Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Heaven for Animals?

The Divine Life of Animals
One Man's Quest to Discover Whether the Souls of Animals Live On

by Ptolemy Tompkins

First, please pretend not to notice how much the cover of this book looks like an ad for toilet paper. The paperback edition has a much better cover, but the hardcover is what you'll find in our collection. Second, yes, "Ptolemy" is the author's real, given name, not some New Age nom de plume. Now, with that out of the way let's consider why this is a book worth reading.

Tompkins' line of inquiry runs something like this: If humans have immortal souls, and humans are animals, then might non-human animals also have immortal souls? The question, of course, suggests its own answer. But even if you're not inclined to believe that animals (or humans for that matter) have souls, Tompkins' argument is as edifying as it is entertaining. It won't convince anyone not already predisposed to buy it, but that's almost beside the point.

Tompkins draws his evidence from a Joseph Campbell-inspired grab bag of elements of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. His case is hardly scientific, but it is erudite and compelling. He argues that the animals we love—whether because we bring them into our homes live with us or because we go into the wild to hunt them—have always seemed to have something special, something powerful about them. Whatever that quality may be—Tompkins calls it "soul"—it allows them to appear to us in dreams, causes us to feel their presence when we cannot see them, and seems to bring them back to their favorite places even after we have seen them die. 

Mary Oliver's poem "The First Time Percy Came Back" from A Thousand Mornings perfectly encapsulates the mystery Tompkins describes. Every animal lover should read Oliver's poems about her dog Percy. And since April is National Poetry Month, there's no better time than now to read them. Oliver's poems are guaranteed to put a lump in your throat and leave you in the perfect frame of mind to consider The Divine Life of Animals.

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Review by Don Beistle

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