Tales for Children
It is not easy to take a dispassionate view of a book to which we have been much indebted in youth. Sometimes we are even unwilling to disturb the original associations by trying to do so, for a child's imagination can be consciously enlarged by a mediocre book. No deflating experience awaited me when, after a break of years, I came back to the books that Kipling wrote for children; yet, if this study had aimed at critical evaluation, I think I should not have dared to write this chapter. For my purpose of analysis and display, however, it is surely a positive advantage that I read and re-read the books as a child. They have of late been sometimes belittled and often ignored in criticisms of Kipling, though this is in face of the fact that he says more about theme-- specially about the Puck books--in Something of Myself than about any other of his works, after his beginnings. It has even been questioned whether children have ever cared for them. There should be, then, some value in the testimony of a reader who was a child of the generation for which they were first written.
I had the great advantage of being read aloud to, extremely well, by both my parents. The Just So Stories were on my nursery shelves. The jocular manner and the refrains ('You must not forget the suspenders, Best Beloved') amused me, though a young cousin complained: 'You needn't say that again.' But the charm lay in the hints of mystery and remoteness. 'The great grey-green, greasy Limpopo river, all set about with fever-trees' never sent me to the map but rolled through my imagination, and runs off my pen now without any reference to 'The Elephant's Child'. 'The Beaches of Socotra And the Pink Arabian Sea' sang in my fancy as Cotopaxi and Chimborazo did in W. J. Turner's. I was present at the creation of the world with 'The Crab that Played with the Sea' (though I perfectly understood that this was fantasy), and the prehistoric background of the Taffimai stories