Just So Stories
Author: Rudyard Kipling
Publisher: Tower Publishing
Read by 2011 Best Voice in children and family listening: Jim Weiss
I always associate these stories with Watership Down which I reviewed in September. The two have nothing in common (other than that they're charming stories about animals), except that I associate them because they were both given to me as a birthday gift a long time ago (Thanks Ruth!). I have to say that these are hugely entertaining (not all of them, I found a couple to be a bit boring), and in large part I have to ascribe this not only to Kipling, but also to the reader of the audio book, Jim Weiss, who went way above and beyond the call of duty in relating these tales! Now that's what I call a performance!
Just So Stories was first published in 1902 and is remarkable for how well it’s aged. These children's stories sound just as good today as they no doubt did then and even before then, when Kipling's nurses told them to him as a child. Kipling won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1907 and is still the youngest recipient to receive it, as well as being the very first English language recipient of it.
The essence of these stories is the fantastical; they're completely absurd tales about how various animals (and human animals are the subject of three stories) got to be the way they are today. There are twelve stories in all in the volume to which I had access to; the original publication, however, had one more story: The Tabu Tale, which according to wikipedia is missing from most British editions of these stories (as well as mine!). Why, I do not know, but it's another story about Taffimai, and you can read it here at wikisource, Best Beloved.
How the Camel Got His Hump relates that the camel was the most idle creature in all creation until the dog and the ox and others complained, whereupon the creator Djin resorted to ordering it to work, and giving it a hump of food so it had no excuse to stop for a meal break.
How the Rhinoceros got his Skin is a ridiculous story relating how the Rhino was perfectly ordinary but rather kleptomaniacal, and ended up with a disheveled-looking skin because it stole a cake, and the victim garnered revenge by filling the Rhino's skin (when he took it off to go for a swim) with cake crumbs, causing all kinds of unrelieved itchiness when the Rhino put it back on again, later.
How the Leopard Got His Spots is as a result of their being really poor at hunting zebras and giraffes when the latter two got their spots and stripes and became so well hidden. The answer lies with an Ethiopian who was friends with the leopard and suffered an equal lack of hunting success.
How the Elephant got his Trunk. The answer to this lies with a very curious elephant child and a rather feisty crocodile. Perhaps you can fill in the blanks, but maybe not as well as Kipling did.
The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo tells us how this antipodean animal came to have such a weird appearance and such a rare (among tetrapods) method of locomotion. There's a dingo involved. But isn't there always? The moral of this story is: don’t ask to be much sought after….
The Beginning of the Armadillos is a story about a hedgehog and a tortoise. No really….
How the First Letter Was Written brings us into acquaintanceship with the young and opinionated Taffimai Metallumai - a real charmer who almost foments a war.
How the Alphabet Was Made us a follow-up to the previous tale, with the same female main character.
The Crab That Played with the Sea explains why we have tides (it has to do with the living circumstances of a rather crabby character).
The Cat That Walked by Himself is a longest story, and it explains how cats came to be cats, which might be why I found this a bit tedious. Cats are way overrated!
The Butterfly That Stamped is about Sulaimon bin Daoud and his 999 wives. Apparently there's a problem with his domestic circumstances.
I recommend this - especially the audiobook. This and Libba Bray's Beauty Queens are books, I feel, that are actually better heard than read