Question: Do you like Kipling?
Answer: I don't know, I've never Kippled.
Ok, so that's a silly old joke, but this is a silly old book. Unlike the joke, however, the book is exceedingly clever. It is one of the best-known collections of children's stories written by the great Rudyard Kipling, perhaps second only to The Jungle Book(s).
Kipling was born in in Bombay, British India, in 1865. He lived in various places upon the globe, including England and the U.S., and traveled to South Africa. He works are known for their exotic flavor, often blending people with animal characters.
As for this particular book, it is one of my lifelong treasures. Originally written in 1902, this hardback was published ten years later. Someone gave it to me as a little child and my mother often read it to me. I must have been very young, because I started reading at a very early age. Somehow, though, reading it now after nearly sixty years, I believe my mother only read me a few of the stories out of the twelve! Those I remember, but others I am sure I never heard. There was a thirteenth story, the Tabu Tale, but it was not published in most U.K. editions. It was published in the U.S. Scribner edition of 1903, and is printed online at Wikisource. I am converting it to an eBook, so I'll have a review for it. (Check my eBooks Index Page.) This nearly same edition may be downloaded from Project Gutenberg, including the beautiful color artwork by J.M. Gleeson, of which my copy is missing a few, but not additional images by Paul Bransom, which my copy does have. Kipling himself did the other artwork, and it is just as silly as the stories. A similarly silly poem follows each of the stories.
Obviously, as a child, I had no idea of the treasure I had here, and I'm sure my mother did not, either. Now, as an adult with the internet, I've been able to learn more about the book and its history. Most of the stories are addressed to "My Best Beloved" and even as a tiny tot, I wondered who his "Best Beloved" was. Well, she was Kipling's little girl, Josephine, and these he made up for her as bedtime stories. She demanded they be told, "Just So," and if he said something a little differently, she pointed it out. Tragically, she died at only age six of pneumonia.
These tall tales might be described as an "alternate" theory of evolution, because they describe mostly animals and how they developed certain characteristics. According to Wikipedia, "Evolutionary biologists have noted that what Kipling did in fiction, they have done in reality, providing explanations for the evolutionary development of animal features." Here are the twelve stories, with a bit about each:
How the Whale Got His Throat
This one tells how whales developed their "baleen" (also called whalebone), which allows the animal to take in water, then expel it while trapping the small creatures that comprise their diet, such as krill. The story, however, comes before whales had that particular part of their anatomy, and this particular whale ate everything in the ocean.
"In the sea, once upon a time, O my Best Beloved, there was a Whale, and he ate fishes. He ate the starfish and the garfish, and the crab and the dab, and the plaice and the dace, and the skate and his mate, and the makereel and the pickereel, and the really truly twirly-whirly eel."
There. Now you have an idea of the gist of the book. I'll let you read it to find out what happens.
How the Camel Got His Hump
This one tells of a lazy Camel who lived in the Howling Desert. The other animals resented him because they had to do twice as much work because of his idleness. When confronted, his answer was always an arrogant, "Humph!" But he was eventually punished for his refusal to cooperate by a powerful Djinn (Genie).
How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin
Here we have a Parsee who lived on the Red Sea, who had just baked a delectable fruit cake. As he sat down to eat it, a rude Rhinoceros, who then had tight-fitting skin, came and upset the cooking stove, and ate the cake, while the Parsee escaped up a palm tree. One very hot day, everyone took off their clothes, and the Rhinoceros took off his skin as he came down to the beach to bathe. But the Parsee, still angry over the cake thing, filled the skin with crumbs, and rubbed the crumbs into it until it was filled, and that even included some burnt currants. When the Rhinoceros put his skin back on, he was all itchy, so he rolled and rubbed and rolled and rubbed, until his skin was all stretched out and full of folds.
How the Leopard Got His Spots
Now, this is one I remember from childhood! It is about the animals who lived in Africa:
In the days when everybody started fair, Best Beloved, the Leopard lived in a place called the High Veldt. 'Member, it wasn't the Low Veldt, or the Bush Veldt, or the Sour Veldt, but the 'sclusively bare, hot, shiny High Veldt, where there was sand and sandy-colored rock and 'sclusively tufts of sandy-yellowish grass. The Giraffe and the Zebra and the Eland and the Koodoo and the Hartebeest lived there; and they were 'sclusively sandy-yellow-brownish all over; the Leopard, he was the 'sclusivest sandiest-yellowish-brownest of them all—a greyish-yellowish catty-shaped kind of beast, and he matched the 'sclusively yellowish-greyish-brownish colour of the High Veldt to one hair.
