“One fine morning in the middle of the Precession of the Equinoxes this ‘satiable Elephant’s Child asked a new fine question that he had never asked before. He asked, “What does the Crocodile have for dinner?” Then everybody said, “Hush!” in a loud and dretful tone, and they spanked him immediately and directly, without stopping, for a long time.
By and by, when that was finished, he came upon Kolokolo Bird sitting in the middle of a wait-a-bit thorn-bush, and he said, “My father has spanked me, and my mother has spanked me; all my aunts and uncles have spanked me for my ‘satiable curtiosity; and still I want to know what the Crocodile has for dinner!”
Then Kolokolo bird said, with a mournful cry, “go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.” Kipling, Just So Stories
I adore the story of The Elephant’s Child – well, all of Kipling’s Just So Stories – but the Elephant’s Child in particular. I love the wonderful flow of the language, but even more so the wondrously irrepressible Elephant’s Child, with his ‘satiable curtiosity and his quest that takes him all the way to the great grey-green greasy limpopo river, where at the cost of great personal hardship he not only discovers what the crocodile has for dinner, but acquires a brand new nose. When he returns to his old life with this brand new nose, all things are changed, because “nobody spanked anybody anymore.”
Another of my all time favorite characters, for entirely different reasons, is Eeyore from Milne’s magical Winnie the Pooh stories.
“The old grey donkey, Eeyore, stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, “Why?” and sometimes he thought, “Wherefore?” and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?” and sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about.”
Poor Eeyore – he is the ultimate victim, the poster child for depression and hopelessness. I have a soft spot for him, feeling a touch of sympathy even as I laugh at his exaggerated misfortune. Eeyore also has a river encounter:
“Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream, and looked at himself in the water.
“Pathetic,” he said. “That’s what it is. Pathetic.”
He turned and walked slowly down the stream for twenty yards, splashed across it, and walked slowly back on the other side. Then he looked at himself in the water again.
“As I thought,” he said. “No better from this side. But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.”"
While the Elephant’s Child, Oh Best Beloved, takes it upon himself to find the answers to his questions, Eeyore asks the questions but takes no steps to seek anything. He is a static character who never grows or changes.
Much as I hate advertising in general, the Nike slogan says it all: Just Do It.
Don’t wait. Take that trip. Join that club. Write that book. Drive a new route to work. Listen to a new radio station. Taste a new food. Read a different genre. Wear a different color. Follow your own ‘curtiosity and see where it takes you.
Where this blog takes me next is to Tennyson, my poetic hero, who says what I mean so much more eloquently than I could hope to do myself:
“Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end.
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.”