THE JOY OF STORY
John M. Daniel’s Blog
July 9, 2016
CREATION AND EVOLUTION, JUST SO
The Book of Genesis starts with the six-day creation of the entire population of all the animals and plants on earth, including a few that have since gone out of print, like dinosaurs and dodos, and excluding some late-comers like labradoodles and Monsanto potatoes. I very much like the story-telling in Genesis, but I think Genesis may not present an accurate account of how animals came to be the way they are. That theory is debatable, and gee whiz has it ever been debated.
Particularly by fans of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, which posits an entirely different account of how animals of olde turned into the animals they are today. I won’t summarize that book because I haven’t read it. I expect you already know what it says and about how fauna, especially human fauna, were born and raised.
So now I move on to a third book that sets out to explain how creatures on earth came to be the way they are. Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling, is a collection of tales telling how a number of animals (the whale, the camel, the rhinoceros, the leopard, the elephant, the kangaroo, et al.) acquired their most distinguishing characteristics (its throat, its hump, its hide, its spots, its trunk, its long hind legs, et al., respectively). Each story assumes that there was one member of a species who experienced a significant physical change as a result of a traumatic experience. The implication is that all subsequent members of that species have been descendants of the original survivor of that trauma, and therefore possess the acquired characteristic (the whale its throat, the camel its hump, etc.).
Just So Stories has been in print for more than a hundred years. I first heard it read to me seventy years ago, and I’ve read it and reread it maybe a dozen times since. In more recent re-readings, I’ve come to appreciate that the stories aren’t just about how animals acquired their spots, trunks, hides, and so forth; they’re about attitude.
The stubby-nosed young protagonist in “The Elephant’s Child” is repeatedly spanked by his elders—an Ostrich, a Giraffe, a Hippo, and a Baboon—for asking so many questions. One of the questions is “What does the Crocodile have for dinner?” He gets no answer and instead gets thoroughly and painfully spanked instead. But the Elephant’s Child is still dangerously curious, so he goes down to the Limpopo River, where he asks the Crocodile directly what he eats for dinner, and the Crocodile answers by grabbing hold of the Elephant’s Child’s stubby nose and pulling it, stretching it longer and longer. Fortunately a Python comes to the Elephant’s Child’s rescue and pulls in the other direction, until finally the Crocodile gives up, lets go, and swims off down the Limpopo.
As a result of this near-death adventure, all elephants to this day have long, useful trunks. As for the Elephant’s Child, perhaps he learned that being dangerously curious isn’t such a good thing. But he hasn’t forgotten (elephants tend to remember) the corporal punishment he has endured at the hands of his elders, and so when he gets back home he puts his useful new trunk to use spanking the Ostrich, the Giraffe, the Hippo, and the Baboon. “The Elephant’s Child” is also a story of revenge.
According to “The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo,” the Kangaroo once had four short legs. He wants to be somehow more distinctive than he is, so he goes to a god named Nqong in the Australian outback and asks Nqong to make him “different from all other animals…popular and wonderfully run after by five this afternoon.” Nqong, agrees, and promptly sics a Dingo dog on the Kangaroo. Dingo chases Kangaroo all over Australia, all day long. As a result of this all-day ordeal of fear and physical exercise, all kangaroos to this day have long, powerful hind legs, with which they can run from their predators, and they can be justly proud of being different from all other animals.
If you haven’t read Just So Stories recently, give yourself a treat. Kipling’s book may not enlighten you as to how all the animals really developed, but these stories will reward you with their humor, their rhythm, and their wisdom. I particularly recommend “The Cat that Walked by Himself” for its remarkable insight into the inscrutable feline spirit. It’s my favorite of all Kipling’s stories, and if I had read the entire works of Sir Rudyard (which I most certainly have not), I suspect I would still call that story his masterpiece. I won’t summarize it here. I wouldn’t do it justice.
Suspecting that your mind is already made up about the origin of species, I won’t urge you to subscribe to creationism, to evolutionism, or to Kipling’s notions of how this variously populated planet ended up the way it did. Actually, I think the evolving of life on earth hasn’t ended up at all. I believe we’re still in the process of creation and destruction, and perhaps we should stop debating the issue of Genesis vs. Darwin. Perhaps we human beings should worry a lot less about where we came from and a lot more about where we’re going.
Obviously I am fond of animal stories. So, as you’ll see, are the authors of the collection of 99-word stories I am about to show you. So scroll down and enjoy them. And when you’re done, please check out my promotion of an animal story of my own, at the end of this post.
a collection of 99-word stories
THE ORDER OF IMPORTANCE
by June Kosier
I was in a restaurant with my husband, teasing him about what I considered his list of priorities. I told him I didn’t mind dropping to second place when our daughter was born, but I did mind dropping to third when we got a dog. I also sometimes felt that he pushed me down the totem pole for bowling. He told me that I definitely ranked higher than bowling.
A woman sitting nearby came to our table and said, “You miserable man, your wife should always come first.” And then left.
CAT ON A PILLOW
by Tom Donovan
“You need to get up!”
“The cat’s hungry, that’s why!”
“It’s your cat, and it’s my day to sleep in.”
“You hate the cat!”
“Not true. It’s the geography.”
“I’m not fond of the cat in or on our bed! I like him better on the other side of the closed bedroom door.”
“He likes it here with us!”
“But intimacy is difficult with the cat on our pillow!”
“What do you want from me?”
“A decision: choose either the cat or me on the pillow!”
“I’ll think about it and let you know.”
“You already have!”
HOME IS WHERE THE DOG LIVES
by Cathy Mayrides
He ran in front of a car when he was a puppy. A long scar remained on top of his head, making him look like a piggy bank. Then, he electrocuted himself, jumped out a second story window, got stung by angry bees (he was allergic), and tore his belly on a fence. These were just a few of his seemingly suicidal episodes. Yet, my family was fond of this nut.
