The Letter R (A-to-Z Challenge)

The Beginning of the Armadillos, by Rudyard Kipling

In Rudyard Kipling’s tale The Beginning of the Armadillos,* two friends named Slow-and-Solid Tortoise and Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog live and play together in a very Frog-and-Toad-like way along the banks of the turbid Amazon.  One morning a young and hungry Painted Jaguar approaches them with the idea of breakfast and the animals are able to thwart him, at first by Slow-Solid by retreating into his shell and by Stickly-Prickly shoving spines into the big kitten’s paw.  Then they confuse him with a mixture of distorted truth and outright deception, baffle him with twisted and clever back chat and finally tie him up in a tangle of semantics.  Frustrated and still hungry, Painted Jaguar runs crying to his Mummy.

The two friends eavesdrop on their conversation and are horrified to hear Mummy providing Painted Jaguar with detailed, species-specific instructions on how to kill and eat tortoises and hedgehogs.  It is obvious that Painted Jaguar now knows exactly what’s what and the two friends are resigned to the fact that he will be back to get them in the morning and that this time he will be armed with a fatally accurate knowledge of their respective weaknesses.

“I do not like this old lady at all — at all,” said Slow-and-Solid Tortoise.  “Even Painted Jaguar can’t forget those directions.  It’s a great pity you can’t swim, Stickly-Prickly.

“Don’t talk to me,” said Stickly-Prickly.  “Just think how much better it would be if you could curl up.  This is a mess!”

But forewarned is forearmed, and the animals do not panic but instead calmly set to work to save themselves, working through the night as each shares with the other the skills of bending and of swimming, conversing all the while in the fun, finicky language of old bachelors.

Stickly-Prickly helped to unlace Tortoise’s back plates, so that by twisting and straining Slow-and-Solid actually managed to curl up a tiddy wee bit.

“Excellent!” said Stickly-Prickly; “but I shouldn’t do any more just now.  It’s making you black in the face.  Kindly lead me into the water once again and I’ll practice that sidestroke which you say is so easy.”  And so Stickly-Prickly practiced, and Slow-Solid swam alongside.

“Excellent!” said Slow-Solid. “A little more practice will make you a regular whale.  Now, if I may trouble you to unlace my back and front plates two holes more, I’ll try that fascinating bend that you say is so easy.  Won’t Painted Jaguar be surprised!”

“Excellent!” said Stickly-Prickly, all wet from the Turbid Amazon.  “I declare, I shouldn’t know you from one of my own family.  Two holes, I think, you said? A little more expression, please, and don’t grunt quite so much, or Painted Jaguar may hear us.  When you’ve finished, I want to try that long dive which you say is so easy.  Won’t Painted Jaguar be surprised!”

And so Stickly-Prickly dived, and Slow-and-Solid dived alongside.

Kipling must surely have been a big Homer fan and most certainly The Beginning of the Armadillos was intended to be read aloud since, much like the wine dark seas and the rosy-fingered dawns of the Odyssey, Kipling’s repeated addictive and soothing references to the Turbid Amazon and the High and Far Off Times and the periodic addressing of the story to O Best Beloved build and weave an irresistible rhythm that lulls both parent and child to settle deeply into the gentle tale.

Is this a traditional fable retold or a story from Kipling’s imagination?  I do not know.  It’s a good one though.  I hope your mother read it to you and if she didn’t, I hope you will read it to someone yourself.

See you tomorrow for Letter S,


*quotes from Kipling, Rudyard, and Lorinda Bryan Cauley. The Beginning of the Armadillos. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985. Print.


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