I have read Rudyard Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child quite a number of times in recent days for my 92-year-old mother who has Alzheimer’s. While Kipling’s work certainly is dated – with inherent racism, constant spankings and all-out revenge as major themes – it does have surprising merits, beyond the fact that my mother still remembers this story exceptionally well.
For one, there is the phrase ‘satiable curtiosity’, repeated throughout. A mash-up of courtesy and curiosity, it’s the Elephant’s Child’s ‘satiable curtiosity that gets him his trunk and makes him the envy of the jungle.
There is also Kipling’s idiosyncratic notes to his illustrations – mocking his own work – that provides, as they say, meta perspective on the work. But most intriguing of all is the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, a sinister character to be sure, which beats and tricks our hero, but in the end actually saves the Elephant’s Child from being eaten by the crocodile. He also teaches him what an effective tool his trunk actually is – even if it is to go home and beat up his abusive family…all very odd, something to ponder, when I read it once again.