Thursday, 18 August 2011

Lord of the Rings, Vampires, Whales and the Azores

Vampires, aliens, elves, robots, borrowers, timelords, supermen, werewolves, hobbits, angels. I'll stop there but the list could go on and on. Why do so many books and films hinge on the idea of people meeting, communicating, interacting, and fighting with other, intelligent species?

From the very first fairy stories I read, with wolves and witches, to my obsession with the Lord of the Rings, they seem to have been in more of my books than not. My personal favourites are probably the elves in the Lord of the Rings, and in the wider mythology that Tolkien created. Cross-species romance is incredibly popular at the moment. It doubles the drama of a regular relationship, without limiting the amazing attractiveness of everyone concerned. Mostly the drama is 'I really want my boyfriend to bite me, so I live forever as well.' Tolkien's version was gentler, though. In his stories of elves and men that loved one another, the elves choose mortality, and their family are always stricken. This tragedy was memorably played out by Liv Tyler in the movies. You can see a little bit of it HERE.

It seems like we're desperate for somebody else to talk to. It's almost as if we're bored with people, all the same old problems and abilities. And what problems the other might have... They shine in the sun, they're two feet tall, they're practically slaves. As for their abilities, I think everything, ever, imaginable has been covered.

People who've been reading will know what I'm going to say.

We don't need to make them up. They all ready exist. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you...

...the cachalot, or sperm whale. Biggest brain in the world, largest carnivore to ever exist, it hunts for giant squid with sonar. It's clicks mean it can see in 3D, in the dark. It explores a black, empty world, far from the surface, where we can't go.
It's quite possible they're incredibly intelligent. We don't really know, we know very little about them. One scientist said sitting in boats and trying to understand whales from what we see is like sitting underwater in a drinking hole and trying to understand elephants from their feet and trunks splashing about. Far from falling in love with them, our main interaction with them has been to slaughter them in gigantic numbers and melt down their fat to oil our watches.
Yet they survive. The best place to see these amazing animals is the Azores, in the Atlantic, off Portugal. I went there, to Horta on Faial island. It's a small harbour town, like something out of Pirates of the Caribean, with the most beautiful view, I think, in the world.

The island of Pico across the straits. I went out in a whale watching boat, saw Sei whales and millions of amazing dolphins, but no cachalots. I was disappointed, but not too much because it means I have to go back. In the meantime, of course, I'll read books about vampires and watch films about the apes that did for mankind. Kinds sorta the same thing. Maybe.

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