The Jungle Books: Week 3

We’ve made it to Week 3! We’re finishing up the first of the Jungle Books today, along with starting the second book, which opens with “How Fear Came.” What’s your favorite story so far? Is the book setting up any obstacles that are making it hard to understand or enjoy?

“Toomai of the Elephants”

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Source

Little Toomai reminds me of Mowgli. He is raised by humans but among the elephants, and he is trained to think of them as his inferiors. For example, even when he is a tiny baby Toomai is the master of Kala Nag, “the best-loved and best-looked-after” elephant.  As a child, Toomai trains Kala Nag to do tricks. He herds elephants. He catches elephants. In most ways, he’s just like any of the other elephant drivers and riders. Toomai “preferred the camp life” and the elephants themselves to villages or people, which is also very like Mowgli. Everyone acknowledges Little Toomai’s mastery over elephants, just like the jungle People acknowledge Mowgli’s inherent authority over them in the way they can’t look him in the eyes for long.

 

His chief hunter, Machua Appa, recognizes the talent in Little Toomai and says, “There goes one good piece of good elephant-stuff at least.”. Machua Appa’s boss, Petersen Sahib, takes this to heart. Petersen is more powerful than the native elephant drivers, and supposedly smarter, although we don’t see much difference in the end result – his pet elephant escapes the picket lines just like Kala Nag, after all. I’m honestly really confused about this Petersen guy because I think I’m supposed to love him but Machua Appa seems to be the actually knowledgeable one. Am I being too hard on Petersen? DISCUSS.

Petersen: “Come to me when thou hast seen the elephants dance, and then I will let thee go into all the Keddahs.”

Little Toomai: “Challenge accepted.”

I love the backstory on Kala Nag, with the line: “So, before he was twenty-five, he gave up being afraid” words to live by, to be quite honest! But then Big Toomai claims that the only thing Kala Nag fears is Big Toomai, and Little Toomai adds that he fears him, too. This isn’t really supported by the text – I think it’s idle boasting. Or deluded boasting. Kala Nag does what he wants, and sticks with the humans for the most part but has no problem with snapping his picket line and rambling off to dance with wild elephants.

I also like how the elephants are consistently described as silent and ghost-like: Kala Nag moving “silently as a cloud rolls out of the mouth of a valley,” “turned without a sound,” and “moved absolutely without any sound.” Even though he’s giant, he’s like a ghost when he wants to be. It really emphasizes the idea that if Kala Nag didn’t want to hang out with the humans, he wouldn’t have to. The other elephants, too, when “within the circle of the tree-trunks they moved like ghosts.”

 

I love the bit where Little Toomai gets a little drum, and hits it “and he thumped and he thumped and he thumped, and the more he thought of the great honor that had been done to him, the more he thumped, all alone among the elephant-fodder. There was no tune and no words, but the thumping made him happy.” The parallel between that and the elephant dance is fantastic. I don’t know if the elephants are doing it because they’re happy or not, but it definitely shows that Little Toomai is a kindred spirit with the elephant way of doing things. During the elephant dance: “The elephants were stamping altogether now, and it sounded like a war-drum beaten at the mouth of a cave.”

Overall this story fits in well with the collection so far. Like Mowgli, Toomai stands out as both human-like and animal-like, someone who understands both worlds to an extent. “What never man has seen he has seen through the long night, and the favor of the elephant-folk and of the Gods of the Jungles is with him.”  Fortunately, Toomai isn’t rejected or treated as a witch or demon, as we saw with Mowgli at the village. I guess elephant bros are more socially acceptable than wolf bros.

“Shiv and the Grasshopper”

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I can’t find mythological support for the story that is told in this song. But it’s a fun song. The Hindu god Shiva is giving gifts to every creature, great and small, and his wife Kali tries to trick him by hiding the grasshopper. However, unbeknownst to her, even the grasshopper is given a little leaf to eat, and so Shiva wins out in the end, having provided for everyone.

 

There’s definitely a theme in this collection of “everything has a place and everything in its place” in these stories. As long as you know what your function is and perform it, you’re taken care of in the larger system. That being said, there’s a tension between that and the caste system, and I can’t really figure out how the one is being supported and the other rejected.

How do you think this song relates to the “Toomai” story? How does it relate to the collection of stories as a whole?

