Archive for January, 2008

Kipling’s Butterfly Story

January 21, 2008

By Nirmaldasan



Among the fine stories that bear the stamp of the narrative genius of Rudyard Kipling is ‘The Butterfly That Stamped’. This story, appearing in his Just So Stories written for little children, begins thus:


“This, O my Best Beloved, is a story — a new and a wonderful story — a story quite different from the other stories — a story about The Most Wise Sovereign Suleiman-bin-Daoud — Solomon the Son of David.  


“There are three hundred and fifty-five stories about Suleiman-bin-Daoud; but this is not one of them. It is not the story of the Lapwing who found the Water; or the Hoopoe who shaded Suleiman-bin-Daoud from the heat. It is not the story of the Glass Pavement, or the Ruby with the Crooked Hole, or the Gold Bars of Balkis. It is the story of the Butterfly that Stamped.”


The Strain Index finds this story suitable for students of Standard XI (S3/10 = 11.1, where S3 is the number of syllables in the first three sentences). Apparently, students of Standard V will have to grow up before they find this story readable and enjoyable. But that is a long wait. What is the way out? Just retell the story in simpler English.


Here is the opening paragraph of Deepa Agarwal’s retelling: “This is a story about the Wise King Suleiman-bin-Daoud — Solomon the Son of David. He was wise and understood what the beasts, birds and fishes said and what the insects said. He understood what the rocks and trees said. He understood everything and Balkis, his Head Queen, was nearly as wise as he was.”

The Strain Index for this version is 5.4 (students of Standard V should be happy), but much is lost in the hurried retelling of Kipling’s tale. Perhaps, it cannot be helped. A classic that is retold can only focus on the substance of the text, thus compromising the way the story is narrated. However, children in Standard V are sure to enjoy Deepa Agarwal’s retelling. But the question is: Will they turn to Kipling’s original when they are in Standard XI?