with the Sea"
by Lisa Lewis
| notes on
You sent me, years ago, your Malay Magic; out of which I took (“pinched” is another word for it) my tale of “The Crab that played with the Tides” and used your eldest Magician, including the phrase Kun? Paya Kun: the Rat; the Man in the Moon; Rajas Moyong Kaban and Abdullah; the Pusat Tasek, etc. etc. The evidence of this – shall we call it delicately “adaptation” – is as plain as print. [Pinney, ed., Letters, vol. 6, p. 327].ORG quotes a letter to Sir John Bland-Sutton (not in Pinney) for which no date is given:
In the Pusat Tasek, which is the navel of the sea – a large hole in the ocean bottom – sits a gigantic crab which, twice a day, goes out for food. While he is sitting in the hole, the waters of the ocean are unable to pour into the underworld, the whole of the aperture being filled and blocked by the crab’s bulk.According to B.E. Smythies in a letter to the Kipling Journal, Kipling’s translation of “kun” and “payah kun” is incorrect: what they really mean in the Creation myth quoted by Skeat is “Let there be” and “likewise let there be.” He suggests that Kipling got this wrong because he did not read, or did not remember, Skeat’s footnotes [KJ 237, March 1986, pp. 35-6].
The inflowings of the rivers into the sea during these periods are supposed to cause the rising of the tides, while the downpouring of the waters through the great hole, while the crab is absent searching for food, is supposed to cause the ebb.
Over the gulf of Pusat Tasek grows an immense tree (Pauh-Janggi), probably a tradition of the Coco-de-mer existing only on the Seychelles, the nuts of which are sometimes cast up on the Malayan islands.
From what I know of the author of the tale to which you refer, I should imagine that he compounded Pau out of Pauh-Janggi, invented Amma, and presented the composite as the crab’s name.
You can rely on the crab being authentic Malay folklore.
The charm lay in the mystery and remoteness … I was present at the creation of the world with “The Crab that Played with the Sea” (though I perfectly understood that this was fantasy) [p. 55].To Rosalind Meyer [Kipling Journal, 232, December 1984, p. 32]:
All [Kipling’s] gifts find opportunity to expand and to declare themselves, as he creates his own Magic for little children.Of the illustrations, Brian Alderson wrote [Children’s Literature: Annual of the Modern Language Association Division on Children’s Literature and the Children’s Literature Association, Vol. 20, New Haven (Yale University Press, 1992)]:
[Quotes p. 160, line 21, to p. 161, line 5].
The plot has been set up by a twist on “playing”; it denotes an irresponsible idleness alien to the Work of the World, which taints Paradise with sin as it produces a malfunction of time and tide. But the denouement follows, after the Eldest Magician’s game is done with the Crab, and all falls smoothly into working order.
[Quotes pp. 170, line 30 to p. 171, line 5].
Kipling’s command of technique here is combined with a playful attitude towards the illustrations’ content. He comments on this himself when he distinguishes between the “truly pictures” and those symbolic utterances like the one of Pau Amma and the Eldest Magician, which he calls “Big Medicine and Strong Magic.”
[Brian Alderson, "Just So Pictures: Illustrated versions of Just So Stories”, p. 155].