Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The silence and the sun remain - Just So Stories illustrations and editions

This is a bibliographic post about Just So Stories.  Useful and nicely illustrated.

On the one hand, there is no reason to fuss over getting an edition of Just So Stories that uses Kipling’s illustrations.  The stories have been published along with other people’s illustrations since they first appeared in English magazines.  A fine recent example is The Complete Just So Stories (1993) which features Isabelle Brent’s colorful pictures which suggest mixtures of Persian miniature painting with African and other patterns.  More at Brent’s website.

On the other hand, no one is likely to out-weird the amateur Kipling:

This is the picture of the Animal that came out of the sea and ate up all the food that Suleiman-bin-Daoud had made ready for all the animals in all the world.  He was really quite a nice Animal, and his Mummy was very fond of him and of his twenty-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine other brothers that lived at the bottom of the sea.  You know that he was the smallest of them all, and so his name was Small Porgies…  I don't know the names of the ships.  That is all there is in that picture.  (“The Butterfly that Stamped”)

That is part of the picture’s caption, which reveals the number one reason to make sure you have selected an edition with Kipling illustrations – they are accompanied by Kipling text, good text, strange text.  I suppose much of the strangeness. which is mild, comes from the implicit responses to the infant auditor, the kind of person who asks the name of the sea monster, and whether the monster ate the ships (no), and the names of the ships (“I don’t know”), and on to the exhaustion of one party or the other.

Just once Kipling’s illustration is so good that he has trouble joking about it.

That is from the great “The Cat that Walked by Himself,” a fable that plausibly explains why cats are so bad and are likely to remain so.  My own cats, when I tried to discuss the underlying ideas of the story with them, ignored me, exactly as predicted by  the tale.  Incidentally, “The Cat that Walked by Himself” belongs on any list of Housekeeping Fiction.  I warned that this was a bibliographic post.

The Brent collection, or some similar supplement, is useful not just for the illustrations but because the 1902 edition of the book is missing two Just So stories, one because it was not written until a couple of decades later, and another because it was apparently too sad.  The daughter for whom Kipling conjured up the Just So fables died of pneumonia when she was only six.

Each story is accompanied by a poem.  One of them obliquely refers to the daughter’s death.  It comes after “How the Alphabet Was Made,” in which a father and daughter invent the alphabet from first principles, by which I mean analogy and whimsy.  Tegumai is the father, Taffy the daughter:

          But as the faithful years return
            And hearts unwounded sing again,
          Comes Taffy dancing through the fern
            To lead the Surrey spring again.

          Her brows are bound with bracken-fronds,
            And golden elf-locks fly above;
          Her eyes are bright as diamonds
            And bluer than the skies above.

          In moccasins and deer-skin cloak,
            Unfearing, free and fair she flits,
          And lights her little damp-wood smoke
            To show her Daddy where she flits.

          For far--oh, very far behind,
            So far she cannot call to him,
          Comes Tegumai alone to find
            The daughter that was all to him.

Perhaps it is best not to know any of this.


  1. Actually it is a good thing to know. I had no idea that Kipling tried his hands at illustrations.

    I really like the illustration of Small Porgies. Though a nice monster perhaps he is a bit nightmarish looking for small children. Also, strangely, he reminds me of the some of the giant monsters that starred in several 1950s era giant monster films.

  2. I love the way Small Porgies looks like walrus clip art stuck into another picture. Which in a sense it might be - Kipling could be tracing or copying from another source.

    The crates contain artichokes, dates, dried fish, rice, leeks, poultry spice, etc. Solomon plans to feed all the animals in the world, but is foiled by the monster. This is not even what the story is about.

  3. I read the stories with Kipling's illustrations. Small Porgies is really very compelling and all I remember about the book, so I'm glad you included him. I never found him terrifying. Really.

  4. However scary he might be, revealing that his name is Small Porgies ought to drain the terror pretty quickly.

  5. About 25 years ago, CBC Radio played a recording of Jack Nicholson reading "How the Elephant got his Trunk". I listened with absolute delight, as he created voices for each of the characters. If I had grandchildren, I would have to find a copy of that recording.

  6. That does sound good. A great actor cutting loose on a great text.

    1. Speaking of which (getting impossibly far away from Small Porgies here), have you heard the recording of Richard Burton reading Owen's "Dulce Et Decorum Est?"

    2. I never listen to people read poetry. I probably should.

      I dialed up Burton reading Owen, but the version I found has clarinets or something honking in the background. Very odd. Burton sounded good, of course.