‘Just So Stories’ by Rudyard Kipling – book review

I believe history is a branch of literature full of events and stories made by artists and artificers weaving facts into myth, and vice versa, into a timeless tapestry of the world that was, is and will be. In that regard, Kipling is an artist who spins beautiful tales of how animals became what they look like into a poetic wheel of ear-delighting and cadenced words aided by gorgeous illustrations distinctively graceful and dazzlingly beautiful.

Kipling’s evolution of animals explains why they look the way they are, such as a Leopard with spots, a Carmel hump, and many more. The stories become a fable and a history of its kind. It’s a literary version of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the wonderful menageries of Man and Beast that cannot live alone despite the differences in species because we are the inhabitants of this world, Earth. But, above all the fantastic tales of wonder, the Cat’s tale stands out in the story and the subject. Kipling’s Cat is proud but not arrogant, independent but affectionate, and vain but graceful. It’s a cat who walks by himself, and everything is alike to him and nothing else. The Cat is a beautiful stranger even if he likes to be a family, a kind of forever loner, the Puss in Boots with a cowboy hat and an empty holster. Kipling’s writer’s eyes saw the romantic solitude in a cat, and the result is one poetic Cat that rhymes well like the graceful way cats do their amazing somersaults.

Just So Stories are not just for children even though it is classified in Children’s literature on the shelves of libraries. It’s a book for everyone who loves legends and magic, who still has a childlike innocence that refused to put away as an adult because it’s in nature. The stories are not for academic analysis or psychoanalysis but simply for the enjoyment of the mind and the delight of the heart. Remember Freud’s saying, “Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.” So are Just So Stories, so delightful and so pleasant.

My Cat Toro and Samuel’s Hodge

Toro is a very fine cat indeed

Since I don’t like the word “pet,” I won’t say it when I refer to my two-year-old tabby, tom Toro, a family member. Toro pays a portion of his rental fee and is a controller of rodents in our dilapidated humble apartment we long to escape. But that’s another story, and this story I am going to unravel is for Toro.

Toro before entering the clinic

It was that time again to get Toro’s annual physical exam, also required for his Hills prescription Urinary care food. So we took a trip to the vet at Little Tokyo, and all’s well that ended well. His weight was steady at 11 pounds, the same as the last year (what an excellent dieter he is!). He got his FVRCP, FelV, and nails done and was proven generally healthy. What a relief because I had been concerned about his taking more naps than usual and tired expressions with half-cast eyes. The doctor told me that it was customary for cats to show such symptoms as they grew bigger. So albeit my mom thinks that I am overly concerned about Toro’s otherwise fine status quo, aren’t we all concerned about the general well-being of our flurry fur babies?

Samuel Johnson and Hodge

It all makes me think of the story of Samuel Johnson and his cat Hodge. Samuel Johnson, one of the greatest men of letters from 18th century England and the author of A Dictionary of the English Language, had his beloved sale-furred cat Hodge, who was immortalized in literary works and as a bronze statue outside his guardian’s once resident abode. We first come to know of Johnson’s cat Hodge thanks to his lawyer friend and biographer James Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Johnson used to go out to buy Hodge’s favorite food, oysters. He refused to let his loyal and faithful Jamaican-born master-servant Francis Barber because he felt that it would be degrading to Francis to do such errands for him. But I like to think that it was more affection toward Hodge, whom he called thus: “He is a very fine cat, very fine indeed.” When Hodge was nearing to cross the rainbow bridges due to his old age, Johnson would get valerian, an herbal painkiller extracted from the flower to lessen his fur baby’s pain. But the end of Hodge wasn’t lost in the inner circle of the ether, for his life was memorialized in ‘An Energy on the Death of Dr. Johnson’s Favorite Cat’ by Percival Stockdale, published in 1778:


The general conduct if we trace
Of our articulating race,
Hodge’s, example we shall find
A keen reproof of human kind.

Samuel Johnson is one of my most admirable literary persons because of his humanist rules of thought articulated in his mastership of the English language. Hence it gives me a feeling of kinship with his love of Hodge. His affection for Hodge felt genuinely caring and familial, which was never mawkish or superficial. So, likewise, my cat Toro is a muse of my writings: whimsical, independent, intelligent, and affectionate. Sometimes, I wonder if Toro is really a little boy bespelled a tom. Well, what more can I say? Toro is a very fine cat, very fine indeed.

Hodge’s bronze statue was inaugurated in 1997 by Sir Roger Cook, the then-Lord Mayer of London. Note the oyster at his paw as his eternal token of Johnson’s affection.

Dauphin and Queen

The dauphin ascends to the throne
With a poise, he reigns there
And calls for absolute power
To claim his supremacy alone.
The queen sees the revolt
And with sweets to the sweet
Wields the magic flurry wand
And spirits him away to the beyond.