Friday, March 7, 2008

Animals In Literature

Rudyard Kipling wasn't just the author of The Jungle Book. He also penned the delightful Just So Stories. In these tales, Kipling explained to his readers how animals became the way they are today. He talked to us as his own children, frequently calling us "Best Beloved," and used rhyme and repetition to entertain.

Perhaps the most famous of these stories is The Elephants Child. In the tale, elephants only have funny, stubby noses. It takes an elephant, a new elephant, an elephant's child "full of 'satiable curtiosity" who travels to the "great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees" and returns with a glorious trunk. But to find out how he got it, and what he did with it, you'll have to read the book.

Kipling also told us How the Leopard got its Spots, How the Whale got its Throat, and How the Rhino got its Skin. In The Crab who Played with the Sea, we find the reason for tides and in The Butterfly that Stamped we learn the benefits of being humble. He introduced us to exotic places and intriguing animals. I didn't even know there was such a creature as a mongoose until I read Kipling's story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

I have always loved Kipling's animal stories. Not because he takes his characters and imbues them with human traits, but because he imbues them with more than human traits. His animals are wiser, more tolerant, more just and far nobler than we humans could hope to be.

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