The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling are among the greatest children’s stories ever written. They are, in my mind, the quintessential book for a father to read to his young children, and I fully intend to regale my future spawn with How the Leopard Got His Spots and How the First Letter was Written and all the rest of them, just as my Dad did for me many moons ago.
But then I thought that I could go one better. I could write my own story of how some facet of life came to be, in the style of one of Kipling’s classic fables. Naturally, given that my love of large flying lizards is already well documented, I chose how the Pterodactyl got the silent P in his name as the subject for my story.
Oh, I almost forgot. The premise of this story was based on a suggestion from Liz. She wanted you to know that.
How the Pterodactyl Got His P
A “Just So Story” by Paul Ewbank
In those old days, best beloved, there lived a great many ‘stonishing creatures the likes of whom you’ll never see today, not if you look from one end of the country to the other. The best place to spy these most ‘stonishing creatures was by the big watering hole, for t’was where many of them could be found all day, sitting, swimming and splashing and generally enjoying the cool refreshing water.
There you would find, if you looked, the most ‘mazing Brachiosaurus, with his great long neck and legs sturdy as tree trunks. There too would you see the uncanny Ornithomimoraur, with his bandy arms and legs and long, slender tail. And, were you to keep on looking, best beloved, you would doubtless see there the wonderful Spinosaurus, with his cruel claws for catching, and his stout snout for snarling.
All these most majestic of creatures spent their days at the watering hole boasting to one another; about their great strength, about their many heroic deeds, and most of all about their names, for the most ‘mazing thing about a dinosaur was truly its name.
“My name is surely the most impressive of all,” boasted Brachiosaurus. “It stands high above yours as I myself look down upon you.”
“Nonsense,” orated Ornithomimosaur. “None can say my name without being filled with awe and wonder.”
“None can say your name; that much is true.” said the sniggering Spinosaurus. “But no name may compare to my name. Surely I, Spinosaurus, hold dominion over all names with the elegance and prestige of my title.”
“You are all mistaken,” piped up a voice from far below them. “For ‘tis I, Terodactyl, who have the most ‘stonishing name of all.”
Now the Terodactyl was a most peculiar creature- a pale, peaky fellow with pointed beak and prominent flaps of skin under his arms. He stood, though he was petite in size, with a certain poise and pride that made the others assembled there look at him in utter ‘mazement.
“You, Terodactyl? You think you have the best name of all?” barked Brachiosaurus.
“You most certainly do not!” objected Ornithomimosaurus. “I have never heard such a silly sounding name as that- not from here to the sandy shores of Pangaea have I!”
“Indeed.” snarled Spinosaurus. “Your name leaves much to be desired. Away with you, I say! Only those with elegant names may enjoy this watering hole!”
With such words did the others chase poor Terodactyl from the watering hole and away into the scorching sun of the day. Teradactyl sat resting ‘neath the shade of a fern tree, cursing the three fools and their wicked words.
“A pox on them and their petty ways!” said he. “I’ll show them! I’ll change my name and find a new watering hole where all the ‘sembled creatures will stand in awe of my new glorious title!”
And Terodactyl did as he said- he changed his name and flapped off to a new watering hole some miles away. There, by the water’s edge, was a family of stout Stegosaurus, sitting, swimming and splashing and generally enjoying the cool refreshing water. Terodactyl approached them and hailed them from the far side of the water.
“Ho! And wh-who have we h-here!” stammered Stegosaurus. “I h-have not seen your f-face around these parts.”
“Not likely! For I am Terordactyl, and I have travelled far to partake of the plentiful waters of this here hole. But tell me, friends, what think you of my name? Is it not the most spectacular name you have ever heard?”
It is worth remembering, best beloved, that at this time terordactyl was not a literate fellow, and could only change his name by one letter at a time.
“Terordactyl?” said the Stegosaurus to each other. “Terror-dactyl?! Wh-why, what a dreadful and fearful name! What manner of c-c-creature is this that has descended upon us, that he bears ‘terror’ in his very n-name!”
And the startled Steogosaurus fled the watering hole and left Terordactyl standing in the cool, refreshing waters feeling rather miffed.
So away he flew, and took shelter ‘neath the ferns of a nearby tree. “Well, that didn’t work at all!” he pondered. “They found my name far too fearsome! But I’ll show them! I’ll change my name again and find a new watering hole where all the ‘sembled creatures will stand in awe of my new glorious title, but will not be so moved by it as to flee in terror.”
And Terordactyl did as he said- he changed his name and flapped off to a new watering hole some miles away. There, by the water’s edge, was a gathering of uncouth Utahraptors, sitting, swimming and splashing and generally enjoying the cool refreshing water. Terordactyl strode out into the midst of them and hailed them merrily.
“Rrrr! What manner of creature are you, who does so brazenly walk into our watering hole!” rasped the raptor. “Have you not heard that this space belongs to us alone?”
“Not likely! For I am Tearodactyl, and I have come many miles to relieve the parching of my throat in these pristine waters. But before I do, comrades, what think you to my name? Is it not the most ‘stonishing, yet non-terror-inducing, name you ever did hear?”
