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.