BOOK REVIEW – RUDYARD KIPLING – THE JUST SO STORIES 1902 Macmillan Press.
Rightly famed collection of fables and stories for children, by the author of The Jungle Book and Kim. The collection, addressed to the narrator’s Most Beloved, (son), is a series of tall tale beast fables and arguments about how written language and the alphabet came to be invented.
The elephant got its long trunk for being inquisitive about what crocodiles happen to eat. Everyone tells the elephant to shut up and spanks him, until the crocodile itself answers his question by trying to eat the elephant. However, in pulling on his nose in an effort to drag him into the river, the crocodile merely stretches it to the present trunk length. The elephant, far from upset, finds the long trunk useful, especially for spanking back everyone who hit him in the past. Animal camouflage is explained in a similar way, as is how the giant whale is prevented from swallowing sailors and can only swallow little fish despite his big size (after a wily swallowed sailor used bits of his boat to block off whole sections of the whale’s once cavernous throat.
The best story is that of The Butterfly That Stamped. A butterfly with a nagging wife, boasts that he will stamp his wings together in angry and that in doing so, the palace of wise King Solomon itself will disappear. The boast amuses Solomon who, as the wife of the butterfly calls her husband’s silly bluff, has his Jinn temporarily make the palace vanish. The lady butterfly is shocked into quietude and obedience to her husband’s powerful sense of authority from then onwards.
Kipling provides poems and his own terrific illustrations for the book, with detailed explanatory notes, apologies for not being able to draw (which he clearly could do) and joking laments that his publishers wouldn’t let him paint the pictures in full colour. It’s a truly lovely book which many a parent and child adore reading.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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