You had better decide what you want before buying or reading these essays for the title misleads. Eleven of the stories told ‘just so’ at the Kipling children’s bedtime were first made and published in mostly American magazines between 1897 and 1902 and were illustrated by several artists: Herford, Ver Beck, Drummond. Of these we are told almost nothing, nor whether the first three commissioned as a unit by St Nicholas appeared in Warne’s London edition of the magazine before any other English edition.
Having thus jumped the origins, Batchelor proceeds to discuss the definitive versions sequentially in the order in which they appeared in the first book edition of 1902. Here each story carried illustrations by the author who supplied historiated initials and mostly black and white full-page plates, each of which has Kipling’s own detailed, and mostly comical, explanation as an additional extra. This means, of course, that the only authentic version of this famous book is that with all the author’s additional contributions which also include, as did much of his other storytelling, a concluding poem for each tale). All of these elements in the ‘making’ demand a systematic description and, since the stories have a close involvement in the life of the family, the subject of the final poems tends to have a biographical input as well – the point at which Batchelor wobbles in his course.
As a stand-alone study rather than an annotated edition, the text needs to give the reader an initial retelling of each story, often through direct quotation so that we may hear the vital tone of the storyteller’s voice. The original working took place partly while the Kiplings were living in Vermont, their first child, Josephine, being born there in 1891, inspiring ‘Best Beloved’ as prime addressee. But by the time that the first three stories came from St Nicholas they were back in England, with a second ‘Best Beloved’, Elsie, and here the nine subsequent tales were devised. This was not only the most fruitful period of Kipling’s career, the ten years preceding Just So seeing the publication of Captains Courageous, The Jungle Books, Stalky and Co, and Kim, but it was also a time of crisis and instability with the row that led to their departure from Vermont, homeseeking in Britain, and the tragic death of Josephine in 1899.
These events certainly warrant an extension of the discussion of the stories but Batchelor has biographical yearnings and a considerable part of each chapter is occupied with iterations (sometimes repetitive) of such matters as Kipling’s childhood, schooldays, Indian influences, travel, and Africa affairs – not least the Boer War and the friendship with Rhodes. These are important in a ‘life’ but, for the most part, irrelevant to the making of the book. At the same time, their presence interferes with a proper examination of the three elements that give Just So its unique character.
Thus, given the presence of Kipling’s original drawings at the British Library, a way (the first?) could have been opened to an examination of the techniques that he employed in making his diverse illustrations: the mingling of black and white, the varying line techniques for runes and lettering. while there might have been a possible chronology of their composition and the relation of the artwork to its final printing. Batchelor is at pains to discuss some, but by no means all, of both the illustrated initials and the fullpage drawings, although these are too lightly printed here. (The map in the Jaguar story understandably lacks its red trail-marker but a transcription is needed of the many illegible texts that adorn it. Similarly in the verses that conclude the Crab story today’s reader will find it difficult to find a copy of The Times for 1902 in order to check the multiple shipping lines, as instructed by the author. A transcription would be of historical as well as literary interest.)
From some brief notes in the Camel chapter and a longer sketch of nineteenth century children’s books it also seems that Batchelor (who has written on such as Conrad, Ruskin and Tennyson) does not seem to have a working knowledge of the publishing of either texts or illustrations of children’s books of contemporary relevance. In mentioning later texts perhaps influenced by Just So, he seems not to have come across Ted Hughes.
Buyers or readers new to the book will for sure find much that reveals its importance in Kipling’s life and work but I’m not sure that the excellent World’s Classics edition, edited by Lisa Lewis (not found in Batchelor’s substantial bibliography) plus such full-dress biographies as that by Charles Carrington would not be a more rewarding experience.