Our upcoming readalong is The Turn of The Screw by Henry James! This is one of my favorite books and a controversial ghost story. As with previous readalongs, I will be posting a couple of times a week here on the blog. If you have specific topics you want addressed, or you want to do a guest-post (a ghost-post?), leave me a comment on this post.
We will be discussing the book here and/or on Twitter at #turnofthescread (I know I know, this is possibly the weirdest one yet but all the non-weird ones were taken! LIVE LIFE WITH NO REGRETS).
Mowgli is shown at the height of his jungle powers in this story. After all of the adventures and work he’s gone to in previous stories, “all the Jungle was his friend, and just a little afraid of him.” Times are changing, though; Akela is ancient, Mowgli’s wolf-parents are unforgivably dead, and the wolf Pack has a new leader, Phao. When the pheeal comes, Mowgli is the one to react and take charge. PS why is it called “pheeal,” I want to laugh every time I see the word even though it apparently represents a death-scream of terror and despair??
Mowgli has to organize the other animals to defend themselves against the dhole, ravenous mindless tiny red dogs that want to eat everything in their path like a plague of locusts: “until they are killed, or till game is scarce, they will go forward.”
The way the dhole are described, and how the other animals fear them, really built the suspense of this story; it was only afterwards that I realized how scared I was of a pack of small wild dogs.
“But this is new hunting,” Mowgli remarks, which is all that matters to him; new experiences and interesting fights. Mowgli as a character is often stuck in this childlike attitude of ignoring consequences and relishing conflict, as long as he has the upper hand. To succeed in his fun new campaign against the dhole hoard, Mowgli asks for advice (from Kaa, MY FAVORITE MURDEROUS PYTHON) and masterminds a plan involving a swarm of bees to take out the swarm of dholes. Nice.
“Red Dog” is surprisingly violent and gory for a kid’s story. Much of this story is one big action sequence, following Mowgli as he sics the bees on the dholes, and then the wolves and other allies surround the dholes and fight to the last tooth, as it were. RIP Akela. Akela is the one who recognizes the power Mowgli has over the jungle: “Thou art a man, or else the Pack had fled before the dhole.” Mowgli has come a long way from being kidnapped by monkeys!
Chil is a very chill kite because he knows that sooner or later he is going to eat you. This song is chilling because it has a pretty happy, comradely tone, but the subject is how eventually Chil will scavenge the dead bodies of everyone, friend or foe. “Here’s an end of every trail…”
“The Spring Running”
Subtitled: Mowgli turns into a big whiny man-baby.
That’s kind of harsh but I really was frustrated by him in this story. On the one hand, Mowgli is more powerful than ever; all of the jungle animals yield to him, and all of them obey him unless they’re overtaken by SPRING FEVER. Mowgli is aware of his status, as he tells Bagheera: “Remember, we be the Masters of the Jungle…” but is furious that his power isn’t 100% all of the time. He feels betrayed by his friends; he feels misunderstood; he spends a lot of time running around feeling sorry for himself. He even feels that he is changing physically, and is convinced that he’s dying: “I have surely eaten poison,” he keeps repeating.
Of course, he is a teenager at this point so it makes sense.
I don’t know how much of this is crazy teenage hormones and how much of this is his human self getting in conflict with his animal upbringing but wow, Mowgli is a big mess.
I’m glad we see Messua again, and that she is doing well! Her sub-plot through the stories shows her to be credulous, but good-hearted and someone who cares a lot for Mowgli. She’s gotten her life together since she left that village that got eaten by the Jungle. I like that she can never really decide if Mowgli is her son reincarnated, or her foster son, or a demigod of some kind; even at the end, she is “not quite sure whether he were her son Nathoo of the long ago days, or some wonderful Jungle being.”
Through this story, Mowgli comes to realize and accept that his mentors were right, after all: he doesn’t really belong in the Jungle, and he can’t stay there forever. His time in the Jungle was more of a liminal period, and now he will have to leave it and be a “real” human, or at least live among other humans as one.
Mowgli’s mentors have shorter life-spans than him (except Kaa, I guess???). How do you think this affects their relationship with him? Is the real reason he has to leave the Jungle because all of his “elders” will soon be dead, leaving him with WAYYYY too much power over the other animals? DISCUSS.