No one ever said, “The dog’s got to go.” When we took an animal in, it had a home forever. Through thick, thin, and bizarre, he was ours.
YOU’LL HAVE TO CHOOSE
by Herman Cantor
“Because it’s disgusting, that’s why. I don’t understand what you see in her anyway. She’s ugly, filthy, stupid, doesn’t speak proper English.… Face it, my dear, she’s an animal!”
“I can’t help it, Jane. She and I have been best friends since we were little kids. I love her.”
“Are you sleeping with her?”
“Because if so, we’re finished. She’s probably got VD. So. Do you two do it?”
“Don’t touch me! I’m leaving.”
Tarzan and Terk held hands as they watched Jane board the river boat that would take her out of the jungle.
OUR LAST DOG WILL BE OUR LAST DOG
by Carolyn Masters
“We’re not going to get another dog.” My husband declared this theme repeatedly during the year after our dachshund passed away.
“We’re only going to hug and socialize the dogs at the rescue adoption event this Saturday,” I replied.
Shortly after we arrived, a staff member asked Scott to watch Isabelle, a young female dachshund who’d recently had puppies. Isabelle leaped onto his lap and into his heart.
I find the two of them snoozing on Scott’s leather recliner chair. Yes dear, I sighed, I love you. Just don’t forget that you have TWO girls in your life.
ULTIMATUM IN THE EVERGLADES
by Madelyn Lorber
I married him because he was exciting. I’d never be bored. I rationalized his peculiarities away. Admittedly, trips to the Everglades were a thrill—airboat rides on that river of grass; alligators sunning on the banks of canals; eagles, falcons perched atop giant pine.
In a rush of emotion, I whispered, “I love you.”
“I’m glad you do, ’cause.…” With net and lasso he captured one unsuspecting creature and declared, “…this beauty’s coming home with us.”
It was an endangered panther.
“Yes,” I said, “I love you, but you’re going to have to choose between me and that animal.”
by Jerry Giammatteo
Jack approached tentatively with stick in hand to guide the rodent to the cage. Peanut butter and apple slices placed outside the trap as an inducement seemed useless.
Maddeningly, Julie seemed fond of the furry intruder in their attic.
“Don’t hurt him; he’s sorta cute,” she said, much to Jack’s chagrin.
Suddenly the beast ignored Jack’s stick and leapt toward him. He fell through the trap door, down several feet to their bedroom. Jack was dazed.
“You didn’t hurt him, did you?”
Jack fumed. “I love you, but you’re going to have to choose between me and that animal.
by Diane Morelli
Our son moved out, taking his beagle, cockatiel, and ferret with him. My wife and I agreed. “Just the two of us,” I said.
She said, “Heavenly.”
A few evenings later, a ginger tabby stained gray from motor oil came home with me.
“Why was this house cat wandering in the repair shop?” my wife asked.
“Cheetah lived with Alice, Charlie’s girlfriend. Charlie moved in with them. When he broke out in hives, he told Alice one of them needed to go.”
“Playboy Charlie, with the green eyes and auburn hair?”
“That’s the one.”
“Alice chose the wrong redhead.”
by Christine Viscuso
“Yes, I love you, but you’re going to have to choose between me and that animal.”
“That’s unfair, Stan.”
“Dudley drools. He slobbers. I wake up with a soggy pillow.”
“You also drool.”
“It’s abnormal to sleep with a St. Bernard, Phyllis. He buries his biscuits under my pillow.”
“Look at that face. He’s so cute.”
“His weekly food bill is off the charts. And the vet bills. I’m thinking of applying for Obamacare.”
“Just look at that face. He’s cute and he gives unconditional love.”
“It’s him or me, Phyllis.”
“Take out the garbage when you leave, dear.”
Calling all published authors—
I feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories
The deadline for August’s 99-word story submissions is August 1. The stories will appear on my blog post for August 13, and will stay posted for a week.
note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.
Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:
1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: email@example.com
THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Imagine a special place you like to go, a place that has much meaning for you. Write a story about going to that place, and being surprised to find someone there whom you haven’t seen in a long, long time.
The Ballad of Toby and Lark
A Cat Fantasy
by John M. Daniel
Trade paperback original
64 pages • $10.00
For an autographed copy,
call John at (800) 662-8351
What wouldn’t you do to win the heart of the one you love the most?
Toby is a simple farm boy, and Lark is the gardener he loves. Lark loves a handsome cat, also named Toby. Toby and Toby are much alike. In fact.…
Set in an unnamed preindustrial society, this is the story of a shy young fellow named Toby, who’s in love with his neighbor, a gardener named Lark. Alas, Lark, who’s twice Toby’s age, is wooed and won by Toby’s abusive Uncle Pewter.
Broken-hearted, Toby takes his troubles to Mistress Mangle, a witch in the woods, and she turns him into a proud and handsome cat. In his new fur tuxedo coat, Toby returns to the village and to Lark’s farm, where she takes him in and names him Toby, after the friend who disappeared.
Pewter has no use for cats. He kicks poor Toby out into the midst of winter, and so the cat returns to Mistress Mangle, where, with the help of a flirtatious female cat named Vixen, they plot their revenge. Another metamorphosis, a rollicking party, and a chase in the night, followed by another broken heart.
All works out in the end: Toby (the cat) is reunited with Lark. By that time Lark has taken a new partner, a man named Tom, and Toby comes to love him as well.
The story is told in “informal verse.” The language has the playfulness of a kitten and the dignity of a cat. The book is illustrated throughout with black and white renderings of heroes, heroines and villains, houses and farms, country lanes and wildwoods, and cats, cats, cats.
Thank you for visiting. Please drop by next week.