A boy and an elephant swept away on a wave of adventure
By Michael Morpurgo
Published by HarperCollins
Michael Morpurgo's new novel is a thrilling and thought-provoking epic adventure set in the jungles of Indonesia. Authors pick up ideas from everywhere, and Morpurgo was inspired to write Running Wild after reading about a boy who escaped the terrible 2004 tsunami by riding into the jungle on the back of an elephant.
The best-selling author had always wanted to write a jungle adventure with a majestic elephant, his favourite childhood animal, as one of the central characters. Now he had his story's beginning.
Running Wild begins at an emotional peak; its first chapter will bring tears to your eyes. Will is a normal English boy who suddenly has to face up to the unthinkable. His father, a professional soldier, is killed in the Iraq war, and Will and his mother are devastated.
The boy's kindly grandparents secretly book a holiday in Indonesia for Will and his mum, hoping a different environment might help the healing process. This trip is an escape, a new start and a chance to put the horror of Dad's death in the past, which is what he would have wanted.
One of Will's Christmas presents is an elephant ride along the resort's beach. On Boxing Day, as Mum is swimming in the sea, Will is introduced to Oona, his elephant for the day. But as he is riding Oona along the water's edge, she is suddenly spooked by something and charges off into the jungle. Will clings on for dear life as the frightened elephant runs further and further into the jungle. Will she ever stop?
With this dramatic event, the main story-line begins. Having escaped the tsunami, Will is now lost in the jungle with nobody to depend on except himself and Oona, the elephant. He becomes an 'elephant's child', learning how to survive under Oona's guidance.
When he becomes separated from Oona, Will lives for a time with a group of infant orang-utans whose parents have been killed by hunters. The villainous Mister Anthony, animal hunter and exploiter of the jungle, makes an appearance and Morpurgo uses this episode to great effect, making the reader think about the consequences of rainforest destruction.
Will's survival and adventures in the jungle make exciting reading, but the question of how he will be rescued, and then reunited with his grandparents, hangs over a lot of the action. At the end of the novel, Morpurgo offers no easy solutions to the problem of Will's future.
Running Wild is another triumph from a master storyteller and will surely become one of his best-loved books.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com