The Jungle Books: Week 6

It’s the final countdown! do de do do doooooooo

“Red Dog”

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.”

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Oh no they’re cute. Source

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’s Song”

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…”

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Brahminy Kite Source

“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.

“The Out-Song”

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).

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The Jungle Books: Week 5

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.

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Ankus: Source

Anyway.

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.

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Source

“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.

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A 6.5 foot cobra Source

“Quiquern”

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.

 

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Lancaster Sound, Canada Source

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.

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Source

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.

“Angutivan Tina”

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!

The Jungle Books: Something in Common

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?

The Jungle Books: Week 4

We have made it to week 4, and we are over halfway through the collected Jungle Books! How do you feel????

This post contains spoilers for “The Miracle of Puran Bhagat,” “Letting In The Jungle,” and “The Undertakers.” I was surprised by how well these three complimented each other (as well as fitting into the other stories as a whole); stay tuned after the show for some comments on that.

“The Miracle of Puran Bhagat”

Here’s my big question: What is the miracle of Puran Bhagat? I like how the way the title is worded makes it unclear if it’s a miracle that Puran Bhagat performs, or the person of Puran Bhagat is, himself, a miracle. Is the miracle the way Puran saves the villagers from a landslide? Or is it the animals who tell Puran about the landslide? Or is the miracle in the way that Puran starts out on one life track, and then switches to another life track, all within one life span? Puran himself “believed that all things were one big Miracle”, so is that the miracle of the story’s title? DISCUSS.

I really liked this story.

Please note that Puran Bhagat dies twice, once as Purun Dass: “….he did a thing no Englishman would have dreamed of doing; for, so far as the world’s affairs went, he died.” and once as Puran Bhagat: “…their Bhagat was dead, sitting cross-legged, his back against a tree, his crutch under his armpit, and his face turned to the northeast.” 

There’s also a lot of references to dreams. As quoted above, no Englishman would dream of giving up their life of power and prestige, but to Purun Dass, his whole life thus far has been “a colorless dream of the night” and he has his own dream for the future, a “dream of peace and quiet.” By leaving his life as Prime Minister, he hopes to “make that dream come true.”

In the end, do you think Purun Dass/Puran Bhagat achieves his dream? DISCUSS.

A list of Puran’s friends:

“A Song of Kabir”

My footnotes tell me that this song is written by Kipling (I mean, obviously) but it is inspired by the work of a philosopher-poet and mystic named Kabir. Kabir didn’t like the caste system either. You can read up on him here. It’s interesting that Kabir criticized both Islam and Hinduism, but they both loved him. Maybe similar to the way Puran Bhagat is part of both the western and Indian worlds but he isn’t a huge fan of either system?

Anyway this song is kind of weird and I don’t know where it came from or where it’s going to, but it sounds like Puran Bhagat would probably get along with Kabir.

“Letting in the Jungle”

“Justice” is a big topic of conversation in this story. Who decides what justice is? Who enforces it? The villagers try to mete out justice on Mowgli in absentia and on Messua and her husband. They’re afraid of the English, because English justice is stronger and “madder,” apparently. However, Mowgli takes justice into his own hands because he feels he is a) the best informed of the villagers and beasts and b) the most powerful of the villagers and beasts (Mowgli has a very high opinion of himself).

Mowgli takes command of the wolves, when they want to kill the humans instead of drive them out; he takes command of Bagheera, who is going a little mad with jungle-fever; he takes command of Messua and her husband, sending them away to safety; he takes command of Hathi, ordering him to use his influence to “let the jungle in” and destroy the village so that the villagers will never return. Mowgli’s kinda dark, but also has a lot of initiative and overall drive. I admire that.

Mowgli feels morally superior to the humans, especially, who he considers the same as the bandar-log, and judges them for the fact that they trap and kill each other. I mean, that’s fair. But does Mowgli take his personal opinions a little far when he decides to destroy entire villages? DISCUSS.

