Mowgli is shown at the height of his jungle powers in this story. After all of the adventures and work he’s gone to in previous stories, “all the Jungle was his friend, and just a little afraid of him.” Times are changing, though; Akela is ancient, Mowgli’s wolf-parents are unforgivably dead, and the wolf Pack has a new leader, Phao. When the pheeal comes, Mowgli is the one to react and take charge. PS why is it called “pheeal,” I want to laugh every time I see the word even though it apparently represents a death-scream of terror and despair??
Mowgli has to organize the other animals to defend themselves against the dhole, ravenous mindless tiny red dogs that want to eat everything in their path like a plague of locusts: “until they are killed, or till game is scarce, they will go forward.”
The way the dhole are described, and how the other animals fear them, really built the suspense of this story; it was only afterwards that I realized how scared I was of a pack of small wild dogs.
“But this is new hunting,” Mowgli remarks, which is all that matters to him; new experiences and interesting fights. Mowgli as a character is often stuck in this childlike attitude of ignoring consequences and relishing conflict, as long as he has the upper hand. To succeed in his fun new campaign against the dhole hoard, Mowgli asks for advice (from Kaa, MY FAVORITE MURDEROUS PYTHON) and masterminds a plan involving a swarm of bees to take out the swarm of dholes. Nice.
“Red Dog” is surprisingly violent and gory for a kid’s story. Much of this story is one big action sequence, following Mowgli as he sics the bees on the dholes, and then the wolves and other allies surround the dholes and fight to the last tooth, as it were. RIP Akela. Akela is the one who recognizes the power Mowgli has over the jungle: “Thou art a man, or else the Pack had fled before the dhole.” Mowgli has come a long way from being kidnapped by monkeys!
Chil is a very chill kite because he knows that sooner or later he is going to eat you. This song is chilling because it has a pretty happy, comradely tone, but the subject is how eventually Chil will scavenge the dead bodies of everyone, friend or foe. “Here’s an end of every trail…”
“The Spring Running”
Subtitled: Mowgli turns into a big whiny man-baby.
That’s kind of harsh but I really was frustrated by him in this story. On the one hand, Mowgli is more powerful than ever; all of the jungle animals yield to him, and all of them obey him unless they’re overtaken by SPRING FEVER. Mowgli is aware of his status, as he tells Bagheera: “Remember, we be the Masters of the Jungle…” but is furious that his power isn’t 100% all of the time. He feels betrayed by his friends; he feels misunderstood; he spends a lot of time running around feeling sorry for himself. He even feels that he is changing physically, and is convinced that he’s dying: “I have surely eaten poison,” he keeps repeating.
Of course, he is a teenager at this point so it makes sense.
I don’t know how much of this is crazy teenage hormones and how much of this is his human self getting in conflict with his animal upbringing but wow, Mowgli is a big mess.
I’m glad we see Messua again, and that she is doing well! Her sub-plot through the stories shows her to be credulous, but good-hearted and someone who cares a lot for Mowgli. She’s gotten her life together since she left that village that got eaten by the Jungle. I like that she can never really decide if Mowgli is her son reincarnated, or her foster son, or a demigod of some kind; even at the end, she is “not quite sure whether he were her son Nathoo of the long ago days, or some wonderful Jungle being.”
Through this story, Mowgli comes to realize and accept that his mentors were right, after all: he doesn’t really belong in the Jungle, and he can’t stay there forever. His time in the Jungle was more of a liminal period, and now he will have to leave it and be a “real” human, or at least live among other humans as one.
Mowgli’s mentors have shorter life-spans than him (except Kaa, I guess???). How do you think this affects their relationship with him? Is the real reason he has to leave the Jungle because all of his “elders” will soon be dead, leaving him with WAYYYY too much power over the other animals? DISCUSS.
How do you think Mowgli will cope? Do you think he’ll keep his temper? Do you think he’ll lose all of his Jungle power and animal magnetism (ahahaha) once he’s living with humans all the time? DISCUSS. I have a feeling he’s in for a life of frustration, and possibly jail.
It’s like Mowgli is graduating from Jungle High and all three of his living mentors are signing his yearbook with one last piece of advice. Good luck, Mowgli….
I hope you enjoyed the readalong! I’ll be around next month for a readalong of my favorite ghost story, The Turn of The Screw by Henry James (schedule TBA).
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!
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.
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.
“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!”
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.
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?
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.
What’s next for Mowgli now that he’s defeated his enemy? I’m curious to find out.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
Here are a couple of links with articles from wildly different extremes:
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!
