got his Spots"
by Lisa Lewis
| notes on
When [Doubleday’s son] Nelson was about seven or eight years old, Mr. Kipling was writing a series of Just So Stories … These tales were published in St Nicholas and were vastly interesting to Nelson.Nelson Doubleday would confirm this story in the Saturday Review of Literature (23 Oct.1948), claiming to have suggested as subjects “how the leopard got his spots, how the elephant got his trunk, about the crocodile and so on.” [Quoted, Kipling Journal 89, April 1949, p. 10.]
He conceived the idea that if Mr. Kipling would write some more animal stories, the titles of which he suggested, they might be made into a book, and asked if I would mind his writing to Mr. Kipling on the subject.
I said no, whereupon he inquired if I would lend him a five-cent stamp, which he promised to repay, and wrote a long letter in his own fist, addressed to “Rudyard Kipling, Rotting Dean,” giving a list of suggestions for new stories about different animals, and adding that if he wrote these stories and they were any good, his father, he was sure, would get them put in book form and give him (Nelson) a royalty of a cent a copy.
The Just So Stories finally came out, and Nelson applied for a contract for his cent-a-copy share. This has gone on for twenty or more years, and how much he has received I have no idea, but it must certainly be several thousand dollars.
The Leopard and the Ethiopian are cronies, but it is the Ethiopian who is quicker to grasp Baviaan’s advice: for the good reason that he is a grown-up... [p. 13].Of Kipling’s descriptions, she said:
The game of conscious appraisal is taken a stage further in the story of the Leopard, where various methods of description are exemplified. The mock-awkwardness of “the ’sclusively greyish-yellowish-reddish High Veldt” nevertheless does not inhibit an expression of vast featureless horizons; and is neatly contrasted, in a string of adjectives so often resorted to by young writers, in the evocative description of:
A great, high, tall forest full of tree trunks all ’sclusively speckled and sprottled and spottled, dotted and splashed and slashed and hatched and cross-hatched with shadows.
But more to the point is the crescendo of similes which in this tale begins to impress itself on the mind:
they ought to show up in this dark place like ripe bananas in a smoke-house …
You show up in this dark place like a bar of soap in a coal-scuttle …
… you show up in this dark place like a mustard-plaster on a sack of coals.
Finally, the series modulates from the grotesque into the pleasing, a natural object in a natural setting:
… if you insist on looking like a sunflower against a tarred fence.
Since the first three are, as it were, asterisked for attention with “this dark place” and, once interest is gained, the last is allowed to make its own point, it is difficult not to believe that a lesson is being inculcated, with whatever charming playfulness [p. 25].