The story is called “letting in the jungle,” and there are a lot of implications that the jungle itself is raining judgment down on the unjust humans who try to live in it. But Mowgli is the one displaying agency and making choices. So. I’m not sure if the jungle is all it’s cracked up to be.

“Mowgli’s Song Against People”

Mowgli has a lot of feelings 100% of the time and he needs to express them via song. I like the repetition of “and the snake shall be your watchman/and the wolf shall be your herdsman/ and the deer shall be your oxen” to show that the jungle is replacing all of the domestic creatures with its own versions.

“The Undertakers”

A crocodile, a crane, and a jackal walk into a bar.

I don’t know where that joke was going but I think it’s promising.

 

Sources: crocodile crane jackal

This story is chock-full of extremely dark humor and I spent a lot of time laughing while saying “That’s terrible!” and then feeling bad for laughing. Because it’s terrible.

Although, you know you’ve been reading The Jungle Books too much when you start judging fictional animals by Mowgli’s moral code. Like….the crocodile is horrible not because he eats people but because, specifically, killing humans is taboo. The crane is terrible because he’s a scavenger, not a proper hunter. The jackal is terrible because he profits off of others’ kills. Etc.

Example of terrible humor that pleases me greatly:

Jackal: “But men are all alike, to my mind.” (meaning: referring to their character; they’re all faithless and big jerks and PS probably have tried to kill me a few times.)

Crocodile: “Nay, there are very great differences indeed. Some are as lean as boat-poles. Others again are fat as young ja–dogs.” (meaning: their bodies are all shapes and sizes and some are better to eat than others. PS I eat jackals sometimes but we don’t need to talk about that right now.)

This story has a very sneaky plot (the story of the man-eating crocodile and the tiny white boy who grows into a huge white man and kills it) that is threaded through the conversation between three “predator” animals discussing the best things to eat, the best ways to get fed, and the best ways thrive in the jungle.

There’s tension (a lot of tension) between the three interlocutors, but especially between the crocodile and the jackal. The jackal, we are told, is also “low-caste” and less powerful than the others, so his conversational ploys are more subtle, relying on flattery and undertones. He doesn’t dare to take offense at the crane, because “you cannot resent an insult from a person with a beak a yard long, and power of driving it like a javelin.” You get the impression that the crocodile usually doesn’t eat jackals, but it’s not above it if the opportunity comes along. There was a bit in there where the crocodile claimed blood-kinship with the jackal, the implication being that the only way a crocodile would have blood shared with a jackal would be if the crocodile had eaten a jackal. Eek. The jackal can occasionally hold his own, though, with clever double-meanings and under-handed jabs at the crocodile’s eating habits.

The crocodile has definitely been around the block, though. He has wise things like this to say: “With good luck, a keen eye, and the custom of considering whether a creek or a backwater has an outlet to it ere you ascend, much may be done.”

As for the humans, they seem to be divided between the native villagers, who fear, worship, and are often eaten by the crocodile, and the whites, who fight back (e.g. the white woman who injures him, and the white man who kills the crocodile at the end). I mean….This is a pretty heavy-handed dividing line, and I don’t like it. More on this below, after the song.

“A Ripple Song”

This is actually….really dark. And not in a fun way. A screaming way.

Run.

Run.

Some tie-in comments on these stories:

All three of these stories feature jungle power, whether in the form of a landslide, the jungle itself and its animals, or the “undertakers” of the jungle (the predators). However, English people/English power is the strongest in all three stories, and I find this weird for a book about the jungle. Even Puran Bhagat feels he has to reclaim his powers of Purun Dass in order to “save life” , i.e. to save the villagers. True, the villagers follow their bhagat because they know and trust him, but he doesn’t have the ability to lead unless he seizes on his old, western training. In “Letting in The Jungle,” Messua and her husband have to run to the English to escape the villagers, and the villagers themselves fear English justice (although not enough to try to circumvent it). In “The Undertakers,” it is the white man with the gun who takes out the crocodile, none of the villagers who have been suffering from it for so long. I don’t know, these stories are a hot mess. Mowgli is a great character, but even though he’s Indian he holds other native Indians in contempt, finding them superstitious, greedy, and cowardly.

