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!