got his Hump"
by Lisa Lewis
| notes on
It was on his back that the body of Shah Ali Shah was laid after his death, and he was sent into the wilderness till the Angel Gabriel met him and, taking the rope, led him no man knew whither. Before that ghostly funeral the camel resembled a horse, but the Angel Gabriel gave him a hump like the mountains into which he disappeared … [p. 245].In the summer of 1894, the Kiplings (who were then living in Vermont, New England) paid a visit to London. There Kipling discussed the projected animal stories with his father. According to Carrington's notes from Mrs Kipling's diary, it was then that the Camel story was begun. On a visit to Vermont the previous autumn, Lockwood had carved over the fireplace in his son's study the second (italicised) part of this verse from the Gospel of St John:
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.If the first inspiration for the Camel came from a Moslem legend, another ingredient in the story comes from the Bible and the Protestant work ethic: Kipling’s camel is not given his hump as a reward for piety, but as a punishment for idleness. The substitution of a Djinn for the Angel Gabriel in the legend recalls E.W. Lane’s version of the Arabian Nights, a set of which is in Kipling’s study at Bateman’s, his home in Sussex. The book had been a favourite of his since his Aunt Georgie (Lady Burne-Jones) had read it to him in childhood.
Some of the poems between the stories are delightful, particularly that after How the Camel got his Hump, which tells little boys and girls how to avoid a like calamity [p. 142].Writing of the speech patterns of the characters in Just So Stories, Rosalind Meyer said [Kipling Journal, 232, December 1984, p. 16]:
In the tale of the Camel… mature accents very familiar to Kipling’s readers may already be discerned – granted the other hints given by the story. The Horse, the Dog, and the Ox, angered by the Camel’s defection from the day’s work, make representations to him and then to the Man, who is in charge of local operations. Harassed, the Man has no solution but for the three to work harder, so that in the evening the three hold “a palaver, and a punchayet, and a pow-wow on the edge of the Desert”. Their ability to discourse poses a threat, as is remarked by the Djinn of All Deserts as he passes, quick in his exalted capacity to note discontent among the staff. “Djinn of All Deserts,” said the Horse, “is it right for any one to be idle, with the world so new-and-all?” He words his appeal with the respect, but also with the directness, of a professional Civil Servant employed in the establishment of the British Raj.
Equally, the expansiveness of his superior is nicely delineated: “Whew!” said the Djinn, whistling. “that’s my Camel, for all the gold in Arabia! What does he say about it?” He is swift to investigate, and swift to ensure the Camel’s contribution to the work force. Reprisals are tempered with diplomatic bluffness, and the reminder of the necessity to bow to the Law, enforced by a hint of the availability of promotion – “and don’t you ever say I never did anything for you.”
These slight touches reveal themselves only in “the shifting light of sex, youth and experience”. But they suggest the underlying structure of a tale whose maxim the author had illustrated before and was to illustrate again. The unlicked cubs must be licked into shape, and Work make its claim on the work force.