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Literature: Just So Stories
How the elephant got its trunk.
A series of origin stories for children by Rudyard Kipling, first published in 1902. Kipling's Just So Stories are tied with The Jungle Book as being his most famous work. It pretty much set the standard for children's literature in the 20th century.

By the way, they're called "Just So" stories because you have to read them "just so", exactly as it is written, to put children to sleep. Because if you skip over anything, the child will wake up and complain that you missed a part (children do so love rote repetition). Mostly because the meter is so damn hypnotizing it'll relax anyone.

The fables featured in this collection include:

  • How the Whale Got His Throat
  • How the Camel Got His Hump
  • How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin
  • How the Leopard Got His Spots
  • The Elephant's Child
  • The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo
  • The Beginning of the Armadillos
  • How the First Letter Was Written
  • How the Alphabet Was Made
  • The Crab That Played with the Sea
  • The Cat That Walked by Himself
  • The Butterfly That Stamped
  • The Tabu Tale

Just So Stories is now in the public domain and can be read here, or here, if you want the illustrations.

Trope Namer for Just So Story.

This work provides examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: Of various kinds of oral history. For example, The Butterfly That Stamped parodies the style of the Koran ("Now listen and attend all over again!")
  • Always a Bigger Fish: King Solomon makes a boast about being rich enough to feed all the animals in the world. Just as he sets out all the food, a gargantuan creature emerges from the sea and devours it all. That creature is the smallest of his 30,000 brothers and surfaced to ask when dinner would be ready.
  • Bowdlerise: In the original book the Ethiopian tells the Leopard "Plain black's best for a nigger". In more recent editions this is often changed to "Plain black's best for me".
  • Catch Phrase: "I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me."
  • Cats Are Mean: Seems to be Kipling's attitude in The Cat Who Walked By Himself, though the Cat doesn't come across as particularly mean, just aloof and unwilling to be anyone's servant. This doesn't stop Kipling from ending the story with a poem about how dogs are so much better than cats because dogs are loyal and do what they're told while cats "only pretend" to love you since they aren't obedient and don't stay by your side 24/7.
  • Carnivore Confusion
  • Chekhov's Gun: Parodied mercilessly in "How The Whale Got His Throat", in which we are reminded practically every paragraph not to forget that the protagonist wears suspenders (braces). In the end these do play a part in the story (he ties a grate in place with them in the whale's throat) but this is hilariously minor compared to the leadup.
  • Corporal Punishment: The way that the Elephant Child's "'satiable curtiosity" (sic!) is handled.
  • Curiosity Is a Crapshoot: The Elephant's Child got lucky.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In The Cat That Walked by Himself, the Cat agrees to the terms of Man and Dog, but they still vow that they and their descendants will torment the Cat for always and always just because he spoke out of turn. Earlier on in the story, the Dog immediately renounces his friendship with the Cat just because the Cat doesn't want to come with him to the cave.
  • Fantastic Naming Convention: In the three Neolithic tales the three names given all conform to the same pattern: A word consisting of three syllables, beginning with "T-" and ending with "-mai" and a polysyllabic second word, all descriptive of the bearer's character:
    "His name was Tegumai Bopsulai, and that means, 'Man-who-does-not-put-his-foot-forward-in-a-hurry'; but we, O Best Beloved, will call him Tegumai, for short. And his wife's name was Teshumai Tewindrow, and that means, 'Lady-who-asks-a-very-many-questions'; but we, O Best Beloved, will call her Teshumai, for short. And his little girl-daughter's name was Taffimai Metallumai, and that means 'Small-person-whithout-any-manners-who-ought-to-be-spanked'; but I'm going to call her Taffy."
  • Giant Swimmer: Small Porgies and his 29,999 brothers.
  • Constantly Curious: The Elephant's Child was the former Trope Namer.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Small Porgies. He eats up all the kinds of food that would feed all the other animals on earthnote , plus the packaging with no ill effects. His ability to eat anything is probably necessitated by the fact he has close to thirty-thousand brothers and that a single member of his species is large enough to out-eat the rest of the animal kingdom combined.
  • Happily Married: Suleiman-bin-Daoud and his chief wife, Balkis. Too bad he has 999 others...
    • Also Tegumai and Teshumai and, by all appearances, the Man and the Woman in The Cat That Walked By Himself, although in both cases the wife seems to be the dominating partner.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: There's lots of this. Keep in mind it was published in 1902. For example, in How the Leopard Got His Spots
    'But if I'm all this,' said the Leopard, 'why didn't you go spotty too?'
    'Oh, plain black's best for a nigger,' said the Ethiopian.
    • ''Scuse me,' said the Elephant's Child most politely, 'but do you happen to have seen a Crocodile in these promiscuous parts?'
    • There's a swastika in a picture illustrating "The Crab that Played with the Sea", which is identified as "a magic mark". Remember the book was published decades before Those Wacky Nazis, when the swastika was known only as a generic positive mystical symbol by many people, especially in India (and in some places still is). Pre-war editions of Kipling often have a small swastika as a title-page decoration.
