We made it through the first week of The Jungle Books! How is the reading going? Like it? Hate it? Cuddling it?
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I hate the title of this story because you see it and you’re all “Awww yay, jungle family!!!11” and then you read it and Jungle Law is terrifying and Mowgli’s jungle brothers turn against him because he needs to find his human brothers and oh no I’m only 25 pages in and I am having FEELINGS.
Mowgli is raised from a very young age by wolves; he thinks of himself as a wolf: “he would have called himself a wolf if he had been able to speak in any human tongue” and he considers the wolves his brothers: “I was born in the jungle; I have obeyed the Law of the Jungle; and there is no wolf of ours from whose paws I have not pulled a thorn. Surely they are my brothers!” Of course, the hand dexterity that allows him to help the wolves is one of the things that sets him apart from them. The wolves are also upset because they can’t look him in the eye for long and find it threatening. Poor Mowgli doesn’t get it, even when his mentor Bagheera tells him point-blank that men are his brothers, not the wolves. In the end, the majority of the Wolf Pack kicks Mowgli out, partly out of fear, partly out of Shere Khan’s meddling, partly out of envy, perhaps. Mowgli is really hurt by this (“something began to hurt Mowgli inside him, as he had never been hurt in his life before” aw babe) and incredibly pissed off: “So I do not call ye my brothers any more,” he tells them, “but sag [dogs] as a man should.” RUDE.
But not all the wolves are disappointing. So far I love Mother Wolf the best out of all of the introduced characters. I loved the part where they’re all hanging out in the cave, and when Shere Khan tries to take her new kid Mother Wolf’s like “hey remember me, my name literally means demon, and it’s not a joke.” Dad Wolf “had almost forgotten the days when he won Mother Wolf in fair fight from five other wolves, when she ran in the pack and was not called the Demon for compliment’s sake. Shere Khan might have faced Father Wolf, but he could not stand up against Mother Wolf, for he knew that where he was she had all the advantage of the ground, and would fight to the death.” What a boss. Raksha for Jungle Queen.
Shere Khan himself is weirdly unimpressive….he skulks around and steals food instead of hunting, and the reason he’s a force to be reckoned with is not because he is prone to murder at any time, but because he’s been politicking among the younger wolves and winning them over with words. Usually I’m leading the Torch Shere Khan Brigade but I find him much more interesting this way. Maybe I just relate to how whiny he is: “[Dad Wolf] heard the dry, angry, snarly, singsong whine of a tiger who has caught nothing and does not care if all the jungle knows it.”
Sidenote: I definitely expected Akela to get ripped apart by tigers and/or wolves in this story.
Overall, “Mowgli’s Brothers” was a good start in terms of piquing my interest and introducing some main characters. Mowgli seems to in tune with the jungle animals in some ways, and not enough in other ways. I have a feeling he will have a bad time in the human world, but hopefully his resourcefulness will carry him through.
The Law of the Jungle (so far):
- don’t eat humans (it’s unsportsmanlike)
- new Pack members have to be inspected and accepted by the Pack
- Pack members can bribe their way in if too unpopular
- you’re not allowed to eat an animal if you used it as a bribe at some point
- “Strike first and then give tongue” i.e. beat up your opponents and then tell them how wrong they are and how right you are
“Hunting-Song of the Seeonee Pack”
Each of the short-stories is followed up by a song, hypothetically sung by a character or group of characters. I haven’t been enjoying the songs as much as the stories, but it is really cool how the songs add to the stories. What is each song adding to its partner story? Which “side” is it supporting? Does the song come into conflict with the story in any way?
This first one is by and about Mowgli’s adoptive wolf-pack, and it was neat because it showed the teamwork of the wolves, their ability to work together, and their bonds with each other. The irony, of course, is that Mowgli has just been thrown out of their pack, in spite of being raised with and among them.
Okay I’m just going to say it: I HAVE BEEN LIED TO MY ENTIRE LIFE. I’ve had nightmares of hypnotism and then strangulation for years because of my childhood experience of the animated Kaa in the Disney version, and now this book tells me that Kaa isn’t even a bad guy? Kaa saves Mowgli and Baloo and Bagheera? Kaa is terrifying and wonderful? WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME? Granted, Bagheera describes him as “not of our tribe, footless and with most evil eyes” but what’s a little evil eye between crime-fighting friends??? What’s a little monkey-murder? What’s a little mind-control as long as it’s being used for good? Okay, yes, Kaa is kind of a bad dude if you judge him based on body count. But anyone who teams up with Baloo and Bagheera can’t be all bad.
Bagheera and Baloo are amazing. I didn’t talk about them in the last story but their constant support of Mowgli is so great. Not that they’re perfect….Bagheera, especially, has a lot of pride, and it’s weird how he’s all annoyed with Baloo beating Mowgli but then beats Mowgli himself to make himself feel better about asking Kaa for help. Especially because it’s not like Mowgli went away with thh Monkeys on purpose: HE WAS KIDNAPPED. Ahem. Besides that, though, Bagheera and Baloo risk life and limb for their tiny foster-son and I’m a tiny bit in love with Bagheera’s velvety voice and killing abilities.
The deliberate separation between the monkeys and all of the other jungle animals was really stark. I found it interesting that Mowgli’s Master Words, “We be of one blood, thou and I” can be used with the birds, the beasts, and the snake, but NOT with the monkeys. Even though Mowgli tells Baloo and Bagheera that in his first meeting with the monkeys, they called him “blood-brother,” and even though Mowgli has some obvious anatomical similarities, the jungle animals consider the Monkey People completely separate from and lesser than themselves. Bagheera calls them “the People without a Law,” so part of it at least is that the monkeys don’t follow Jungle Law, which as we learned in the previous story is a pretty big deal.
Chronologically, this story takes place before “Mowgli’s Brothers.” Based on Mowgli’s knowledge and behavior, this seems consistent. Mowgli doesn’t have a lot of agency in this story, as he’s first kidnapped and then rescued and then beaten for being kidnapped. He uses his Master Words to send for help, but that’s about it. He’s wise enough to realize that the monkeys are not a good long-term bet (and possibly have rabies).
“Kaa’s Hunting” was much more suspenseful than the first (although they both use suspense well), and it was good to see the jungle outside of the wolf pack.
“Road-Song of the Bandar-Log”
The Monkey-Kind are really scary to me, and I think it’s because they combine the silly frivolity of this song with incredibly dangerous and malicious behavior. Aside from their tendency to kidnap kids and swarm panthers, their habit of endlessly talking about all the amazing things they’re going to do because of all the awesome things they know, is really really annoying but also very familiar. The tension between the words in this song like “Be sure, be sure, we’re going to do some splendid things!” and their actual behavior is unsettling.
Check out the different kinds of Indian monkeys here.