Elya Yelnats in Holes

Instructor: Shelley Vessels

Shelley has taught at the middle school level for 10 years and has a master's degree in teaching English.

Elya Yelnats is the great-great-grandfather of Stanley Yelnats who, according to Stanley, has brought eternal bad luck to his family. But, is it true? How did it happen? Read on to learn more.

Do You Believe in Curses?

If you're Stanley Yelnats, the main character in Holes by Louis Sachar, you sure do. How else could you explain being wrongly accused of stealing a pair of shoes? Or, having your great-grandfather's life savings stolen by a passerby outlaw? This string of bad luck is said to originate from Stanley's great-great-grandfather, Elya Yelnats and a bad decision he made.

Who is Elya Yelnats?

If you ask Stanley, Elya Yelnats is his 'no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather' who is to blame every time something goes wrong.

Elya Yelnats grew up in Latvia, and when he was fifteen, he fell in love with a beautiful girl named Myra. The problem was that Myra had another suitor--an old pig farmer named Igor, and Igor had already promised his fattest pig to Myra's father in exchange for her hand in marriage. Elya wasn't a pig farmer, so how could he compete for Myra's love?

The Things We Do for Love

Not having a plan of action, Elya went to his friend, Madame Zeroni, for advice. Madame Zeroni didn't think that Myra was the best choice for him; Myra, according to Madame Zeroni, had a head 'as empty as a flower pot.' Against her better judgment, Madame Zeroni decided to help Elya by giving him the runt of her piglet litter.

In exchange for the piglet, Madame Zeroni had two requests:

  • Elya was to carry the piglet to the top of the mountain every day for an entire year and let it drink from the spring. While it was drinking, Elya had to sing a special song.
  • Once the year was over, he was to carry wheelchair-bound Madame Zeroni up to the summit to do the same.

If these requests were not fulfilled, Elya, his entire family, and their descendants would be cursed for generations to come.

A Choice

Elya began the daily ritual of hiking to the top of the mountain with the piglet. A couple months later, Elya brought the growing pig to Myra's house to impress her father with it. Her father insisted on weighing the piglet to see whose pig was fatter, Elya's or Igor's.

When they weighed exactly the same, Myra was to decide which suitor she liked best. Because Madame Zeroni was right and Myra's head was as 'empty as a flower pot,' Myra couldn't decide between the two men. Disappointed, Elya gave up and gave Myra and Igor his pig as a wedding present.

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