. I need to rectify this.

    I liked these stories; the two doors is especially intriguing. And I like your note on the horrors of the ivory trade. I tip my hat to you.

  9. Interesting myths, but I'm glad you mentioned the horrors of the ivory trade.

  10. I always think of brides-to-be who choose between a white or ivory wedding dress, and their reasons for choosing one or the other...
    Poaching is a sad reality...