by Lisa Lewis
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the prehistoric background of the Taffimai stories … offered me a fascinating blend of the cosy and the infinitely distant. How thrilling to a child is … the thought that dark-haired Phoenicians once brought their goods to a place called Merrow Down above the River Wey – obviously in England, although not known to me. I did not know what ‘racial talks’ were, or ‘gay shell torques’ which sounded the same, and no one bothered me by explaining; they sounded satisfactory when I repeated the lines or my mother sang them. But the great joy was the pictures …For Rosemary Sutcliffe [in Three Bodley Head Monographs, London, The Bodley Head, 1968, p. 95]:
My own early favourites among the Just So Stories were the two tales of Taffy and her father Tegumai, the first because it made me laugh until I curled up like an earwig …But for Angus Wilson:
When the stories of private man’s advancement begin, we are in the land of Tegumai and Taffy, of Kipling and his own children, and sentimental whimsicality takes over… [p. 229].Rosalind Meyer commented:
The tales call consistently for a suspension of belief and a suspension of disbelief, as the humour both undercuts and enhances the stylistic effect. The narrative loses none of its excitement as the tension mounts, while simultaneously it adds the savour of its own telling [quoted p. 119, lines 13-24].
The style is self-conscious in the best sense, and it develops an irony – if one may so term it – specifically adapted for appreciation at an early age. It should not be long before the listener can begin to relish to the full remarks at first bewildering – “Why, the whole dear, kind, nice, clean, quiet Tribe is here, Taffy” – or the deliberately begged question, “Aren’t you well, or are you ill, O Tribe of Tegumai?”