It was a casual comment, which, like the elephant's nose, grew out of curiosity. I said I was curious and my friend said, "So you're an elephant's child, too?" She's a kind heart so I did not think it was anything untoward, but my mind moved up and down the racks of information stores in my brain like the arm of an old fashioned juke box looking for B47. The non match must have played across my face. "Kipling," she offered and I nodded. I have read Kipling, honest, but it was a long time ago and I am sad to say that Disney pops first into my mind now rather than Kipling's own words.
My friend lent me a copy of Kipling which included not only Elephant's Child and many of the other stories I remembered from childhood--my own and my daughter's--but also some poems and other insights into the culture of the empire--with no trace of the overbearing imperialism, rather parables about duty and hard work. I can understand why these poems were omitted from the editions that I probably read: that sentiment would have jarred with the sensibilities of the time. I found it refreshing tucked away in an old book like a long patient civil servant. In fact, the poem about hard work being the solution to the blues might become the theme song for David Cameron's back to work scheme.
Now back to the elephant's child. The story is a mixture of how to story and moralistic lesson on unfortunate character traits. Children love hearing stories about the perils of animals with their own trait, such as the grisly tales in Zoppelphilip or Roald Dahl's tales. The elephant was curious. His family tried to spank him out of it, but he persisted. His search for an answer to his " 'satiable curtiosity" led him to the banks of the "great grey green greasy Limpopo river" and the clutches of a crocodile, where only the greatest of effort by the elephant child and his companion kept him from becoming the crocodile's dinner. In the process, elephant child got his nose s t r e t c h e d, and, with some help from his faithful companion, got a little wisdom as well.
As if to confirm my friend's hunch that I am an elephant's child in primate form, I appreciated the lilting language of the story, the well crafted tale, and relatively satisfactory conclusion--the elephant got his answer to that particular question and his family stopped spanking him, but did he lose his curiosity? That's what I want to know.