In addition to the Leopard, the other animals had to escape from the Ethiopian,
too. But eventually they found relief, when they moved to the forest. Soon after standing in the "slippery-slidy shadows of the trees," their own skin
developed spots and stripes, and they were well hidden. But, with all the animals gone, the Ethiopian and the Leopard soon got "the Big Tummy-ache" from
too little food. ". . . and then they meet Baviaan—the dog-headed, barking baboon, who is quite the Wisest Animal in all South Africa."
So, they found where the game had escaped, but in order to fit in, they had to change their skin, too. The Ethiopian changed his skin to black, and had enough black left over that he could make finger-print black spots on the Leopard's skin.
The Elephant's Child (also known as How the Elephant Got His Trunk)
The image for this one is on the cover of the book above. It tells of a young Elephant who always asked questions and got spanked for it. He wanted to know, really badly, what the Crocodile had for dinner. Finally, the Bi-Colored-Python-Rock-Snake told him where the Crocodile lived. As you can see by the picture, the Elephant Child got his question answered the hard way. Fortunately, the Bi-Colored-Python-Rock-Snake rescued him. But, he found, that his "blackish, bulgy nose, as big as a boot" had become quite something else, which he joyfully found very useful. He went home and spanked all his relatives with it. My copy of the book has an additional color plate which illustrates "He picked up his hairy uncle, the Baboon, by one hairy leg, and hove him into a hornet's nest" So there.
The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo
The Kangaroo, who looked unlike he does now, wanted to be "different from all other animals" and "wonderfully popular." He went to the Little God Nqa, who was no help, then to the Middle God Nquing, who didn't help either. But when he when to the Big God Nqong, he sent Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo, after the Kangaroo, who chased him all day. However, Kangaroo got his wish without realizing it at first, and after his desperation to escape the clutches of Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo, he found he now had little front legs and strong powerful hind ones, and did indeed look unlike any other animal.
The Beginning of the Armadillos
This was my very favorite story when I was a little one. It tells of Painted Jaguar who lives on the banks of the Amazon, and whose Mummy constantly tries to teach him to hunt.
She said to him ever so many times, graciously waving her tail, "My son, when you find a Hedgehog you must drop him into the water and then he will uncoil, and when you catch a Tortoise you must scoop him out of his shell with your paw."
But Painted Jaguar was easily confused. He soon found Stickly-Prickly, the Hedgehog, and his friend, Slow-Solid Tortoise. He shares with them the information given to him by his Mummy, and simply wants to know which of them is a Hedgehog, and which is a Tortoise.
"Are you sure of what your Mummy told you?" said Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog. "Are you quite sure? Perhaps she said that when you uncoil a Tortoise you must shell him out of the water with a scoop, and when you paw a Hedgehog you must drop him on the shell."
"Are you quite sure of what your Mummy told you?" said Slow-and-Solid Tortoise. "Are you quite sure? Perhaps she said that when you water a Hedgehog you must drop him into your paw, and when you meet a Tortoise you must shell him till he uncoils."
Needless to say, in Painted Jaguar's confusion, he tries to scoop Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog, ending up with a paw full of prickles, then drops Slow-Solid Tortoise into the water, who swims away. Now, even though Painted Jaguar lost that round, the other two begin to be concerned. So, they each work at the other's gifts. Soon, Slow-Solid Tortoise has taught Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog to swim, and Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog works at unlacing the back-plates of Slow-Solid Tortoise. Little-by little, he is able to curl himself up. As they work and work into their new roles, they find they have become a totally new animal: the Armadillo!
How the First Letter was Written
How the Alphabet was Made
The second of these is a sequel to the first. (Also using the same characters is the missing story, Tabu Tale, mentioned above.) They are a Neolithic family; the father, Tegumai Bopsulai, which means Man-who-does-not-put-his-foot-forward-in-a-hurry; his wife, Teshumai Tewindrow, meaning Lady-who-asks-a-very-many-questions; and his daughter, Taffimai Metallumai, which means Small-person-without-any-manners-who-ought-to-be-spanked, who goes by the name "Taffy." One day Tegumai and Taffy go down to the river to carp fish, but Tegumai breaks his spear right away. Taffy wants to run home to fetch another, but her daddy won't allow her. Taffy suggests it would be a good thing if they could write a message to send home, but they don't know how to write yet. Just then, a Stranger-man approaches, and, even though he doesn't speak their language, Taffy tries to communicate with him, then enlists him to go get the spare spear. She draws what she thinks is a very clear message on a piece of birch-bark, which shows him how to get to their cave past the beaver-swamp, and where the other spear is. But the Stranger-man gets it all wrong, and Taffy's drawing isn't very good so when the Stranger-man reaches their cave, her mother really gets the wrong idea. She happened to have all the Neolithic ladies for lunch that day, and they all decide that the Stranger-man has stuck Tegumai full of spears and Taffy's hair is standing on end for fear. So the ladies all attack the poor innocent message-bearer.
