Almost every country, every culture, every community have a set of creation stories. There must be thousands of stories about the beginning of the world, and how things came to be. Now, they are often pushed to the side, condemned to be children’s stories – not unlike fairy tales. But they were once how we explained our world, what we saw around us, how we explained the mystical way that things worked and moved and grew and appeared.
Rudyard Kipling made up his own creation stories. In Just So Stories, he dictated why the whale only eats plankton and why leopards are spotted and how the alphabet was made. I love this. Because, really, as a child, how many times did you ask the question ‘why’ or ‘how’ and get an unsatisfactory answer? I feel like Rudyard Kipling is taking knowledge into his own hands. It is almost like he said, ‘Right! Well, if you won’t tell me how or why, I will tell YOU how and why!’
The difference between what I think of as ‘real’ creation stories (that is, ones that people genuinely created to explain their world and were passed down for generations) to Rudyard Kipling’s creation stories is that Rudyard Kipling did know better. He was an educated adult, in an educated time, where people did not guess or imagine why things were – they conducted experiments, and researched, and looked at things through microscopes. Life in Rudyard Kipling’s time (and our time) was very scientific. In order to explain things, you did not guess, you did not imagine. You investigated until you discovered the answer.
But where’s the fun in that?
Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories sees the world as a child sees them. No, let’s broaden that. They see the world how people used to see it – as inexplicable, and mysterious, as full of hundreds of things so strange and exotic and wonderful that something so mundane as science couldn’t possibly explain why it was the way it was. I quote, again, one of my favourite quotes: ‘ The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms’ (Muriel Rukeyser). When the inhabitants of the world were evolving into the creatures they are today, they didn’t do it for science – they did it for their own personal stories, for the emotional world that they lived in. Life on earth, creation, – it can’t be as cold-blooded and sterile as evolution. Surely for every moment of change on the planet, there is a wonderful story behind it. Rudyard Kipling only captured a few of them. I wonder what some of the other stories are?