How do you think Mowgli will cope? Do you think he’ll keep his temper? Do you think he’ll lose all of his Jungle power and animal magnetism (ahahaha) once he’s living with humans all the time? DISCUSS. I have a feeling he’s in for a life of frustration, and possibly jail.
It’s like Mowgli is graduating from Jungle High and all three of his living mentors are signing his yearbook with one last piece of advice. Good luck, Mowgli….
I hope you enjoyed the readalong! I’ll be around next month for a readalong of my favorite ghost story, The Turn of The Screw by Henry James (schedule TBA).
We’re almost done with The Jungle Books! I feel great. How do you feel? I love books (obviously), more so than movies because the book-medium has so much more capacity for complexity in tone, plot, and characters. I’m glad we’re reaching the end of this collection of stories, but I’ve been impressed with each one how much more intense and complicated the story is than the movie versions would lead you to believe.
This post contains spoilers for “The King’s Ankus” and “Quiqern.” Next week we will be finishing up with “Red Dog” and “The Spring Running.”
“The King’s Ankus”
YAY KAA STORY! Kaa is my favorite there I said it. I really enjoy that Kaa and Mowgli are such good friends and play-wrestle with each other all the time even though Kaa could eat Mowgli at any time. FRIENDS DON’T EAT FRIENDS. I still feel like I’ve been lied to about Kaa my whole life.
Mowgli’s “Good hunting!” phrase is repeated many times in this story, both as an acknowledgement of fun (the play-wrestling with Kaa) as a greeting (from the rando cobra that passes them) to a praise of a successful venture, even if it doesn’t result in a hearty dinner. “Good hunting” is all Mowgli wants.
Kaa, however, has learned of some human treasure, and is determined to find out if this is something Mowgli requires to be a happy fulfilled human. Kaa recognizes that Mowgli has the best right to the treasure, since it is human treasure and Mowgli is the only human around. The White Cobra, also, acknowledges that Mowgli must desire the treasure, although he does not consider Mowgli has a right to it. The White Cobra is so aware of human greed that he considers the treasure as synonymous with death, because he knows humans will kill each other to possess it: “They will kill and kill and kill for its sake! My strength is dried up, but the ankus will do my work.” Mowgli has a terrible opinion of other humans, and his experiences in this story really do not improve his opinion. Humans are greedy and cowardly, treacherous and grasping, as far as his experience has shown. However, he is drawn to the ankus. He tells the White Cobra: “If thou wilt give me the ankus to take away, it is good hunting. If not, it is good hunting nonetheless”, because Mowgli has seen and done something new.
There are some nice parallels in this story, such as between material wealth (the treasure the cobra is guarding) and life experience (or “good hunting”); each character expresses their views on which of these they value more. Mowgli literally casts away material wealth (the ankus) in favor of being free to pursue his own “game.”The White Cobra is the guardian of the old Jungle and its reigning human kings. Mowgli is the guardian of the present Jungle and its reigning animal kings. The White Cobra is clinging to his old responsibilities and reasons for living, denying the fact that the old world is dead. Mowgli is aware to some degree of his role in the new Jungle: “The fault was mine,” said Mowgli, who spoke as though he knew all about everything. “I will never again bring into the Jungle strange things.” In other words, he will be responsible for maintaining the current status quo and hierarchy of the Jungle.
“The Song of the Little Hunter”
This is a chilling song about cobras, because we needed more of that in our lives.
I like the juxtaposition of the terrifying cobras in this story: there “comes a breathing hard behind thee-snuffle snuffle through the night-it is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!” with the toothless old cobra we just saw in “The King’s Ankus.” The White Cobra’s glory days are behind him, but he still remembered when humans sang songs like this about him, when just the thought of him meant “thy throat is shut and dried, and thy heart against thy side.” We saw “Fear” as a personified creature already in “How Fear Came,” and the repetition of it in this story as a different animal is a nice continuation of that idea.
This story is similar to “The White Seal” in that the protagonist has to explore the freezing wilderness in order to help his people, and the villains of the story aren’t animals or humans but the ice, the cold, and starvation. Kipling makes a lot of absurd generalizations about the Inuit in this story; please be aware and critical of them.
