Tuesday, 9 January 2001

Rudyard Kipling: Just So Stories (1902)

Edition:  Weathervane Books, 1978 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 709

Of all Kipling's writing for children, the Just So Stories are aimed at the youngest readers, and, in fact, are clearly intended to be read aloud to small children. The stories are basically whimsical original myths, mostly about how the world came to be "just so". (The Butterfly That Stamped doesn't quite fit into this category, and is more like one of the Arabian Nights tales.)

The charm of the well known stories remains, both for adults and children, and a large part of this is derived from the language Kipling uses. Considering the age of those at whom the stories are aimed, the vocabulary is extremely complex, much more so than most writers would dare to use today. The words are used in a poetic way which really comes alive when read aloud; the sentences are full of alliteration and rhymes and the descriptions are rich and ingenious. Like every Kipling story, the backgrounds are vivid, creating a very different world from that actually around us. The illustrations by Kipling himself are part of the way in which the background is established.

Some aspects have dated. There is too much arch humour, particularly in the captions to the illustrations. (The stories about the invention of the alphabet don't work very well; they are too much catalogues of the origins of each letter and assume that the Roman alphabet is the only logical one.) The best stories are why this book is a classic; my favourites are How the Elephant Got His Hump and The Cat That Walked by Himself.

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