My soon to be released short story collection Not Quite so Stories (coming March 1) is in many ways an answer to the one of the concepts often suggested behind myths, in particular Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. As Kipling’s stories influenced mine, even in having a concept to be answered, I thought I’d talk through some contemplation on a few of his stories as we got closer to publication day. Today let’s look at “How the Camel Got His Hump.”
This may have been one of the earliest of these stories that I ran across. I remember watching a cartoon depicting a few of these stories when I was pretty young. I think in school, but I’m not certain. It had that awful “made for school” quality to the cartoon that comes from the extremely low budgets that sort of thing usually has. I enjoyed it, but I definitely had a few thoughts. I think similarly now, but perhaps they have become more magnified.
After all, the basic story is that the world is young and animals have just begun to work for man, but there is a camel who doesn’t want to. He lives alone in the desert, eating “sticks and thorns and tamarisks and milkweed and prickles” to avoid working and says “Humph!” when anyone tries to persuade him otherwise. Man makes the other animals work harder as a result, do they send a Djinn to deal with the situation. He gives the camel a hump for his behavior (which at least allows the camel to work three days without eating because the camel can live on its hump). However, this doesn’t actually accomplish much because the camel still shirks work whenever possible.
Vengeful much? The camel is punished simply because he refuses to conform? Admittedly, the other animals are made to work harder as a result of the camel’s refusal…but man makes them. Why do they even have to work for man? The camel certainly doesn’t want to. What was the camel offered in return? He lived in the desert and ate “sticks and thorns and tamarisks and milkweed and prickles.” What was man giving the camel that justified expecting the camel to work? The camel gets no shelter from man and no food. Unless you buy into some Biblical espousal of man’s dominion over the beasts of the world, there isn’t really a reason why the camel should work for man. The common good is the common good and all, but the story states that the animals were working for man…not a common good from which they benefit. This is slavery and rebellion against slavery, for which we gleefully accept the camel’s punishment when he refuses to go along.
Seriously, why the heck should the camel have worked for man? Just because the other animals got conned into it? The camel may not be pleasant and sociable, but this is unjustified aggression.
Obviously, I kind of side with the camel.