‘Lucy and Bonbon’ author Don LePan in his Nanaimo home as he flips through one of his last on-hand copies since the book was published this spring. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin)

‘Lucy and Bonbon’ author Don LePan in his Nanaimo home as he flips through one of his last on-hand copies since the book was published this spring. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo author’s new book blurs boundaries between humans and animals

Don LePan’s ‘Lucy and Bonbon’ a speculative fiction work that explores theoretical inter-breeding

In his latest novel, a Nanaimo author asks his readers to consider two philosophical questions: what does it mean to be human, and what does that say about our relationship with animals?

Don LePan’s Lucy and Bonbon, which he described as speculative fiction, ventures to facilitate that discourse.

The story, published May 1, follows a mother and child and the controversy that surrounds them during the first 14 years of the child’s life. It explores not only the theoretical notion of humans being able to reproduce with other great apes, but what those hybrids might look like and if society would, or could, accept them.

“There’s been, of course, a lot out in the last 10 or 15 years about the degree to which humans share DNA with Neanderthals – I think it’s like two to three per cent,” said LePan in relation to interbreeding. “It had been thought previously that Neanderthals and humans developed separately. But that’s now known to be false.”

The origin of Lucy and Bonbon, or at least an early concept of it, rose from a discussion around the dinner table LePan had with his partner Maureen Okun, a retired Vancouver Island University professor.

“I think, at another level, since about 2005 … I’ve also been looking for other ways to encourage people to think differently about our relationship with animals,” he said.

A previous work of LePan’s published in 2010, a novel called Animals, dealt with similiar themes.

“I think the way humans treat other animals, in general, is just horrific,” he said, referring not only to animal experimentation in various industries, but factory farming. “But in Lucy and Bonbon, I don’t want to make it a polemic.”

In the book, he said that although a character makes a case against eating animal products, it is possible for a reader to argue against what the character is saying.

“I really do want to stimulate debate and thought, as opposed to simply batting people over the head with a set of ideas from one side.”

As for the questions he poses to his audience, LePan doesn’t pretend to “have any good answers” himself, at least specifically pertaining to what it means to be human. He instead looks to acknowledge the difficulty in identifying the line between humans and non-humans, and suggests that concern should instead focus on the human relationship with other animals and fellow creatures.

He also referred to an article called Is a Dolphin a Person?, written by Mary Midgley, a British philosopher, that considered other animals being granted personhood – which she defined as a being that is conscious, thinking, and self-aware.

“Very interesting concept, personhood,” said LePan. “Because in dealing in law, in countries such as Canada and the United States, personhood has not been restricted to humans. Corporations, for example, in law, are considered persons. It’s very weird … I think when people use the concept of a dolphin or a chimpanzee as being considered a person, they might think it’s totally weird. But if you think about it, the law already grants personhood to corporations – and it suddenly sounds a lot less weird.”

Lucy and Bonbon, which was dedicated to a famous African gray parrot with advanced cognitive skills, first started as a short story in 2012. LePan said that after receiving comments and suggestions from Peter Singer, an Australian moral philosopher, and Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist and author, he decided to make the story into a longer piece.

Copies of Lucy and Bonbon can be purchased locally in Nanaimo at WindowSeat Books on Wesley Street, or online at amazon.ca.

READ MORE: Nanaimo scuba diver draws from hobby to create first children’s colouring book


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