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I need to think about something other than upcoming travel, so who wants a live read of the weirdest children’s book of 1903?
This marvel is none other than Frances Trego Montgomery’s THE WONDERFUL ELECTRIC ELEPHANT which is a story about a sociopath and his mechanical elephant-shaped RV.
It is racist, imperialist, and innocent of even the faintest comprehension of geography, and also apparently kids were real jerks in 1903.

Weirdly enough, if the internet is to be believed, it was illustrated by the man who would go on to create Dogs Playing Poker.
We begin with Chapter One: Harold Finds A Great Treasure.

“Where it came from; how it got there; where it was going; are all mysteries unsolved to this day. All that is known is this: It was seen for the first time in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.”
Props to Montgomery for just abandoning the backstory right there. Is there a term for the opposite of an info dump?
Anyway, a young man is riding along on horseback in the Grand Canyon and sees a giant elephant coming at him. His first thought, naturally, is “There are no elephants in the Grand Canyon!”
He realizes, however, that the road is not big enough for both of them and he’s about to get trampled, so rather than run away or retreat, he shoots the elephant in the face with...I guess a handgun? This has about as much effect as you’d guess.
He tries again. The elephant is unfazed.
But then! The elephant freezes, and he hears a trembling voice coming from the elephant! “Elephants don’t talk!” he thinks.

A door opens in the side of the elephant and stairs come out! (Presumably he thinks “Elephants don’t have stairs!” but the text doesn’t say.)
“Mount the stairs and come in,” says a trembling voice inside the elephant, “for I am dying!”

And my food just arrived, so talk amongst yourselves for ten minutes.
Sorry for delay, they’re reasphalting the road in front of my house. Where were we? Oh yes. A voice has told the young man to come inside.
There is a little old man on a couch inside the hollow elephant, who says “Be ye man or devil that disturbs my peace? I pray ye, give me a drink of that crystal water in yonder vial else I perish.“
“My life sands are running low and one more drink of that magic fluid will give me life—life everlasting.”

The young man hands him the vial but he spills it and drops dead with a cry of rage.
The young man is finally introduced as Harold and is like “This has been a day. I need a minute.”
Harold puts a towel over the dead guy’s face and investigates the elephant’s interior. It is dramatically decorated with “curios from all over the world” and the elephant’s backbone, made of a network of electric wires, is concealed with a fishnet full of weapons.
I always store my knives and swords and loaded pistols pressed against the power mains, don’t you?
There’s a couch, a bookcase, a pipe rack, and a drop down table. It is compared to the cabin of a yacht. At the head of the couch is the elephant’s control panel. You sit on the couch and control the elephant via knobs and buttons. There are peepholes in the ears.
The trunk is a hose, the forelegs have the engine, the back legs are an icebox. Clothes and stuff fit under the couch. The elephant’s hide is a real elephant hide stretched over the frame and if you hit a button it electrifies and shocks anyone who touches it to death.
Harold is like “Dunno where the elephant was going, guess I should bury the old guy,” when he trips over the last will and testament and also the Electric Elephant Owner’s Manual.
The will says “I’m mostly immortal but in case I don’t get to my magic liquid in time, whoever buries me gets my elephant.”

HAROLD: Woohoo, free elephant!
“This is the last will and testament of an unknown man who lived before his time.”

Harold buries the old man in a cave, thereby doing possibly the last thing any of us will admire him for in the entire book.

Harold thinks “Eight hours ago I was a poor boy without money, friends or relatives.” He still has no friends, for reasons that will soon become obvious, but he’s got a dead guy’s elephant!
He goes into the elephant, sets it on autopilot—it’s got an autopilot—and it wanders through the Grand Canyon while he eats cold prairie chicken from the icebox.
There are potatoes, bread, cutlery, and china under the couch. Also an electric cooker by the tail. This is an elephant of holding.

Hey, remember how he was on horseback? Yeah, neither did the author. Harold’s horse vanishes into the aether of authorial forgetfulness.
When he finishes eating, he is attacked by panicked cowboys on broncos, who presumably don’t know why there’s an elephant in the Grand Canyon either.
The cowboys manage to squeak their horses past the elephant on the road—why does no one ever turn around in this book—and just as they’re past, Harold accidentally hits the Loud Elephant Noise button and the elephant starts trumpeting.
“How wonderful!” He exclaimed. “That must have frightened the men and horses nearly to death!”

This is a direct quote. There is a reason Harold has no friends.
The horses are long gone. Harold spends some time figuring out the elephant controls. There’s a plate glass window in the forehead and in between the skin and the interior is a compressed air reservoir so he can take the elephant underwater.
The elephant is “made of some metal that would resist both the force of gravitation and the heavy weight of the water.”

Ah, yes, handwavium.
He has a map that shows the best place to cross the ocean, and he rhapsodizes about what fun that would be.

Also the elephant is carrying cash. Thousands and thousands of dollars, in 1903 money.
“Hurrah!” he cried, “that is fine, now I shall start on a tour around the world; but I wish I had a companion to talk to.” He vows to keep his eyes open for some nice young man and decides the shortest road to the coast from the Grand Canyon is just south of San Francisco.
The manual tells him how to charge the elephant, which the author assures us is very easy, “for you must remember Dear Reader that the old man was years and years ahead of his time and was familiar with inventions and laws of nature the world will not know for a thousand years.”
He plots a course to Japan by way of the Sandwich Islands and charges the elephant down the canyon into the mountains. He hunts some prairie chickens from elephantback.
The elephant has an icebox kept cold by electricity and handwaving.
“Well I never!” says Harold. “Is there anything the old man couldn’t do with electricity and chemicals?” He goes to bed, ending the chapter. I gotta go record a podcast, but later we will watch Harold just start murdering people left and right.
Ok! I return! We can get through a little more tonight, I think.

