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ClassicsOnline Home » KIPLING, R.: Just So Stories (Unabridged)
‘I am the cat who walks by himself and all places are alike to me’. Here are the delightful stories which Kipling first told his own children before setting them down on paper. How the Camel got his Hump, How the Leopard got his spots, How the Elephant got his Trunk, The Butterfly that Stamped, and many others. They remain popular, entertaining every generation, partly because of the story and partly because of the vivid way they are written. To hear them—unabridged as they are here—is to enjoy them in their original form.
Just so stories
Here is the complete and unabridged collection of Rudyard
Kipling’s delightful Just So Stories, which he first told to his own children
before setting them down on paper: How the Camel Got His Hump, How the Leopard
Got His Spots, How the Elephant Got His Trunk, The Butterfly that Stamped and
so many others. Written in the late 1800s and first published in 1902, these
enchanting animals remain unforgettable – over one hundred years later. To hear
these magic fables by a master of children’s literature, is to enjoy them...
The full title, Just So Stories for little Children, as they
were called because, as Kipling said, "they had to be told, ‘just
so’", began as bedtime stories for his own children. Rudyard Kipling
recited them in a deep, smooth and soothing voice, which helped his children go
While he was writing the Just So Stories, one of his
daughters, Josephine, died of pneumonia at the age of six. Kipling himself also
became quite ill, which halted his writing for months. Once he recovered, the
poem Merrydown in How the Alphabet was Made was written in memory of Josephine.
Just So Stories, along with Kipling’s The Jungle Books,
1894 and 1895 (also available in two volumes – The Jungle
Books and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Other Stories from Naxos AudioBooks), remain
among the most loved children’s stories of all time.
Kipling was born in Bombay, India in 1865, and though he
went to school in England (having an unhappy time separated from his parents),
he went back to India as a young man and began to work as a journalist. He was
a great traveler throughout his life, going round the world by train and by
paddle steamer (some of these boats crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific at
the time had sails as well as paddles). He spent time in Africa and the Middle
East, as well as Australia and New Zealand.
His experience of these many countries and many cultures can
be seen in Just So Stories. Many of them are not set in any particular country,
but they bear the hallmark of Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. How the
Whale Got His Throat is set, ‘Fifty North and Forty West’, in the middle of the
Atlantic. The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo is clearly marked Australia, and
How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin takes place on a fictional island in the Red
Sea. Even the grumpy camel (in How the Camel Got His Hump) lives in the middle
of a Howling Desert – Arabia is suggested and Djinns come from Arabian
mythology. Although a mythical country, punchayet is referenced, which means ‘a
council of five’, a term from India.
The Leopard (from How the Leopard Got His Spots) lives in
the High Veldt of South Africa, with the Wise Baviaan, the dog-headed Baboon,
‘Quite the Wisest Animal in All South Africa’. So the Ethiopian is clearly a
long way from home. It is interesting to notice that in the picture of Baviaan,
Kipling has drawn many different scripts, including Amaric or Coptic (from
Ethiopia), Hieroglyphic (from Egypt), Cuneiform (from Babylon), as well as
Bengalic (from India), Burmic (from Burma) and Hebraic (from Israel). So the
story covers a very wide range of countries!
African elephants are different to Indian elephants – they
are much bigger for a start – and some experts have said that Kipling’s drawing
looks more like an Indian elephant. However, Kipling’s Elephant’s Child with
’satiable curiosity’ finds his crocodile on the banks of the great gray-green,
greasy Limpopo River, and he had to go through Khama’s country (which is
Botswana in Africa) to get there. So that is a mixture.
For The Beginning of the Armadillos, we move to the banks of
the ‘turbid Amazon’, the longest river in South America. How the First Letter
was Written and How the Alphabet was Made are set in Neolithic times – which
means the later Stone Age (lithic means stone in Greek).
Where is The Crab that Played with the Sea? Probably
somewhere around India and Malaya and Indonesia, according to the names.
Kipling may have imagined The Cat that Walked by Himself in America where he
once lived, because of the ‘wild rice and wild granadillas’, but we really
can’t be certain. There is no doubt, however, about The Butterfly that Stamped,
for Suleiman-bin-Daoud had his temple in Jerusalem. It was a very famous
The Just So Stories range around the globe – which, for
Kipling, was home. He loved traveling. And just listening to them, we too can
travel around the globe in our imagination, to deserts, jungles, forests,
oceans, to times past and times before past.
