Ham and the Porcupine

(notes by Lisa Lewis)


Published in The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book in aid of The Princess Elizabeth of York Hospital for Children (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1935), illustrated by Paul Bloomfield. A copyright edition was published in the U.S., 1935. Uncollected. Reprinted in the Kipling Journal, 128, December 1958.


Various authors, cartoonists and versifiers sent contributions to The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book in aid of the charity. This is the last story Kipling ever wrote; there was only his autobiography to follow. No manuscript is known to exist. In the Kipling Journal 215, September 1980, p. 30, Kipling’s secretary Cecily Nicholson said that the idea for it came from a fan letter he had received from a small boy in February 1935. She sent the following answer:

In reply to your letter, Mr. Kipling wishes me to tell you that, when they were little, the Hedgehog and the Porcupine would never stand still to have their hair brushed. So it all got stuck together into little points that turned into bristles afterwards.

When he grew up the Hedgehog used to shave, and that is why his bristles are always short now. But the Porcupine went about boasting of his long back-hair, and it grew and it grew till presently it turned into quills. [Ibid., p. 46.]

The portrait of Ham with the tin lid may echo something Kipling had seen in Cecil Rhodes’s zoo at Groote Schuur, near Capetown. A house in the grounds there was made available to the Kiplings for winter holidays.

The tone of this story is markedly different from the collected Just So Stories. There is little of the wordplay that runs through the earlier tales. They were intended to lull a child to sleep, as Kipling said in his uncollected preface to “How the Whale got his Throat” (see the notes on that story). This one ends with a peremptory dismissal.

Notes on the Text


stood him in the corner then a mild punishment for children.

Myoptics An invented word, presumably derived from “myopic,” short-sighted.

dark-complexioned According to legend, Ham was the ancestor of the African peoples.

Ararat biscuits ORG suggests that this is a pun on “arrowroot biscuits,” a well-known brand made by Jacobs of Reading.

0rlop-deck   The lowest deck on a big sailing vessel

 chuffy according to Chambers’ Dictionary (2006), this means coarsely or surlily. ORG says it is ‘said to be Middle English with several meanings’, and notes that in Captains Courageous Kipling uses ‘huffy-chuffy’ to describe the speech of the African cook, who as a descendant of escaped slaves has grown up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada and talks like the Gaelic-speaking farmers there. ORG therefore suggests that it describes a lilting form of speech as used by Gaelic speakers and Africans.

Dhow an Arab sailing-vessel.

ayuda Bend north of Khartoum, the river Nile takes an enormous curve round the Bayuda (or Baiyuda) Desert.

Bight of Benin one of the large bays in the Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa. Accra, capital of Ghana, and Lagos, capital of Nigeria, are both on the Bight of Benin.

Dar-es-Salaam an important seaport in Tanzania, south of Zanzibar.

Drakensberg a range of mountains in South Africa.

where the two seas meet round the cape the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic meet between Cape Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope.

Wunungiri this has not been identified as meaning ‘porcupine’ in any African language.

I – amm – Hamm! this is one moment in Kipling’s works where he accords an African character both dignity and authority.

buggalow an Indian word for a sailing-vessel.

one or other of my Brothers Shem was traditionally supposed to have fathered the Semitic races. Japhet the Europeans. It has been suggested that Ham’s forgetfulness is unlikely, and that this could be a sly reference to the belief held by some Victorians that the English were descended from the “lost tribes” of Israel, fathered by the other sons of Jacob besides Levi and Judah. This belief is mentioned as held by eccentric characters in “Sea Constables” and “The Propagation of Knowledge” (Debits and Credits pp.43 & 284).

gipsies they were said to eat hedgehogs, which they baked in clay. When this was removed the prickles came off with it.

Palaver done set this conversation is over.


©Lisa Lewis 2006 All rights reserved