Kipling’s Enduring Just So Stories
Rudyard Kipling has long been recognised as one of the most authentic writers during the British Empire of the early 20th century. Some of his works are clearly of their period yet the Just So Stories have endured the passage of time. They are as appealing to children today as they were when they were written in 1902.
The stories of how animals came to be as they are remain fanciful and intriguing. Each tale relates how the animal is modified from it’s original form by the acts of mankind, or some other magical act. For example, The Camel refuses to work and is given a hump as a punishment, allowing him to work for longer with less food breaks. The Whale swallowed a sailor, who then tied a raft inside the whale’s throat to impede further ingestion of men. The end result was a smaller throat for the Whale.
Kipling first attempts at this style of writing is evident in The Second Jungle Book of 1895 where he fantasizes how the tiger got his stripes in the story of “How Fear Came“. He no doubt developed the tales when he was telling bedtime stories to his daughter, Josephine or “Effie”. Kipling commented, ...in the evening there were stories meant to put Effie to sleep, and you were not allowed to alter those by one single little word. They had to be told just so; or Effie would wake up and put back the missing sentence. So at last they came to be like charms, all three of them,—the whale tale, the camel tale, and the rhinoceros tale. Tragically his daughter died of fever in 1899. Three of the stories were published in a children’s magazine. A few years later the stories were published in book form in 1902.
Kipling uses an amusing and grand style of language with playful invention of words. He includes a delightful poem after each story. The reader is addressed as Best Beloved engaging a feeling of intimacy with the audience – a technique which clearly worked as the book has appealed to children since it’s publication in 1902.
The book is illustrated with his own images and includes two woodcuts with each story. The images are remarkably fresh today. His skill may well have derived from inheriting some artistic talent from his father who was an artist and Principal at the then Mayo School of Arts, in Lahore, British India.
Many of the stories have been made into films and musicals. For example, the Just So Stories were adapted as a 1984 musical, called Just So at the Watermill theatre in England. Also a French-British animated co-production of Just So Stories was produced in 2008. It is testimony to Kipling’s talent of writing and illustration that a rare first edition book is still in demand today and remains a collectable item. As Kipling said, Hear and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was: O my Best Beloved, when the tame animals were wild, and children are still listening.