Written originally for his own children, Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories have continued to delight generations of youngsters since they were first published in 1902. The thirteen stories collected in this book are meant for very young children, but they engage older kids and adults too with their charming conversational style and simple plot lines. These stories are typical examples of the “origin” story, where children are provided with imaginative rather than practical explanations for the “why” “what” “how” “where” “who” “when” questions of childhood. The Just So Stories were tales that Kipling would tell his own daughter who tragically died in infancy of pneumonia. An early forerunner of these stories can be found in The Second Jungle Book in the chapter, “How Fear Came” where the story of how the tiger got its stripes is narrated to Mowgli. All the fables in the Just So Stories follow a similar theme. They relate how a particular creature is altered from an original form into its present appearance either by a magical spirit or a human being. So the reader encounters wonderful and fantastical reasons why The Whale Got Its Throat, The Camel Got Its Hump, The Rhinoceros Got Its Skin, How the Alphabet was Made, and so on. Written in a pretend grand style, as though the narrator was recounting a great and important myth, the stories are studded with fabulous made up words and turns of phrase that catch the reader's attention. Comic exaggeration, wordplay, lots of spontaneous, funny poems, juxtapositions of everyday events with the fantastical tales, amusing and entertaining “explanations” and a short poem at the beginning of each story serve to highlight Kipling's prodigious story telling talents. The reader is always called “Best Beloved” which adds to the personal touch, reminding us of the original listeners of these stories, who were Kipling's own children. Some of the stories may seem politically incorrect to modern day readers, but they must be read in the context in which they were written and could in fact become a starting point for discussions on such issues as race, gender etc. with your own children.
The Just So Stories began as bedtime stories told by Kipling to his daughter "Effie" (Josephine, Kipling's firstborn); when the first three were published in a children's magazine, a year before her death, Kipling explained: "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."
Nine of the thirteen Just So Stories tell how particular animals were modified from their original forms to their current forms by the acts of human beings or magical beings. For example, the Whale has a tiny throat because he swallowed a mariner, who tied a raft inside to block the whale from swallowing other men. The Camel has a hump given to him by a djinn as punishment for the camel's refusing to work (the hump allows the camel to work longer between times of eating). The Leopard's spots were painted by an Ethiopian (after the Ethiopian painted himself black). The Kangaroo gets its powerful hind legs, long tail and hopping gait after being chased all day by a dingo, sent by a minor god responding to the Kangaroo's request to be made different from all other animals.
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