"Most shocking!" said the Neolithic ladies, and they filled the Stranger-man's hair with mud (at which he was surprised), and they beat upon the Reverberating Tribal Drums, and called together all the chiefs of the Tribe of Tegumai, with their Hetmans and Dolmans, all Neguses, Woons, and Akhoonds of the organization, in addition to the Warlocks, Angekoks, Juju-men, Bonzes, and the rest, who decided that before they chopped the Stranger-man's head off he should instantly lead them down to the river and show them where he had hidden poor Taffy.
My goodness, wasn't Taffy surprised when the crowd arrives, and not one of them had the needed spear. The Stranger-man, however, took it all in good stride, and in the next story, Taffy and her daddy create the alphabet, so as to never experience this misunderstanding again. Their method is quite clever! Incidentally, Kipling illustrated the first edition of this collection himself, and his drawings also appear in this edition. I copied the artwork from the Project Gutenberg page mentioned above.
The Crab That Played With the Sea
This story is about a huge crab who lived when the earth was created. The Eldest Magician got the Earth ready, then got all the animals ready so that they knew their roles. For instance,
He took the Elephant—All-the-Elephant-there-was—and said, "Play at being an Elephant," and All-the-Elephant-there-was played.
And so he did with all the animals, the Beaver, Cow, Turtle, and all of them played at creating their part of Earth. But the Crab escaped before he got his assignment. Soon after, the Eldest Magician asked the Man if all the animals and Earth were obedient, but the Man said, "No" and described how the sea came up each day and each night and flooded his house, then each day and each night the water drained back out again. They search for the culprit, and find that it is the huge Crab, Pau Amma, playing with the Sea. Once a day and once a night, he goes to look for food, and once a day and once a night, he returns. But he is arrogant and thinks he is much more important than he is, and when challenged by the Eldest Magician, finds that he is not as powerful as he thinks. The Eldest Magician strips him of his shell, so he is vulnerable. But eventually they all work out an agreement, and Pau Amma gets his shell back, but is turned into a very small creature, so he cannot disturb the sea.
The Cat that Walked by Himself
Here we return to cave people who are wild, and all the animals are wild, too. But, one by one, each is lured into a relationship with Man, which benefits both them and their Master. All but the Cat that Walked by Himself. But in the end, he finds that human companionship isn't so bad. This illustration has become well-known, I believe. I am certain I've seen it elsewhere besides this book.
The Butterfly That Stamped
The final story is about King Solomon, a Biblical figure who had hundreds of wives and concubines. In the story, Balkis, his Head Queen is the one he truly loves. (She is the Queen of Sheba.) Solomon, or Suleiman-bin-Daoud, is growing weary because his other nine hundred ninety-nine wives are constantly quarreling. He goes out for some peace and quiet, and comes upon a Butterfly couple, also quarreling. Balkis, unnoticed, observes Solomon and the Butterflies. The man Butterfly is tired of the way his wife speaks to him, so he says:
"I wonder at your presumption in talking like this to me. Don't you know that if I stamped with my foot, all Suleiman-bin Daoud's Palace and his garden here would immediately vanish in a clap of thunder."
Suleiman-bin-Daoud shakes with laughter, then calls the Butterfly to his finger to ask him why boasted and told such a fib. The Butterfly responded that "you know what wives are like," and Suleiman-bin-Daoud agreed. He sent the Butterfly back to continue the conversation. Meanwhile, Balkis thought of a plan to quiet Suleiman-bin-Daoud's nine hundred ninety-nine quarreling wives. The Butterfly, tells his wife that Suleiman-bin-Daoud had asked him to not stamp his foot, because his Palace had cost so much. Again, Suleiman-bin-Daoud roars with laughter. But Balkis, unseen by Suleiman-bin-Daoud, tells the lady Butterfly to make her husband stamp his foot when he begins to boast and see what happens. Soon the Butterflies are quarreling again. So the man Butterfly returns to Suleiman-bin-Daoud, and this time, he summons his Djinns (Genies), who are ordered to raise the whole Palace into the air with a thunder-clap, when the Butterfly stamps (just to prove his power to his wife). Then Suleiman-bin-Daoud tells the Butterfly to stamp again, and the Djinns lower the Palace once again to the ground. But another thing also happened. It shuts up Suleiman-bin-Daoud's nine hundred ninety-nine quarreling wives. They repent their quarreling and agree to behave. And this makes Balkis and the King very happy.
And that is the end of this wonderful collection of clever and humorous tales. They're not just for kids! Everyone should read this book, and you can do it for free online or on a reader. Highly recommended!
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