“Her Majesty’s Servants”

This story has almost no plot but somehow it is one of my favorites so far. It features all of the military beasts of burden in the British Indian Army comparing notes with each other re: humans, army conditions, the war, etc. There are a lot of unnamed characters to keep track of in this one so let’s list them off really quick:

  • unnamed human male: he is a soldier and knows enough to get out of the way when the animals are stampeding. He understands beast-talk.
  • Vixen the fox-terrier: is the man’s dog.
  • an old mule: he seems very sensible about most things (referred to occasionally as “Billy”)
  • a camel: one of the camels who started the whole camp stampede because the camels were having bad dreams. He doesn’t like fighting, but is okay with being used as a living shield for soldiers while sitting down.
  • a troop horse: he is very loyal to his human rider, “Dick.”
  • bullocks, which are cows I guess? They’re very unaffacted by the whole thing and assume that pulling the guns is the most important.
  • another mule, younger and more freaked out
  • Two- Tails the elephant, who seems to be more aware of what’s going on than the others, at least in that he understands the danger and is terrified. It seems the elephants are mostly used as signalers?

They all discuss the best way of fighting and hold that their own position is the most useful, or the smartest, or the bravest.

It’s scary to hear about humans and human war from their perspective. I don’t like Two Tails description of his driver: “he can see things inside his head before the firing begins (i.e. he has an imagination and knows he might be killed) and he shakes all over, but he knows too much to run away.” Too real and probably an animal’s description of shell shock.

The animals also debate why they have to fight, and conclude (for the most part) that “because we are told to” or “Orders” is a good reason. The humans know this, too, as we get their dialogue at the end that the animals are just like the human soldiers: “There was an order, and they obeyed…..They obey, as the men do.” Yikes. The portrayal of all of these animals and people obeying orders because they’re orders and no other reason comes across to me as horrifying, but I’m probably projecting. I think this story is in support of the British Indian Army, but it might be a sneaky cutting criticism. What do you think?

Related question: is the guy who understands animal talk a grown-up Mowgli? Or just a rando?

“Parade-Song of the Camp Animals”

Any song that opens with an Alexander the Great name-drop is a good song. This song seems like a good summary of the animals’ attitude as portrayed in the story – they’re all serving in the best way that they’re suited to, without really knowing the ultimate purpose behind it all. Again, this supports the idea that as long as you’re functioning as part of the whole, everything is as it should be. Individuality is only important wherein it is serving a certain use that others aren’t serving.

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Madras Army Source

“How Fear Came”

chronologically, this Mowgli story is set before he gets kicked out of the Wolf Pack, when he’s still growing and learning the Law. This is the first Mowgli story we have had in a while, and it’s not so much focused on Mowgli’s journey as it is on Jungle Law, lore, and history. The story within the story that Hathi tells about the First Tiger and the First Elephant comes across more as myth than as history. Obviously, this meant I love it. How the tiger killed a deer for the first time, eventually murdered the first human it met, and subsequently spawned Fear and Shame into the Jungle, is told to the Jungle People to explain why things Are The Way They Are currently.

Myths make sense of our pasts and our lives by giving a reason and a narrative for everything, and Hathi as the oldest and wisest is the keeper of the myths and lore. He knows practical things such as the Water Truce of the Peace Rock that they must maintain during drought, as well as the original roles of the different animals and how they developed their current roles and hierarchy. There’s a system here that Hathi has to uphold. There’s also the implication that Shere Khan is living off of ancestor privileges, rather than doing anything himself. That Shere Khan. What a rascal. Eating humans, sullying water holes….

The bit exchange between Bagheera and the fawn is disturbing and weird because Bagheera is disturbing and weird and eats people. I like how it’s implied that he won’t eat the fawn in future, BUT you could also read it as Bagheera intending to eat the fawn later because it’s too outspoken for its own good.

“The Law of the Jungle”

This one is catchy. Giving the rules of the wolves, rather than any of the other animals, emphasizes the ruthless but necessary regulations they give themselves in order to take care of each other but also to not wipe out other animals, or antagonize the humans too much. The final lines of this one reiterate the ideas in “Her Majesty’s Servants”: “But the head and the hoof of the Lawn and the haunch and the hump is–Obey!” 

Author: bahnree

just a simple girl trying to read my way through the universe

2 thoughts on “The Jungle Books: Week 3”

  1. Dude I thought I had made “her Majesty’s Servants” up! I really liked it and all the perspectives.

    I don’t know if it’s critical as much as realistic (about shell shock, about the body count) and thus we can look back and say– wait they were fighting who? for what? with conscripts?

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