I posted recently how I was going to contemplate a few of the stories in Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories since it was an influence on my soon to be released short story collection Not Quite so Stories (coming March 1). Last I looked at “How the Camel Got His Hump.” Today let’s look at “How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin.”
TO summarize, a Rhinoceros had unwrinkled skin, but no manners. He frightens a gentleman baking a cake into a tree and eats the cake. The man swears revenge. He waits for the Rhinoceros to tkae off his skin on a hot day and then sneaks cake crumbs inside. The Rhinoceros reclaims his skin, but is rewarded forever after with itching due to the crumbs, which causes him to wrinkle his skin by constant itching and rubbing.
Notice a theme here? The stories in Just So Stories seem big on punishment. Why did things happen? Well, somebody was bad and got punished. At least the Rhinoceros here at least did something more arguably wrong, theft. The poor camel in the previous story refused to work, but it was never explained why he should have (being more akin to slavery since man apparently did nothing for the camel and the camel never voluntarily agreed to work). Here at least, the Rhinoceros takes something that isn’t his and ends up with itchy, wrinkled skin…though we’ll have to ignore the argument that a rhinoceros is an animal and thus can’t be expected to respect personal property, instead responding in a completely natural hunger/eating behavior pattern where property rights simply don’t exist.
Still, doesn’t it seem that Kipling’s view of myth and the world in Just So Stories is something akin to:
“Why do bad things happen?”
“God is mad…probably because of something you did.”
How very biblical.
Regardless, two for two so far are punishment stories. Out of twelve stories, the theme is certainly difficult to ignore. I enjoyed these stories as a kid, but I’m not really liking Kipling’s apparent view of myth and the world as I look back. It strikes me as kind of authoritarian and cold.