I hope you’re all enjoying the book, or at least engaging with it in fiery hatred.
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
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
Thanks for joining us on The Jungle Books readalong!
For today’s post, I will get some disclaimers out of the way (spoilers: The Jungle Book is problematic, all of your faves are problematic, Rudyard Kipling is problematic), I will talk about Rudyard a little, and I will give you some things to think about while you’re reading.
I haven’t read this book before so I know I’m going into this with some assumptions about the story and characters. I have seen the animated Disney movie and the more recent live-action Disney movie, so as we go along I may discuss big differences between book and movies.
There are two major approaches in reading this book. You can read it as solely a “kids story” about talking animals, with adventure and growing up and terrifying survival lessons; or you can read it as solely an allegory of British imperialism, analyze all of the overt and covert racism, and observe justifications of “might means right”. I’m going to do my best to combine these two approaches. I am not going to argue that this book isn’t problematic and racist at times (because it is) but I’m also going to highlight some of the really excellent storytelling and structure. Just because I praise things about this book doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have flaws. I guess this shouldn’t really need to be said but…IT’S A DISCLAIMER.
Rudyard Kipling had a really tempestuous life. You can read a short biography of him (with pics) here. He lived in India at a couple different times in his life, so he had first-hand knowledge of life there (at least for a white guy). He lived with foster parents in England for a time, but they abused him and his sister so his parents took them back. As an adult, Kipling married Caroline Belestier and had kids, but his daughter Josephine to sickness and his son John to World War I. He also had a nervous breakdown at some point.
Despite or because of the bad times he experienced, Kipling wrote prolifically, mostly short stories and poems. The only other story I have read by Rudyard Kipling is Kim, which has many of the same themes, problematic bits, and excellent storytelling (in my opinion) as The Jungle Books. Rudyard Kipling is best known for these books, as well as Just So Stories and Captains Courageous; his poem “If” is probably his most-quoted work. He was a very popular author during his life, and at 23 he was already a celebrity. Apparently Henry James called him “the infant monster” because of this, which I find hilarious. But James and Kipling did end up as friends.
Kipling was a staunch imperialist, and it shows in The Jungle Books. During the Victorian era, the British took over lots of countries and territories, partly for the lolz, partly for the cool stuff, and partly from a self-proclaimed desire to civilize the natives through British culture and religion. They basically marched in wherever they wanted and justified it by saying “it’s for their own good! They’re just ignorant savages!” etc etc. Imperialism=not very cool. I’ll point it out occasionally as we go along, but I’ll try not to belabor it. There’s a nice and brief summary of British imperialism here at the Victorian Web.
Things to think about as you read through the book:
Mowgli crosses a lot of physical and social boundaries in the book (for example, from the animal to human worlds). Stay alert for characters acting out and going outside of their species, society, language, or crossing boundaries of some kind.
Coming of age stories are everywhere in this book (not always Mowlgi’s!). Stay alert for characters growing up (or leveling up) in some way.
Who has the most power in this book (a character, a species, or whatever)? What does that power consist of – is it physical? mental?
Family – what does a family consist of, according to this book? According to different characters?
There’s a lot of violence in The Jungle Books. When (if ever) is the violence justified?
All of my information can be found in the links above or in the 2004 Barnes and Noble softcover with introduction and notes by Lisa Makman.
Our August Readalong is The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling! We will be reading from August 1 through September 11 (6 weeks). The Readalong hashtag will be #JungleRead . Please join us; there are no prerequisites for this kind of shenanigan!
There are two collections of stories, so make sure your edition has both of them. Book 1 should start with “Mowgli’s Brothers” and end with “Parade-song of the Camp Animals.” Book 2 should start with “How Fear Came” and end with “The Outsong.”
I’m using the Barnes & Noble Classics paperback. Project Gutenberg has Book 1 and Book 2 . Kindle has a free version here.
I’m looking forward to reading this book with you! I will be hanging out on Twitter and posting here on the blog. If you’re planning to do any Jungle Books-related blogging or projects, let me know. I’m going to try to do a scheduled chat at least once during the month; day and time TBD but it will likely be a Saturday.
August 7th: You should have read through “Road-Song of the Bandar-Log”
August 14th: You should have read through “Darzee’s Chaunt”
August 21st: You should have read through “The Law of the Jungle”
August 28th: You should have read through “A Ripple Song”
September 4th: You should have read through “Angutivan Tina”
September 11th: You should have finished the book through “The Outsong”