Notes by Nicolas Soames
How the Alphabet was Made
One of the first things that Tegumai Bopsulai did after
Taffy and he had made the Alphabet was to make a magic Alphabet-necklace of all
the letters, so that it could be put in the Temple of Tegumai and kept for ever
and ever. All the Tribe of Tegumai brought their most precious beads and
beautiful things, and Taffy and Tegumai spent five whole years getting the
necklace in order. This is a picture of the magic Alphabet-necklace. The string
was made of the finest and strongest reindeer-sinew, bound round with thin
Beginning at the top, the first bead is an old silver one
that belonged to
the Head Priest of the Tribe of Tegumai; then came three
black mussel-pearls; next is a clay bead (blue and gray); next a nubbly gold
bead sent as a present by a tribe who got it from Africa (but it must have been
Indian really); the next is a long flat-sided glass bead from Africa (the Tribe
of Tegumai took it in a fight); then come two clay beads (white and green),
with dots on one, and dots and bands on the other; next are three rather
chipped amber beads; then three clay beads (red and white), two with dots, and
the big one in the middle with a toothed pattern. Then the letters begin, and
between each letter is a little whitish clay bead with the letter repeated
small. Here are the letters:
scratched on a tooth – an elk-tusk I think.
the Sacred Beaver of Tegumai on a bit of old glory.
a pearly oyster-shell – inside front.
be a sort of mussel shell – outside front.
a twist of silver wire.
broken, but what remains of it is a bit of stag’s horn.
painted black on a piece of wood. (The bead after G is a small shell, and not a
clay bead. I don’t know why they did that.)
a kind of a big brown cowie-shell.
the inside part of a long shell ground down by hand. (It took Tegumai three
months to grind it down.)
a fishhook in mother-of-pearl.
the broken spear in silver. (K aught to follow J of course, but the necklace
was broken once and they mended it wrong.)
a thin slice of bone scratched and rubbed in black.
on a pale gray shell.
a piece of what is called porphyry with a nose scratched on it. (Tegumai spent
five months polishing this stone.)
a piece of oyster-shell with a hole in the middle.
and Q are missing. They were lost, a long time ago, in a great war, and the
tribe mended the necklace with the dried rattles of a rattlesnake, but no one
ever found P and Q. That is how the saying began, ‘You must mind your P’s and
of course, just a shark’s tooth.
a little silver snake.
the end of a small bone, polished brown and shiny.
another piece of oyster-shell.
W is a
twisty piece of mother-of-pearl that they found inside a big
mother-of-pearl shell, and sawed off with a wire dipped in
sand and water. It took Taffy a month and a half to polish it and drill the
silver wire joined in the middle with a raw garnet.
the carp’s tail in ivory.
a bell-shaped piece of agate marked with Z-shaped stripes. They made the
Z-snake out of one of the stripes by picking out the soft
stone and rubbing in red sand and bee’s-wax. Just in the
mouth of the bell you see the clay bead repeating the Z-letter.
These are all the letters.
The next bead is a small round greeny lump of copper ore;
the next is
a lump of rough turquoise; the next is a rough gold nugget (what
they call water-gold); the next is a melon-shaped clay bead (white with green
spots). Then come four flat ivory pieces, with dots on them rather like
dominoes; then come three stone beads, very badly worn; then two soft iron
beads with rust-holes at the edges (they must have been magic, because they
look very common); and last is a very, very old African
bead, like glass – blue, red, white, black and yellow. Then comes the loop to
slip over the big silver button at the other end, and that is all.
I have copied the necklace very carefully.
It weighs one pound seven and a half ounces. The black
squiggle behind is only put in to make the beads and things look better.
Geoffrey Palmer has had an impressive and busy stage and
screen career. Among his films are O Lucky Man, The Madness of King George,
Mrs. Brown and Tomorrow Never Dies. He has also appeared in many television
drama programs and comedy series, including Butterflies, The Fall and Rise of
Reginald Perrin and, most recently, As Time Goes By.
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KIPLING, R.: Just So Stories (Unabridged)