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.”

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…”

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).

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.

Ankus: Source


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.

A 6.5 foot cobra Source


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.


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.


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.



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….


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!

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”


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”


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 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.

The Jungle Books: Week 2

This post contains spoilers for the stories “Tiger! Tiger!”, “The White Seal,” and “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”, along with their accompanying songs.

How is the reading going? Do you prefer the Mowgli stories or the non-Mowgli stories?

“Tiger! Tiger!”

Last time we saw Mowgli, he was being kidnapped by monkeys or being kicked out of his pack. While he showed resourcefulness in the previous two stories, in “Tiger! Tiger!” Mowgli appears as much more confident and in control of his situation than before. He’s still like, what, ten years old? “Mowgli made it very clear to the children with him that he was the master.” I’m too scared to meet this kid as a grown-up. Raised by beasts that live by the survival of the strongest, Mowgli “did not know his own strength in the least” until he is faced with other human kids his age.

Mowgli is portrayed as smarter and stronger than the other humans in this story, but he is also more creative than the animals. Mowgli knows how important communication and language is to wielding power – “What is the good of a man if he does not understand man’s talk? Now I am as silly and dumb as a man would be with us in the jungle. I must learn their talk.” So he does, and then he can talk to both animals and humans, but is accepted by neither – he’s already been kicked out of the wolf pack and by the end of this story, he’s kicked out of the village, even though he’s good at his job and kills a tiger. “They are not unlike the Pack, these brothers of thine,” says Akela, who has also been exiled from his people and might be a tad bitter about it.

The human villagers are very superstitious, and this leads them to judge and ultimately reject Mowgli. But I wonder, is their superstition any better or worse than the animals’ ruthless Jungle Law? I’m not sure. Mowgli doesn’t understand the caste system that the villagers live by, but the animals seem to have a caste system of their own: for example, the divisions between predators and prey, and the outcast Monkey People. The People of the Jungle have a very strict hierarchy that keeps each animal in its proper place, very similar to the human castes, and are extremely uninterested in democracy of any kind. Bagheera and Akela, at the end of the story, are observing that the Pack isn’t doing so well now that it’s every wolf for himself; Bagheera comments: “Not for nothing are ye called the Free People. Ye fought for freedom, and it is yours. Eat it, O Wolves.” Yikes.

So far we’ve seen two actual females in this book: foster mom Messua plays a small role in this story, and comes across as a human parallel to Raksha. Both of these moms love Mowgli even though they didn’t give birth to him, which is awesome, but it would be great if there were more ladies. Bagheera and Baloo aren’t really present in this story; instead Grey Brother and Akela are Mowgli’s partners in crime. They are the only ones that appear on equal footing with Mowgli, rather than the adult villagers, the child herders, or the cattle, who are used as pawns in the fight against Shere Khan.

Shere Khan’s death was really abrupt, but it seems to be real, since Mowgli has his skin and everything. Again, I find it strange that Shere Khan is always portrayed as a frightening and powerful villain in the adaptations of the book, whereas in these stories Mowgli almost always has the upper hand on the tiger. I mean, Shere Khan doesn’t even have hands.

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What’s next for Mowgli now that he’s defeated his enemy? I’m curious to find out.

Related poem: “The Tyger” by William Blake

“Mowgli’s Song”

I really like this song. It’s a perfect example of oral storytelling – boastful, legend-making, emotional and evocative. We just read the story of Mowgli killing Shere-Khan, and here’s another version of it that is just as true but more poetic, just as victorious and just as sad. I like how it emphasizes Mowgli’s realization that he is part of two different worlds and therefore “I am two Mowglis,” while at the same time acknowledging that he isn’t entirely sure what that means for him.

“The White Seal”




And here we have the first non-Mowgli story. Despite the fact Mowgli is nowhere to be seen and we’re in the middle of the ocean, the white seal has a lot in common with Mowgli. Kotick wants to help his people survive, just like Mowgli, but Kotick’s people a) don’t want help, they’re fine, thank you very much and b) don’t trust Kotick. Kotick stands out, just like Mowgli. Kotick becomes an expert on the ocean and how to survive it, just like Mowgli and the jungle. Kotick has to leave his people for months at a time every year so that he can find a place for them to be safe – not quite like Mowgli being exiled, but there’s still a separation, an emphasis on Kotick being an outsider.

“There never has been such a thing in the world as a white seal.”

“I can’t help that,” said Matkah; “there’s going to be now.”

Other similarities to the Mowgli stories:

  • “the Rules of the Beach” rather than the Law of the Jungle
  • the only speaking female for is Kotick’s mom SERIOUSLY WHERE ARE ALL THE GIRLS

Anyway, I liked this story for the most part, especially the ocean-exploration aspect of it. I liked watching Kotick learn everything there is to know about the ocean, including swimming: “Little seals can no more swim than little children, but they are unhappy till they learn.” Kotick becomes an expert, but not without lots of swimming and exploring. “Matkah told him he was learning the “feel of the water,” and that tingly, prickly feelings meant bad weather coming…”

The scene where the seals get clubbed was really jarring and violent, even though I realize that the sealers are carefully culling rather then getting all genocidal. The humans, of course, are superstitious, just like in the Mowgli stories, believing that Kotick is the ghost of a human in seal form.

