87 pages 2 hours read

Roland Smith

Elephant Run

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2007

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Summary and Study Guide


Roland Smith’s Elephant Run (2007) is a middle grade adventure novel that takes place during World War II. Narrator Nick Freestone tries to escape the war and moves from the deadly bombings in London to his father's teak plantation in Burma. Unfortunately for Nick, the war follows him to Burma, and Japanese soldiers soon imprison him and his childhood friend Mya at his family home. Aided by the ancient monk Hilltop, Mya and Nick set off on a quest to rescue Nick's father—Jackson Freestone—and Mya's brother—Indaw—from a prisoner of war camp deep in the Burman jungle. Along the way, Nick learns the secrets of Burman mahouts, or elephant-keepers, and uncovers his inner strength.

The novel begins in England, where Nick is living with his mother. After a particularly brutal bombing by the Germans, Nick is sent to Burma to live with his father on a teak plantation that has been in the family for generations. Nick is excited to return to his childhood home at Hawk's Nest; upon his arrival, he meets up with Nang, the manager of the mahouts; Nang’s daughter, Mya; and Hilltop. Trouble arises soon after Nick arrives on the plantation. Jackson returns from a long mission and takes Nick, Mya, Indaw, and Hilltop on what is supposed to be a traditional Christmas Day elephant ride. On the ride, Nick learns that the Japanese are invading Burma, and Hawk's Nest is no longer safe. Jackson has already planned to get Nick and Mya to India on elephant-back, where they can take a ship to Australia. Unfortunately, before they can depart for their trip, the Japanese find them in the jungle and take them hostage. Nick and Mya are taken to Hawk’s Nest where they are forced to act as servants for the Japanese commander, Colonel Nagayoshi, while Jackson and Indaw become prisoners of war.

After grueling hours of labor and violence at Hawk's Nest, Nick and Mya finally get help from Hilltop to escape the house using an elaborate system of secret tunnels as a hideout. Meanwhile, there is unrest among the Burmese, who are unhappy with their new Japanese colonizers. Magwe, a mahout who betrayed the Freestones at the beginning of the invasion, changes his tune and aids Mya and Nick in their departure. In order to travel unnoticed, Nick and Mya must pretend to be Buddhist novice monks, shaving their heads and eyebrows and wearing orange robes. They travel on Hannibal—a violent, traumatized bull elephant who only listens to Hilltop. With the support of Kya Lei, or Tiger’s Breath—a modern-day Robin Hood—and Sergeant Sonji, a Japanese soldier and longtime friend of Hilltop, the trio help Indaw and Jackson escape. Captain Moto and the traitorous mahout Bukong nearly capture Indaw and Jackson again, but Hannibal rescues them at the last moment. At the end of the novel, Mya and the Freestones are making a new life on a cattle ranch in Australia. Though the war is now over, they maintain the memory of their trusted friends and elephants.