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Just-So Stories (Signet Classic)

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Rudyard Kipling

The graceful prose and pungent humor of these 12 tall tales (which include such favorites as "How the Camel Got His Hump" and "The Elephant's Child") place them in the same league with such children's classics as Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland. … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Book
Author: Rudyard Kipling
Publisher: Signet Classics
1 review about Just-So Stories (Signet Classic)

"I will be kind to the baby ... for always and always and always."

  • Apr 5, 2011

Just before I wrote this review for lunch.com, I went to wikipedia.org to refresh my memory. In the process I learned three new phrases describing JUST SO STORIES! A just so story is a pourquoi story aka origin story aka etiological tale. Wiki further defines the object of these phrases as

"fictional narrative that explains why something is the way it is, for example why a snake has no legs, or why a tiger has stripes. Many legends and folk tales are pourquoi stories."


And indeed the 12 JUST SO STORIES are told to young children and are about origins, mainly of parts of animals but also origins of the alphabet and writing systems and, my favorite, of the  domestication of the first animals by early humans.

Rudyard Kipling published this collection in 1902, five years before he came the youngest person (age 42) even to this date to win the Nobel Prize for literature. The stories are for children.  Some Rudyard had heard from his Indian servants as a toddler in Bombay in the late 1860s. Some if not all he seems to imagine himself telling his "Best Beloved" first child Josephine who died very young.


Most of the animal stories are metamorphoses, not of, say, a pig into a mouse, but of a body part, a shape, a coloration into something else on or within the original animal. In the order presented the animals to be transformed are whale, camel, rhinoceros, leopard, young elephant, kangaroo, armadillo and crab. 

King Solomon makes peace among his 999 quareling wives with the help of two married butterflies. A curious elephant's pudgy nose is lengthened into a trunk by a hungry crocodile on the "banks of the great  gray-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees." A well-meaning cave girl causes a lot of trouble when she invents the first pictographic writing. And on and on.


Cat lovers everywhere cannot get enough of "The Cat That Walked by Himself." There was a time when every animal in the world was wild. Even the Man was wild until he met the Woman. The aroma of the first meal that the Woman cooked in the couple's neat cave drew the wild dog and the wild horse to the cave, where they agreed to become Man's First Friends. The wild cat was tempted but only observed from hiding how the Man and the Woman and later the Baby related themselves to those wild animals which they tamed.


Cat's unvarying slogan was "I am the cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me." And on the basis of that feline Ur-value, Cat negotiated terms useful to himself (including thrice daily milk) first with the Woman, then the Man. Dog then demanded that Cat be kind to the baby, or else. Cat: "I will be kind to the baby while I am in the Cave, as long as he does not pull my tail too hard, for always and always and always. But still I am the Cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to me."


Cat's relationship with humans is unique and not as placid as man's relations with dogs, horses, cows and sheep. Men will throw their boots. And dogs will chase cats up a tree.


A grand tale "for always and always and always."  




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