Also, in my opinion, he made a huuuuge mistake in naming the dog and the boy THE SAME NAME. Fortunately, the dog is absent for much of the story so I don’t get too confused.
This story is divided roughly into three parts: the training of Kotuko the boy and Kotuko the dog; the loss of food/ Kotuko the dog/hope; and the success of their previous training that brings back their losses and reunites them.
Kipling really hates superstition, as we’ve seen implied in other stories so far. Here, he undermines Kotuko’s people’s beliefs and folklore at every turn; for example, Kotuko doesn’t actually have a guiding spirit, he is just mad from starvation and hallucinating. The village sorcerer dismisses the “real” physical accomplishment of the two explorers and claims all the credit for himself, explaining that he magically guided them. Since the reader knows that the village sorcerer did no such thing, this deception and dishonesty is attributed as a fault of superstition as well. The “Quiquern” isn’t a legendary eight-legged creature after all, but two dogs tangled together. That being said, Kotuko’s belief in the supernatural is the catalyst he needs to leave home and find the seals, and he and the unnamed girl get a happy ending for their work.
Speaking of the unnamed girl, she is a badass and I love her. My favorite part was probably at the end where Kotuko’s mom gives the girl a dowry so that the girl doesn’t come penniless to her marriage. The girl deserves it, too after all; she supports Kotuko through the story, and searches just as fiercely as him for some food for their village.
In general, there’s a huge emphasis on community in this story. Besides Kotuko’s mom taking in the girl and supporting her as mentioned above, all of the villagers know that they have to take care of each other, and even strangers. There’s no one to trade with out there, and you never know when you yourself might have to go begging to whoever else you can find. The two dogs that make up the titular “Quiqern,” Kotuko and the black leader, are accidentally tied up together with their harness. They have to work together to survive and make their way back to their humans. The girl and boy-Kotuko are tied together through their village, their conviction that the tornaq is guiding them, and their care for each other.
Fun fact: Kotuko, just like Mowgli in “The King’s Ankus,” “was more than sure that he knew more than anything.” THESE BOYS.
Did this song make anyone else think of this? No? Just me?
Read this song, and then go back to “The White Seal” and reread “Lukannon.” They make a very nice pair of songs about survival in the face of pervasive death.
See you next week for the wrap-up on The Jungle Books!
Rudyard Kipling’s original order of stories in The Jungle Books may seem random at first look. Mowgli stories are interspersed with stories about seals, other little boys, and mystics. Suspenseful plot-driven stories are next to dialogue-heavy stories. Kipling re-ordered the stories after they were first published, and divided them into a volume of Mowgli stories and non-Mowgli stories.
As you’ve been reading, have you been noticing similarities between stories that first appear very different from each other? Which stories could be connected or lumped together? Which stories seem similar in plot, character, theme, or tone?
For one thing, I realized I had been sorting them by protagonist. So obviously the Mowgli stories would go together: “Mowgli’s Brothers,” ‘Kaa’s Hunting,” “Tiger! Tiger!,” “How Fear Came,” “Letting in The Jungle,” “The King’s Ankus,” “The Red Dog”, and “Spring Running.” Then the stories with animal protagonists: “The White Seal,” “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” “Her Majesty’s Servants,” “The Undertakers” Then the three with human protagonists who aren’t Mowgli: “Toomai of the Elephants,” “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat,” “Quiquern”
But you can sort them in many other ways.
“The White Seal” and “Quiqern” stand out as stories set in super cold, northern places.
“Her Majesty’s Servants” and “The Undertakers” are entirely about animals talking to each other about human affairs and how it affects them.
Some stories feature clear-cut villains such as Shere Khan the tiger, the monkey people, Nag the cobra.
“How Fear Came” stands out as an attempt to give the jungle some mythology, or at least history. “The King’s Ankus” is perhaps in the same vein.
Some stories are about the struggle to survive, such as “Quiquern.”
“Mowgli’s Brothers,” “The White Seal,” “Quiqern,” and “Toomai of the Elephants” are conventional coming-of-age stories, whereas “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat” is a very unconventional coming-of-age.
“Tiger! Tiger!,” “Letting In The Jungle,” and “Toomai of the Elephants” revolve around the tension between village and jungle, and between humans and animals.
What similarities did I miss? How would you sort them?