Chapter Three: Harold Discovers A Companion.
Harold wakes up and the elephant is being attacked by a racial stereotype, and not even an internally consistent one. There are Indians shooting poisoned arrows at the elephant, which Harold decides is a tribe that has been attacking wagon trains.

...let’s unpack this a bit.
It is 1903, the transcontinental railroad has been in place for decades, poisoned arrows?! and also these are apparently a bad stereotype of Plains Indians, but living in the Grand Canyon. For reasons.
So these people, living in...yes, teepees...with poisoned arrows in an apparently wagon-train filled part of the Grand Canyon...yeah, okay. Probably the reason they’re hostile is because there has been some nonconsensual time travel going on, Harold!
Harold, in true colonial fashion, decides to just electrocute everybody using his elephant. “Now for some fun!” he thinks while doing this.

Shit got dark.
So he kills everyone attacking him with the electrified elephant—NOT THE LAST TIME THIS WILL HAPPEN—and then raids the village of women and children, taking their stuff to add to the elephant’s curio collection.

I am not making this up.
He then strolls off in his elephant and encounters a hot white captive maiden.

I’ll bet anyone a dollar that Montgomery grew up on captive narratives and was just like “this never goes out of style!”
The young woman’s name is Ione de Valley. Her family is dead. There, that is her entire backstory. You will never get any more.
“Take me away from all this!” says Ione, who is being very blasé about the whole mechanical elephant deal.
“Will do!” says Harold. “Hey, you want to travel the world in my elephant?”
“Yes! I will cook and do domestic duties while you run the elephant!” she says.
No, really, she says that.
“You can always count on me,” says the young man who just casually committed genocide.
He turns on the lights in the elephant and Ione screams with delight and says it is better than fairyland because she would be afraid of stepping on the fairies.

That’s the end of the chapter but I hate to end on mass murder, so let’s keep going.

Whoever said that Harold is just Fritz from Swiss Family Robinson, I am ready to believe you, because this is the stupid big fan hunting chapter.
Big game. Not fan. I don’t think this book has fans.
Ione takes the couch, Harold makes up a bed on the table, and in the middle of the night, something starts roaring. Ione says it’s a Rocky Mountain Griizly Bear and she is dreadfully afraid of them.
“They can’t get in here!” says Harold.
“Oh, right, I forgot,” says Ione.
They look out the ear peepholes, see two grizzly bears, and Harold is immediately gonna shoot them. But oh no! He must go outside and stand on the elephant to do it!
“Nooo!” says Ione.
“Go Team Bear,” sez I.
Harold stands on the elephant’s back and shoots a bear, which dies. The other bear is pissed. Harold makes an impassion speech at the bear about how he feels sorry for her, so will shoot her.

The bear is DONE with this jackass and just leaps onto the elephant and starts mauling him. Harold is like “oh, huh, getting hard to breathe here” and then Ione grabs one of the daggers off the ceiling, leaps up on the elephant, and stabs the bear to death.
She rolls the bear off him and he calls her the pluckiest little girl he’s ever heard of and somehow she does not stab him and take the elephant.
Then she’s all “yeah, I know how to cure bear hides, we can strap them to the elephant’s back, but can we not do that again?”
Harold is like “but if I hasn’t shot the bear, I wouldn’t know you were awesome!”
Anyhow, that ends the chapter. The next one is actually very dull and mostly involves them getting stuck in the snow. Fortunately the elephant has ice melting chemicals and they just sprinkle those with the trunk and poof!
They get to the next chapter and California and encounter a traveling circus.
“This’ll be hilarious,” says Harold, and immediately pretends to be a real elephant.
The circus is like “Woo! Free random elephant!”
They have another elephant do a meet and greet. Harold hastily rubs “elephant oil” on his elephant so it smells right NO I DON’T KNOW EITHER
He makes the elephant trumpet and “nearly dies of laughter” at Ione’s fright.

I gotta assume at this point she’s like “yep, ok, stowing away in a futuristic elephant with a murderous bastard was not a great idea.”
They walk into LA with the circus. The keeper just shrugs and adds the strange elephant to the act with absolutely no training or rehearsal. As one does.
“Now for some fun,” says Harold, who apparently says this before he does anything horrible, and goes on a rampage through the big top. He throws a clown on the trapeze, picks up a terrified donkey, drops the donkey, trumpets, and sets firecrackers off at the end of his tail?!
They open the door on the elephant and waves goodbye and laugh, then charge the elephant through the city and head to the beach. “Now for some fun!” says Harold.
“Watch me frighten these people on the beach!” (Direct quote.) He then charges the elephant at the beach, runs up and down it a few times, causing the crowd to run screaming, then runs into the ocean.
And that is the end of the chapter and I have no goddamn clue how this book got published.
Interestingly enough, parts of the internet suggest this may be one of the first commercial science fiction books for children, so...uh...no wonder the field went the way it did, I guess.
That’s enough for me for one night! Tune in next time for...well, more of this.
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