‘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.

dum spiro spero

Light and dark, full and empty – how mysterious!
Spring of Words is now elusive – how tantalizing!
To the secret seeker with no pity – how heartless!
And no more spirit so festive. – how agonizing!

Midnight and moonlight and shining stars – so beautiful!
Angles and fairies and ghosts – so ethereal!
Come to my aide before I lose sight of it! – Yes, quickly!
And possess me with the best of your powers – by all means!

Is Tree of Knowledge going to become sere? – How unthinkable!
Has Tree of Knowledge already become sere? – How miserable!
Let nothing dishearten my spirit still pursuing, still trying
With hope, while I breathe, even if it seems impossible. How beautiful!

they come to her at night

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The night was a strange paradox of light and dark. It was too dark to invoke images of the bright beautiful things. It was too light to provoke imaginations of the blissful obliviousness. The night was a white heat of the sleepless senses that kept taking in all seen and heard even after the provocateurs were long gone out of sight. This was maddening and becoming madder and striking the notes of all madness. Iris couldn’t sleep as the night was getting deeper and darker, and it was consuming every part of her in a great white incandescent flame like a funeral pyre that once engulfed Dido’s forsaken body and unfortunate heart. The senses that kept her awake besieged her glass castle without mercy and started to screen the scenes of sadness and more sadness as an apparition of the past narrated the story buried in its tomb without an epitaph. She was wide awake at the bewitching hour, and she was helplessly defenseless against the force of the hour.

Since she was a little girl, Iris has been going through the same nocturnal rituals of waking up at 3:00 AM on time, precisely, continuously, as always. Every single night was every single rite of this uncanny performance of sleeplessness – that is, exactly at 3:00 AM. When she wakes up, the electronic digits always show 3:00 AM with glows that seems to grow lighter the more she looks at it in fearful awe. Fearful because Iris has learned that it is the hour when the gates of the underworld, the netherworld, the world beyond are open, and the regions of faeries and wandering spirits roam the earth as witches fly to the devil’s banquets. Hokum it may be, but the bewitching hour also seems to include Iris as a coterie of the supernatural for what’s worth. This secret is hers and hers only in fear of being branded as a weirdo or a witch’s apprentice even. Yet, because Iris’s soft heart cannot bear a secret too long for its painfully tender fullness of emotions and feelings to keep it to herself, it now agonizes her sense and antagonizes her sensibility. And it was this night that got her to a paroxysm of inquisitiveness, inadmissibility, and ineffableness, enveloped in the mysterious veil of incredibility so enigmatically eerie that it almost felt infatuating with the unknown.

The magical hour was now in possession of the waken Iris with wide eyes, and the effect was smeared into every part of her body without a miss like ink instantly and ferociously diffusing in a glass of clear water. She did not like it, but her opinion was useless under the power of the supernatural hour. Iris wanted to break the spell and doing so would require her of facing another unknown mysterious force. Her Catholicism would defy her magical assumption on the incredible symptom, but Iris knew that her religion itself entailed the magical qualities of belief and that it was only natural for her to connect the dots between the two belief systems as a solution to her ghostly malady. That’s it. She can’t take it anymore, she can’t have it any longer. Forget the religion, and think primal. Iris has made up her mind to start her investigation of the supernatural phenomenon that she has been going through to find whys and wherefores.