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Kotick is special, not only because of his skin – I mean, er, fur color, but because he has innate curiosity, so that he is able to learn how and why seals are being killed, and so that he can look outside of the usual places and try to find a new, quiet place for the seals to live.

“I am the only seal, black or white, who ever thought of looking for new islands.”

My question is, when Kotick finds the old dying seal who is like “oh yeah there is TOTALLY a prophecy about a white seal who saves all of us,” is he just feeding Kotick a bunch of lies? Was there actually a prophecy? I like to think the old seal was just encouraging him.

Kipling’s short stories pack a lot of action, and this story is no exception, but what I really loved in this story was the imagery, and two images in particular: one, the “Fire Dance” that the seals perform through the bio-luminescent phosphorescence of the plankton, and two, Kotick’s new blood-red coat at the end of all his fighting. Yikes. Seals have absolutely no chill.


This song is a nice mix of triumphant and melancholy, and fits the previous story very well in mood. The seals are getting killed off a little at a time every year, and it’s both the way of things that they’ve accepted but also a horrifying dark part of their lives. The seals have really embraced the dichotomy of a luxurious life and a grisly death.

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“It is the hardest thing in the world to frighten a mongoose, because he is eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity.” 

I’m not sure if I love this story, but I certainly love Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’s attitude. He’s so determined, and curious, and casually badass! That being said, this story is really violent and grim.

Indian Grey Mongoose: Source

The most disturbing part of this story (for me) was that the other animals find no moral problem with Rikki killing not only Nag and Nagain, the cobras, but all of their babies-in-eggs, also. The other animals don’t expect any better from cobras than eating bird eggs and killing humans for no good reason. The reason Rikki goes after the cobras in the first place is because they ate one of Darzee the tailor-birds babies, but maybe Darzee and his wife should take better care of their eggs and not let them FALL OUT OF TREES? The cobras are “wicked” and evil, so why not kill them all off and make the bungalow a cobra-free zone?

The humans aren’t superstitious for once, but they’re white English people so now I’m just getting racist vibes. Am I oversensitive? DISCUSS.

Indian cobra: Source

The other question I have is, does it count as bravery if Rikki is just doing what’s in his nature to do? After Rikki kills his first snake (the little brown one, not the cobra), he is rewarded by the human family, but “Rikki was rather amused at all the fuss, which, of course, he did not understand. Teddy’s mother might just as well have petted Teddy for playing in the dust.” Rikki is enjoying his life of battle and death and is confused as to why he would be rewarded for doing what he wants to do anyway. This makes it tempting to dismiss the courageous way Rikki defends all the creatures that are put in peril by Nag and his wife, but Rikki does put his life on the line, after all. Rikki chastises Darzee for making Rikki’s danger into a song: “You’re safe enough in your nest there, but it’s war for me down here. Stop singing a minute, Darzee!” Like Mowgli in “Tiger! Tiger!” Rikki has an enemy to fight and is irritated by anyone who gets in his way.

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Rikki to Darzee, probably.

How does this story fit into the other Jungle Book stories so far? It’s not set in the jungle, there’s no Mowgli, and Jungle Law isn’t mentioned, but some of the same themes are present. There’s a natural hierarchy to the animals and unwritten rules that they have to follow. Killing humans is against the rules, and Rikki is following his role in the natural order by killing snakes, especially ones that break the no-killing-humans rule. Survival of the fittest (and the smartest) wins the day, and both sides are pretty ruthless.

“Darzee’s Chaunt”

Darzee needs to find some chill. This song performs a similar function as Mowgli’s, above: it retells the heroic actions and turns them into oral legend. How does the choice of narrator determine the “heroes” and the “villains” of the story?



Don’t forget to check out the conversation on Twitter: #JungleRead

The Jungle Books: Chattery

The more research I do on The Jungle Books, the more I’m realizing how crazily controversial Rudyard Kipling is, especially nowadays. Some people dismiss him as an imperialist racist, some say his politics don’t matter at all as long as he can tell a good story, and no one seems to hold a middle ground. I’m interested in discussing this if anyone has thoughts on Kipling’s problematic aspects and whether he / The Jungle Books deserves it.

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Here are a couple of links with articles from wildly different extremes:

In Defense of Rudyard Kipling and ‘The Jungle Books’

How Disney’s new Jungle Book subverts the Gross Colonialism of Rudyard Kipling

The first one, as you can guess, is very defensive, so much so that I worry about his arguments. The second one has a lot to say regarding the new movie but also a lot of Strong Words about Kipling’s beliefs and work.

I’m coming off of vacation and to be honest I’ve had a terrible week so far so I’m not going to manage to say anything articulate about this for now. But hit me up in the comments or on the Twitter tag #JungleRead and let’s chat!

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I hope you’re all enjoying the book, or at least engaging with it in fiery hatred.

The Jungle Books: Week 1

We made it through the first week of The Jungle Books! How is the reading going? Like it? Hate it? Cuddling it?

Don’t forget to check out the conversation on Twitter: #JungleRead

“Mowgli’s Brothers”

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.

Indian wolf – so scrappy! Source

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.

Bengal tiger: Source

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


Indian Sambar/Sambhur deer Source  Also, if you’re not squeamish, check out this awesome photo of a tiger attacking a sambar

“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.

“Kaa’s Hunting”



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.