Illustration of the Elephant's Child with no trunk, from the Just So Story by Rudyard Kipling.

How the Elephant Got His Trunk (Rudyard Kipling)

Rudyard Kipling was a British-Indian author born in Bombay in 1865. Along with The Jungle Book, he’s also famous for writing “Just So Stories,” including the tale of How the Elephant Got His Trunk, also known as The Elephant’s Child. This version was written by Juan Artola Miranda, shortly before his disgrace.

Slashes made by an enraged barbarian fabulist.

In a time when the world was young and the sky touched the ground, there lived a group of elephants. Among them was a young elephant with an obnoxious curiosity.

“Why does the leopard have spots?”

“Why does the camel have a hump?

“What does the crocodile eat for dinner?”

This was back when elephants were frail, useless creatures with short noses who spent their days struggling to find enough food to feed their massive frames. They were perpetually hungry and thus forever grumpy. This young elephant’s ceaseless curiosity bothered all of them. And so, instead of answering his questions, the older elephants would wack him with their tails, give him disapproving grunts, and send him on his way.

One day, in his quest for answers, the Young Elephant encountered the Kolokolo bird, a creature not known for its vast knowledge. The bird advised him, “Go to the great green river and ask your question to the crocodile. He has lived many moons and surely knows what he eats for dinner.”

Finding no flaw in the bird’s advice, the Young Elephant journeyed to the great green river. There, he found the crocodile sunning himself on the bank. Gathering his courage, he approached the crocodile and asked his burning question, “What do you eat for dinner?”

The crocodile, with a sly grin, replied, “Come closer, and I’ll show you.” As the Elephant’s Child leaned in to see, the crocodile clamped onto his short trunk and began to pull.

A tug of war ensued, the crocodile pulling the Elephant toward the water and the Elephant pulling back with all his might. The struggle went on until, with a final mighty tug from the crocodile, the Elephant’s short nose stretched out into a long trunk.

Though it hurt terribly, the Young Elephant managed to escape from the crocodile’s grasp and flee back to his family. There, he discovered that his new long trunk was incredibly useful. He could reach the topmost branches of the trees, pluck the juiciest fruits, and scoop up the tastiest roots. For the first time, he was able to eat his fill.

Upon his return, the other elephants were amazed by the Elephant’s Child’s transformation and the usefulness of his new trunk. Seeing their interest, the Elephant’s Child proposed a game of tug and war, promising that it would help stretch their short noses into long, useful trunks, just like his.

And so, the elephants began to play tug and war, each taking turns to pull each other’s noses. Slowly but surely, their noses stretched, becoming long and flexible trunks. This new ability to gather more food, combined with the strength they gained from their games, transformed the elephants. No longer were they frail and unsightly, but robust and formidable, commanding respect from all the other animals.

Juan Artola Miranda

I am Juan Artola Miranda, a fabulist living in the Mexican Caribbean. My friends know me by the name of my father's father, but that name grew into something bigger, my writing reaching tens of millions of readers. It was too strong for me to control. Artola Miranda is the name of my mother's mother. It's a better name for a fabulist.

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