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The fables featured in this collection include:
- How the Whale Got His Throat
- How the Camel Got His Hump
- How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin
- How the Leopard Got His Spots
- The Elephant's Child
- The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo
- The Beginning of the Armadillos
- How the First Letter Was Written
- How the Alphabet Was Made
- The Crab That Played with the Sea
- The Cat That Walked by Himself
- The Butterfly That Stamped
- The Tabu Tale
- Affectionate Parody: Of various kinds of oral history. For example, The Butterfly That Stamped parodies the style of the Koran ("Now listen and attend all over again!")
- Always a Bigger Fish: King Solomon makes a boast about being rich enough to feed all the animals in the world. Just as he sets out all the food, a gargantuan creature emerges from the sea and devours it all. That creature is the smallest of his 30,000 brothers and surfaced to ask when dinner would be ready.
- Bowdlerise: In the original book the Ethiopian tells the Leopard "Plain black's best for a nigger". In more recent editions this is often changed to "Plain black's best for me".
- Catch Phrase: "I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me."
- Carnivore Confusion
- Corporal Punishment: The way that the Elephant Child's "'satiable curiosity" is handled.
- Curiosity Is a Crapshoot: The Elephant's Child got lucky.
- Disproportionate Retribution: In The Cat That Walked by Himself, the Cat agrees to the terms of Man and Woman, but they still vow that they and their descendants will torment the Cat for always and always just because he spoke out of turn.
- Giant Swimmer: Small Porgies and his 29,999 brothers.
- Constantly Curious: The Elephant's Child was the former Trope Namer.
- Extreme Omnivore: Small Porgies. He eats up all the kinds of food that would feed all the other animals on earth, plus the packaging with no ill effects. His ability to eat anything is probably necessitated by the fact he has close to thirty-thousand brothers and that a single member of his species is large enough to out-eat the rest of the animal kingdom combined.
- Happily Married: Suleiman-bin-Daoud and his chief wife, Balkis. Too bad he has 999 others...
- Have a Gay Old Time: There's lots of this. Keep in mind it was published in 1902. For example, in How the Leopard Got His Spots
'But if I'm all this,' said the Leopard, 'why didn't you go spotty too?'
'Oh, plain black's best for a nigger,' said the Ethiopian.
- Scuse me,' said the Elephant's Child most politely, 'but do you happen to have seen a Crocodile in these promiscuous parts?'
- There's a swastika in a picture illustrating "The Crab that Played with the Sea", which is identified as "a magic mark". Remember the book was published decades before Those Wacky Nazis, when the swastika was known only as a generic positive mystical symbol by many people, especially in India.
- Henpecked Husband: King Suleiman-bin-Daoud is henpecked by all but one of his thousand wives.
- Just-So Story: The Trope Namer.
- Lamarck Was Right: All of the origin stories are heavily inspired by Lamarckian evolution. Most of the stories can be summed up as, "at some point in history a creature did something that caused it to change, and this is why nowadays all creatures of this type have this same trait". The only exception is How the Camel Got His Hump, where the hump is given by a djinn as a sort of punishment for being lazy and missing three days of work at the start of Creation.
- Lampshade Hanging: Kipling's account of how the alphabet was made has the modern English Latin alphabet come into existence from the beginning, ignoring how it has evolved over time. Of course he was well aware of this and put in a cute explanation:
"And after thousands and thousands and thousands of years, and after Hieroglyphics and Demotics, and Nilotics, and Cryptics, and Cufics, and Runics, and Dorics, and Ionics, and all sorts of other ricks and tricks (because the Woons, and the Neguses, and the Akhoonds, and the Repositories of Tradition would never leave a good thing alone when they saw it), the fine old easy, understandable Alphabet—A, B, C, D, E, and the rest of 'em—got back into its proper shape again for all Best Beloveds to learn when they are old enough."
- Malaproper: Most of the characters, and indeed the narrators; it's part of the humour.
- Non-Indicative Name: Small Porgies. He's large enough to eat all the food intended for all the other animals (excluding his brothers) on earth combined. He's still the runt of his family, though.
- Noodle Incident:
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.
Suleiman-bin-Daoud was wise. He understood what the beasts said, what the birds said, what the fishes said, and what the insects said. He understood what the rocks said deep under the earth when they bowed in towards each other and groaned; and he understood what the trees said when they rustled in the middle of the morning. He understood everything, from the bishop on the bench to the hyssop on the wall.
- His wife Balkis is no slouch herself.
- Overly Long Name: Many of the characters.
- Painting the Frost on Windows
- Playing Pictionary: Taffy's attempt to send a message back to her cave in "How The First Letter Was Written".
- Public Domain Character: Suleiman-bin-Daoud, better known as King Solomon, son of David. As in the one that performed the Judgment of Solomon. Pretty much everything about him in The Butterfly That Stamped is taken from The Bible, the Koran, or folklore about him. Balkis, of course, is the Queen of Sheba.
- The Runt At the End: Small Porgies is the smallest of his 29,999 brothers, hence the name.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake in The Elephant's Child.
- Also the Ethiopian in How the Leopard Got His Spots.
- Skin Is Clothing: In How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin, the rhinoceros can literally remove his hide like a suit. It even has buttons!
- Spell My Name with an "S": Suleiman-bin-Daoud AKA King Solomon. As The Butterfly That Stamped is done in the style of the Koran, Kipling used the Arabic version of his name.
- Sssssnaketalk: The Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, of course.
- Take Our Word for It: How the Ethiopian changes his skin (of course, played for laughs). All we are told is that the Leopard is very impressed.
- Unwanted Harem: You really do have to feel sorry for Suleiman-bin-Daoud.
He didn't really want nine-hundred and ninety-nine wives, but in those days everybody married ever so many wives, and of course the King had to marry ever so many more just to show that he was the King.
- ↑ That's already a pretty huge range of foods, what with insects, krill, meat, grass, hay, bark, grains, fish, blood, fecal matter, milk, carrion, nectar and all the other things that all the animals on earth would eat