This book is truly charming and delightful. I remember it from my childhood when my mom would read it to me, which is what it was intended for. The narration is so comical and nonsensical. Definitely a keeper! I can share this gem with my children just as my mom introduced it to me at a young age.
The stories included are:
Brim full of magic and attitude, these origin stories are as ridiculous and inventive as they sound. Take The Cat That Walked by Himself, for example, which is definitely one of my favorites:
In a time before tame animals, (they were “as wild as wild could be-and they walked in the Wet Wild Woods by their wild lones”) Man and Woman settled into a cave and put a skin over the opening. The Woman roasted some mutton over a fire at night and stayed up after the man had gone to bed, singing and creating a Magic. All the wild animals in the Wet Wild Woods wondered what was going on in the cave and what harm the humans would bring to them.
Then Wild Dog came to the mouth of the cave and smelled the roast mutton and said, “O my Enemy and Wife of my Enemy, what is this that smells so good in the Wild Woods?” She threw some of the mutton to him and made a bargain: if he stayed with her and hunted with Man then she would share their food with him always. He then laid his head in her lap and became tame. He was known as First Friend.
Then Wild Horse came looking for Wild Dog and smelled some freshly cut grass the Woman had cut and dried in the cave. When he asked her for some, she made a deal with him that if he would let Man ride him when he went out hunting, he could eat the grass three times a day. He became First Servant. Then Wild Cow made a similar bargain and allowed Woman to milk her in exchange for some grass as well. She became known as the Giver of Good Food.
This whole time, Cat watched each of these exchanges and thought he was much wiser than all the other animals. He would not let the Woman trick him into being tamed, for he was “the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to him”. He made a deal of his own that if Woman praised him three times, then he would be allowed to come into the cave, sit by the fire, and drink the warm white milk from the cow.
When The Man and Woman had a Baby, the Cat knew his time had come to cash in on the three promises. When the baby cried, Cat patted it with his paw and warmed it with his fur and purred for it to go to sleep. He entertained the Baby by playing with string until it laughed as hard as it had been crying. A mouse ran across the ground and the Cat pounced on it and ate it.
For these three services the Woman thanks him, because she forgot her promises. She was helpless to take care of the Baby on her own before the Cat came along, and was also afraid of mice. So the Cat is now allowed to stay in the warmth of the cave and sit by the fire and drink the warm white milk at his leisure.
But Man and Dog were not part of these negotiations. They came home from hunting and had their own deals to make. Man said that if Cat ever hurts the baby, he will throw his boots and rocks at him. Dog says that if he ever fails to kill mice, he will chase him up a tree. The Cat agrees to these things, so long as the Baby does not pull too hard on his tail.
And so, to this day, all cats come and go as they please but remain untamed. They walk by themselves, and all places are alike to them. They always keep their end of the bargain and will kill mice and be nice to babies, as long as they don’t pull their tail too hard. Men throw things at them sometimes and dogs chase them. And that is just how it goes.
These tales are so inventive and make a great explanation to children for why things are the way they are, or how they began. In the story about the rhinoceros, he takes off his skin and gets sand in it. So when he puts it back on, he has to scratch himself against a tree and makes a bunch of wrinkles in it. That’s why it looks the way it does today. The camel was lazy and said “humph!” all the time, so a magical Djinn gave him a hump of his own. The only logical explanation for how these things came to be is Magic.
He also includes his own illustrations accompanied by wacky descriptions of what each is:
Kipling invents his own words to create his own worlds, with rules that bend and wiggle and make no sense at all. I feel the need to take things less seriously after reading this wild book, because it’s gibberish from beginning to end. I need more Magic in my life, or maybe I just need to embrace the Magic already around me.
I truly adore this wildly hilarious book.