It is worth remembering, best beloved, that at this time tearodactyl was not a learned man, and could only change his name by one letter at a time.
“Tis a most ridiculous name at that!” replied the raptor roguishly. “Never in all my time on the sandy shores of Pangaea have I heard of such a thing. What do you suppose it is?”
“That much is clear.” responded another. “This here is a dactyl, that’s what he said he was. And he wants us to tear at him with our ever so sharp teeth. He said as much himself.”
“That he did. Well, tear-a-dactyl, we shall be only too happy to oblige.”
“Heavens!” said Tearodactyl, and he flapped away as the ravenous raptors rushed at him with their rows of fangs. Talking shelter ‘neath the plentiful shade of a fern tree, he once more pondered his predicament. “This is no good at all!” he pronounced. “My name moved them to want to rip me to shreds! I must think carefully this time. I’ll show them! I’ll change my name once again and find a new watering hole where all the ‘sembled creatures will stand in awe of my new glorious title, but will not be so moved by it as to flee in terror, or indeed to attempt to do me bodily harm.”
And Tearodactyl did as he said- he changed his name once more and flapped off to a new watering hole some miles away. There, by the water’s edge, was a deaf diplodocus and his wife and pups, sitting, swimming and splashing and generally enjoying the cool refreshing water. Tearodactyl, confident that he had finally found a name that had just the right connotations and a most receptive audience to go with it, strutted out into the water. He hailed the long-necked family with warmth.
“Hm? Who said that?” demanded Diplodocus. “Tell me, who are you, and how come you by this watering hole? I have never seen such a strange young fellow, not in all my years on the sandy shores of Pangaea.”
“Not likely! For I am Terotactyl, and I have strayed far to find my place at this peaceful palace of plenty, where I intend to drink my fill. But first, do tell me what you think of my name- surely it is the most ‘stonishing, yet non terror-inducing, nor violence-provoking, name you ever did h-“
“What’s that? Speak up, sonny! My hearing ain’t what it was!” declared Diplodocus. What did he say, dear?”
The diplodocus’ wife answered. “He said his name was tero, and that he was a most tactile fellow.”
“What does it mean, that he is a tactile fellow?” asked the Diplodocus’ infant son, scuttling out from between his father’s enormous legs.
Diplodocus smiled. “Ah, now that much is clear! If he is a tactile fellow then it means he wants to be petted and stroked. That explains why he has come to our humble watering hole- he wants us to pat him with our long tails!”
“While this is a somewhat better response than I have thus far attained,” pondered Terotactyl, as the Diplodocus family reached out their long tails and patted him heavily on the head in turn, “I am still not content.” He flapped away, leaving the bemused sauropods far below him, and came to land ‘neath the shade of a fern tree.
“What a bothersome thing this is becoming!” proclaimed Terotactyl. “Perhaps all my attempts have been in vain. I should have stayed where I was with silly Brachiosaurus and the rest of them. There at least I could parch my thirst in peace, even if none of them showed any appreciation for my name. Ooh, but how I’ll hate to see their smug smiles when I go back. I’ll play one last trick on them and then go off and find a watering hole all of my own where none will ever bother me!”
And Terotactyl did as he said- he changed his name once more and flew all the way back to the very first watering hole. There, by the water’s edge, was Brachiosaurus and Ornithomimosaurus and Spinosaurus just as before. Terotactyl landed plop in the water and poked his head up at the three of them, and hailed them wearily.
News of Terotactyl’s exploits had reached them at their watering hole, so boastful Brachiosaurus berated him thusly: “Well, look who we have here. We had heard that you were many miles away and had tried to change your name so as to win the adoration of the local residents.”
“And we also heard that you failed miserably,” opined the ornery Ornithomimosaurus, grinning his toothy grin.
“So tell us,” said the smug Spinosaurus, “what name do you go by now?”
“Friends, while I was away I learned that a name holds much meaning, and should not be changed lightly. So after much thought I decided to alter my name one final time, to a title that truly reflects who I am, and that I would now like to be known as Pterodactyl.”
“But, that is the same name we knew you as all along.” said surprised Spinosaurus. “Have you decided to remain content with who you were, all along?”
“Not quite. There is a silent ’P’ at the fore now, you see. Pterodactyl.”
“A silent ‘P’ you say? What an odd choice for a name.”
“Indeed so. And yet you say this new name truly reflects who you are?” spoke Brachiosaurus bemusedly. “How so?”
“You cannot say I did not warn you.” grinned the Pterodactyl, the water around him turning a cloudy yellow.
“Eugh!” spat the Spinosaurus, staggering away, splashing the vile water everywhere.
“Come now, there was no need for that!” boomed Brachiosaurus.
“Nahahahaha!!” cackled Pterodactyl, splashing the yellow water into their faces with his wings.
“Stop it!” ordered the Ornithomimosaur, arms flailing.
“So long, friends!” cheered Pterodactyl, taking flight and speeding away. The three dripping dinosaurs watched him go, vowing never again to ignore the warning of a silent P.