The Jungle Books: Further Reading

I should have done a post on historical context earlier…and yet here we are. This will be a bit of a link-dump, with some guidance on what you can find in each link.

Here is a really good introduction to The Jungle Books. It gives you a broad overview of the stories, themes, parallels, Kipling’s sources of inspiration, and more. I would have linked to this earlier if I could. It’s kinda long, but at the top of the page is an index of the topics it covers, so if one stands out to you, you can check out just one. Or two. Or four….

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 Source

The BBC website has a pretty good summary of the British Raj (or rule) 1858-1947 which is pertinent to what we’re reading here. One of its observations is that: “While the British criticised the divisions of the Hindu caste system, they themselves lived a life ruled by precedence and class, deeply divided within itself. Rudyard Kipling reflected this position in his novels. His books also exposed the gulf between the ‘white’ community and the ‘Anglo-Indians’, whose mixed race caused them to be considered racially ‘impure’.” Interesting read!

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Dear Diary, Today is the first day of being a Viceroy. I got to ride an elephant. Source

I really like The Victorian Web for any topic that relates to Victorian England and literature. It has a brief write-up on the Indian caste system here and a list of significant British individuals of the time here including Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India during the time that The Jungle Books probably takes place. The Viceroy is also mentioned in Her Majesty’s Servants (and possibly other stories). Here is another article on Curzon’s first day as viceroy.

If you want even more info on the British Indian Army as referenced in some of the stories, you can check out Wikipedia here and here.

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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Source

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.

Madras_Army
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!” 

The Jungle Books: Covers of Wonder!

I was going to find hilarious covers of The Jungle Books and make fun of them, but then I found a lot of really cool covers and I’d rather share those instead. I’m always fascinated by looking at a lot of covers for a single book over the course of the years because publishing trends change so much. Some publishers have really odd interpretations of characters. Some publishers don’t seem to know what the book is about. My Barnes and Noble copy is a well-made book and I’m happy to have it, but it has an extremely sulky Mowgli surrounded by grouchy old dudes, which does not really inspire me or evoke the scenes in the book.

Anyway, here are some of my favorites. Share your personal copy’s cover or others you’ve found in the comments, if you wish!

 

 

These two are my favorites of the “giant and threateningly ambiguous faces” trend. I don’t know if the face on the left is an Ent or some other mystical tree person but I haven’t met any character like this in the book yet. On the right, Stylistic Shere Khan is here for your stylistic lunch money.

These two are my favorites of the covers directed at young children who like reading about animals trying to kill each other. So adorable. On the left, Mowgli and Baloo are going on safe, cuddly BFF jungle adventures! On the right, Bagheera and Kaa are possibly about to make out, but Mowgli has The Best hair.

These two are my favorite from the “Keep it simple, Steve! SIMPLE! SIMPLE, DAMMIT!” trend. I mean, the one on the left looks like another cover for The Giving Tree (spoiler the tree is tortured and then dies) but they’re both soothing to the eyes.

I shouldn’t like these as much as I do but they look like awkward boy band album covers, if the boy band was made of a bear, a wolf, a panther, and a tiny ferocious man-child. Featuring their first hit single: “Jungle outLaws.”

Ok, you’re right, the cover on the left is pretty atrocious. I just love it because Shere Khan looks more like he’s draping over the cow (???? or whatever that is) in love and affection rather than tearing its throat out. It’s like he’s not even trying and the cow feels bad and is just letting him kill it. Bagheera on the cover on the right has terrifying eyes, but I like  the psychedelic color palette and that it includes the wolves.

The cover on the left is my actual favorite that I’ve found so far. I like Mowgli’s mischievous little smile and how he’s disappearing into all the fur; the darker palette is tonally on point for the book. The cover on the right is one of the most hilarious pieces of cover art I have ever seen and I want to hug it forever.  Too good.