  • Henpecked Husband: King Suleiman-bin-Daoud is henpecked by all but one of his thousand wives.
    • Also Tegumai and the Man from The Cat That Walked By Himself.
  • Just So Story: The Trope Namer.
  • Lamarck Was Right: All of the origin stories strongly resemble Lamarckian evolution, but then so do many of the folk tales which inspired Kipling. Most of the stories can be summed up as, "at some point in history a creature did something that caused it to change, and this is why nowadays all creatures of this type have this same trait". One exception is How the Camel Got His Hump, where the hump is given by a djinn as a punishment for being lazy and missing three days of work at the start of Creation, another is The Crab that Played with the Sea, where Pau Amma gets the scissors as a gift from the little girl-daughter.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Kipling's account of how the alphabet was made has the modern English Latin alphabet come into existence from the beginning, ignoring how it has evolved over time. Of course he was well aware of this and put in a cute explanation:
    "And after thousands and thousands and thousands of years, and after Hieroglyphics and Demotics, and Nilotics, and Cryptics, and Cufics, and Runics, and Dorics, and Ionics, and all sorts of other ricks and tricks (because the Woons, and the Neguses, and the Akhoonds, and the Repositories of Tradition would never leave a good thing alone when they saw it), the fine old easy, understandable Alphabet—A, B, C, D, E, and the rest of 'em—got back into its proper shape again for all Best Beloveds to learn when they are old enough."
  • Malaproper: Most of the characters, and indeed the narrators; it's part of the humour.
  • Nonindicative Name: Small Porgies. He's large enough to eat all the food intended for all the other animals (excluding his brothers) on earth combined. He's still the runt of his family, though.
  • Noodle Incident:
    There are three hundred and fifty-five stories about Suleiman-bin-Daoud; but this is not one of them. It is not the story of the Lapwing who found the Water; or the Hoopoe who shaded Suleiman-bin-Daoud from the heat. It is not the story of the Glass Pavement, or the Ruby with the Crooked Hole, or the Gold Bars of Balkis. It is the story of the Butterfly that Stamped.
  • Omniglot:
    Suleiman-bin-Daoud was wise. He understood what the beasts said, what the birds said, what the fishes said, and what the insects said. He understood what the rocks said deep under the earth when they bowed in towards each other and groaned; and he understood what the trees said when they rustled in the middle of the morning. He understood everything, from the bishop on the bench to the hyssop on the wall.
    • His wife Balkis is no slouch herself.
  • Overly Long Name: Many of the characters.
  • Painting the Frost on Windows
  • Playing Pictionary: Taffy's attempt to send a message back to her cave in "How The First Letter Was Written".
  • Public Domain Character: Suleiman-bin-Daoud, better known as King Solomon, son of David. As in the one that performed the Judgment of Solomon. Pretty much everything about him in The Butterfly That Stamped is taken from The Bible, the Koran, or folklore about him. Balkis, of course, is the Queen of Sheba.
  • Running Gag: Lots, most obviously "you must never forget the suspenders".
  • The Runt at the End: Small Porgies is the smallest of his 29,999 brothers, hence the name.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake in The Elephant's Child.
    • Also the Ethiopian in How the Leopard Got His Spots (he was a grown-up)
  • Skin Is Clothing: In How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin, the rhinoceros can literally remove his hide like a suit. It even has buttons!
  • Shout-Out: Since most of the stories were originally made up for Kipling's children, there are a number of these. In particular Taffy is a portrait of Josephine ("Effie") and the poem Merrow Down, while on the surface about Taffy and her father, mourns Effie's death by pneumonia at age six. Kipling's surviving daughter Elsie (who used to be nicknamed "Elsie Why") said that The Elephant's Child was "her" story. Many scholars see The Cat That Walked By Himself as a satirical portrait of the the early days of Rudyard Kipling's marriage, with the Woman standing in for Carrie Kipling and either the Man or the Cat serving as an Author Avatar.
    • In the explanations to the illustrations, the name of the Parsee in How the Rhinocerus Got His Skin is given as Pestonjee Bomonjee. That was the name on an artist who had been one of Kipling's father's students.
    • How the Leopard Got His Spots is inspired by a verse from The Book of Jeremiah (13:23). Kipling lampshades it:
    "Oh, now and then you will hear grown-ups say, 'Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the Leopard his spots?' I don't think even grown-ups would keep on saying such a silly thing if the Leopard and the Ethiopian hadn't done it once - do you?"
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Suleiman-bin-Daoud AKA King Solomon. As The Butterfly That Stamped is done in the style of the Koran, Kipling used the Arabic version of his name.
  • Sssssnaketalk: The Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, of course.
  • Take Our Word for It: How the Ethiopian changes his skin (of course, played for laughs). All we are told is that the Leopard is very impressed.
  • Unwanted Harem: You really do have to feel sorry for Suleiman-bin-Daoud.
    He didn't really want nine-hundred and ninety-nine wives, but in those days everybody married ever so many wives, and of course the King had to marry ever so many more just to show that he was the King.
  • Well, This Is Not That Trope: "There are three hundred and fifty-five stories about Suleiman-bin-Daoud; but this is not one of them."

The JungleLiterature of the 1900sKim
The Jungle BookChildren's LiteratureJust William

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