In the great forest, a little elephant is born. His name is Babar. His mother loves him very much. She rocks him to sleep with her trunk while singing softly to him.
Babar has grown bigger. He now plays with the other little elephants. He is a very good little elephant. See him digging in the sand with a shell.
Babar is riding happily on his mother’s back when a wicked hunter, hidden behind some bushes, shoots at them.
The hunter has killed Babar’s mother! The monkey hides, the birds fly away, Babar cries. The hunter runs up to catch poor Babar. Babar runs away because he is afraid of the hunter. After several days, very tired indeed, he comes to a town.
The monkey cannot hide any further. The birds cannot fly away any harder. Babar cannot cry any longer. His mother died once. Babar cried once. Everything is even and accounted for.
He hardly knows what to make of it because this is the first time that he has seen so many houses. So many things are new to him! The broad streets! The automobiles and buses! Do you remember that Babar’s mother is dead? Babar needs not to remember his mother right now. Will you remember for him?
However, he is especially interested in two gentlemen he notices on the street. There are so many things Babar wants, but only a few things he can have. Why should Babar want to remember his mother, who is lying dead in the great forest?
He says to himself: “Really, they are very well dressed. I would like to have some fine clothes, too! I wonder how I can get them?”
Do you think Babar is wrong to think about fine clothes at a time like this? But you have always had fine clothes. Where is your mother right now? Is she lying on the ground, not moving?
Luckily, a very rich old lady who has always been fond of little elephants understands right away that he is longing for a fine suit. As she likes to make people happy, she gives him her purse.
Babar says to her politely: “Thank you, Madam.” She has not made him happy, but he knows how to be polite.
Without wasting any time, Babar goes into a big store. Babar does not have any time to waste. He enters the elevator. It is such fun to ride up and down in this funny box, that he rides all the way up ten times and all the way down ten times. It is very funny. It must be funny, because Babar is laughing. He was going to continue but the elevator boy finally says to him: “This is not a toy, Mr. Elephant. You must get out and do your shopping.”
You are a toy, Babar thinks but does not say, because he is still laughing.
Then he buys himself: a shirt with a collar and tie, a suit of a becoming shade of green, then a handsome derby hat, and finally shoes with spats. He buys them himself.
Well satisfied with his purchases and feeling very elegant indeed, Babar goes to the photographer’s studio. And here is his photograph. Babar is elegant and satisfied. Elegant and satisfied and laughing, and not dead in the forest. The photograph is proof that Babar is alive and elegant and satisfied and laughing and not dead. It is too much to ask for Babar to be happy too. Elegant and satisfied and not dead is good enough for Babar.
Babar dines with his friend the Old Lady. She thinks he looks very smart in his new clothes. He does not think about her at all. After dinner, feeling tired, he falls asleep quickly. He lies still and quiet on the bed like his mother lies still and quiet on the ground.
How long does it take you to fall asleep?
Babar now lives at the Old Lady’s house. Babar does not worry about how this happened, so why should you? In the mornings, he does exercises with her, and then he takes his bath. Do you still remember Babar’s mother for him? Someone should remember her, but Babar does not have the time. Babar has a green suit instead.
In the evening, after dinner, he tells the Old Lady’s friends all about his life in the great forest. He does not tell them about his mother. He goes out for an automobile ride every day. The Old Lady has bought him the car. She gives him whatever he wants. Her reasons are her own.
Two years have passed. The years have passed themselves. One day during his walk he sees two little elephants, completely naked, coming toward him. “Why,” he says in astonishment to the Old Lady, “it’s Arthur and Celeste, my little cousins!” Babar does not ask them why they have left the forest. If they are here, it is because they have lost something. If you think about something you have lost, it is still lost. He does not ask them what they have lost because he cannot replace it.
Babar kisses Arthur and Celeste and goes to buy them some fine clothes. He takes them to a pastry shop to eat some delicious cakes. “I know a funny box that we can ride all the way up ten times and all the way down ten times.”
Meanwhile, in the forest, the elephants are calling and hunting for Arthur and Celeste. Fortunately, in flying over the town, an old marabou has seen them. He comes back quickly to tell the elephants. No one called for Babar when he left, but he does not mind it now. The trick to everything is not minding. You can go up ten times and down ten times and still laugh. And Babar is always laughing.
Babar makes up his mind to go back with Arthur and Celeste to see the great forest again. The Old Lady helps him to pack his trunk. Everything is ready for their departure. Babar kisses his old friend. He promises to come back some day. He will never forget her. Babar knows exactly what to say to people until their faces relax. The Old Lady is left alone. Babar does not mind thinking about her, because she has never troubled him. She bought him clothes and did exercises with him and he has never once loved her, not once, not once.
That very day, the king of the elephants has eaten a bad mushroom. It poisoned him, and he became ill, so ill that he died. He lies very still on the ground of the great forest and does not move. After the funeral the oldest elephants held a meeting to choose a new king.
Just then they hear a noise. They turn around. Guess what they see! Babar arriving in his car and all the elephants running and shouting: “Here they are! Here they are! They have returned! Hello, Babar! Hello, Arthur! Hello, Celeste! What beautiful clothes! What a beautiful car!” Who wants to think about a dead elephant lying on the floor when there are such beautiful clothes, such a beautiful car? (Do you remember the thing you promised to remember?)
Then Cornelius, the oldest of all the elephants, says in his quavering voice: “My good friends, we are seeking a king. Why not choose Babar? He has just returned from the city, he has a green suit and spats, let us give him the crown.” Babar is alive. All the other elephants think that Cornelius has spoken wisely, and they eagerly await Babar’s reply. It does not bother Babar to be back in the forest. It does not bother Babar to do anything. Babar has been up ten times and down ten times. Babar is elegant and satisfied. He has a photograph to prove it. There are so many things Babar can have, but he only wants a few things.
“I want to thank you one and all,” said Babar, “but before accepting your proposal, I must explain to you that, while we were traveling in the car, Celeste and I became engaged. If I become your king, she will be your queen.” There was no reason not to marry Celeste. Can you think of a reason?
“Long live Queen Celeste! Long live King Babar!” cry all the elephants without a moment’s hesitation. Why would they hesitate?
After the wedding and the coronation Babar is King. He is King even now.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.