If your childhood did not include the tale of The Elephant’s Child on the banks of the great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo river, all set about with fever trees, then it was a deprived one. Kipling’s short story, told to his beloved daughter who always insisted he tell it ‘just so!’ is one of the greatest pieces of short fiction I know.
Come with me on a fabulous reading journey through 2020. Together we will explore a thought-provoking selection of 19th and 20th Century classics. For each novel you will receive an illustrated monograph packed full of intriguing stories about the author behind the book, explaining its themes, tempting you with film versions to watch, and challenging you with discussion questions.
I love to share my passion for great literature. Please consider joining me in this literary exploration.
An utterly magical short story
It is rare to find perfection anywhere in this world. But you do find it in this utterly magical short story, The Elephant’s Child, by Rudyard Kipling. Pitch-perfect, full of evocative and memorable phrases, moving and exciting, and written in language that is ‘just-so’ in every sense, this tale is one of the marvels of literature.
To my regret, I never encountered it as a child – only as an adult. Since then, I have lectured on it many times. It thrills me that whenever I quote from the story during lectures, I see the lips of my audience saying with me that magical phrase about “the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees”. And there are smiles of sheer pleasure at the wondrousness of Kipling’s words!
“It strikes a child as the kind of yarn his father or uncle might have spun if he had just happened to think of it; and it has, like all good fairy-business, a sound core of philosophy.”
― H. W. Boynton, The Atlantic 1903
I am a huge Kipling fan. Today he’s not the most fashionable of authors and, I think, is unfairly blamed for not being PC enough for the modern world. But he was a master of words and skilled in so many areas of literature – a superb poet, a novelist, a literary critic (he had the good taste to love the writings of Jane Austen) and of course a storyteller. This story is rich with wisdom about humanity – curiosity, facing danger, asking questions, growing up, taking an arduous journey, and more. This is far more than simply a story for children – it is in fact a story for those of any age who love literature at its absolute best.
Don’t wait to find a child or grandchild to read it to – give yourself a treat and read The Elephant’s Child for yourself. I hope this Guide will help you to appreciate its many perfections. I don’t believe in Heaven, but one of the things I would expect to experience there would be sitting at Kipling’s feet while he recited this story to me just so!
My grown-up daughter, now a mother herself, still occasionally asks me to read her The Elephant’s Child and I hope before long I will be reading it to my granddaughters Arabella and Josephine (how Kipling would have approved of little Josephine’s name!). This is a story made for reading aloud – so many varied voices, such rich and hilarious language (I dare you NOT to smile when you read the phrase “promiscuous parts”), such evocative repetition.
But why does it have such magic, and where lies the skill in its construction and characterisation? Let’s journey together to “the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees” and find out …
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This Literary Readers’ Guide is a real treat! In it I reveal intriguing stories about the author to help you understand what prompted this book to be written. I identify the main characters and their roles, analyse the themes behind the story, and describe the influence that the era, lifestyle and circumstances have on the book’s setting. Included are 8 thought-provoking discussion points, perfect for books clubs or just to get you thinking a bit harder yourself.
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