2007-01-19 : The Jungle Books

Hey, who here has read Kipling's Jungle Books, as an adult?

They're so good they make my nose bleed.

I'd never read the second one before, I'm just finishing it now. The stories in it, holy crap. There's one where a hundred-year-old 35-foot crocodile is boasting to a jackal and a scavenger bird. He boasts that he's the god of his village - they throw wreaths of flowers at him whenever they see him. He calls Indians "my people." He boasts about how many of his people he's murdered and eaten over the years. Then he tells about a time when he didn't have to kill, because there were always dead Englishmen floating down the river. "I got my girth in that year," he says. After that came a time when the dead Englishmen stopped coming, and so many of his people floated dead down the river that he - he! - became frightened, and lost his appetite.

And I'm sitting there with blood dripping out of my nose, no kidding.

Okay, kidding, but still.

1. On 2007-01-19, Guy Shalev said:

There's a second book?!

And oddly enough, I just found out we have the Just So book in English two days ago.


2. On 2007-01-19, Vincent said:

Yes, a second book! With more Mowgli stories and more other stories, same as the first. Published a year later.

I didn't know about it either until a few months ago.


3. On 2007-01-19, Blankshield said:

I haven't read the Jungle Books (yet), but I have a whole collection of leather bound Kipling that I inherited from my grandfather which I've been slowly working through.



4. On 2007-01-19, Sydney Freedberg said:

"That year" must be 1857, the year of the great "Indian Mutiny" in which both Hindus and Muslims rose up against the East India Company—followed by vicious reprisals and the British Government's direct takeover of India, which had technically been East Indian Company property beforehand.


5. On 2007-01-19, Vincent said:


The story sets it up beautifully. The crocodile's talking, and it gradually dawns on us what a monster he is, and then he describes the mutiny and reprisals second-hand and they positively dwarf his monstrousness.


6. On 2007-01-19, Julie, aka jrs said:

Factoid:  Yes, there are two volumes of The Jungle Book.  "The Jungle Book", was published in 1894; "The Second Jungle Book" was published in 1895.  I'm not sure when, but defintely by the 1940's, the two titles were published as a two volume set called "The Jungle Books".  Again, I'm not sure when, possibly the '60's, the two were published as a single volume under the Signet Classics publications line.  If on your shelves, you have a fairly recent imprint called "The Jungle Books" with a table of contents that lists Book 1 and Book 2, then you have the full set.


7. On 2007-01-19, Julie, aka jrs said:

Oh, and both the books are freely available through Project Gutenberg.  Not as fun to read aloud though.


8. On 2007-01-19, Avram said:

Man, I grew up reading those as a kid.

I reread the Mowgli stories as an adult a decade or so back, but the other stories, I need to go reread those too. Thanks for reminding me about them.

There's a tremendous amount of, well, ruthlessness in them for kids' books. A lot of not flinching about the nastier parts of life.

Ever notice how most stories about talking animals, the protagonists are herbivores? Either that or they're domestic pet animals, like cats and dogs. In the Mowgli stories, Mowgli's family is wolves, and the stories have plenty of references to hunting and killing.


9. On 2007-01-19, Ron Edwards said:

I grew up with both too. In fact, for a long time the first volume was lost, so I knew the second book best, until I bought a new copy.

What sticks with me ...

The similarity between the doggerel poetry in the second volume with the verses in lots and lots of Howard short stories, including a fair number of Conan ones, and with Howard's poetry in general. It struck me right away as a 12-year-old when I started reading Howard, and I would not be surprised if that were a direct literary lineage.

Bagheera. (jeez)

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. What a bad-ass, and what a great pair of villains; Naghaina can rightly take her place next to Grendel's mom. The secondary characters are fun too. I like calling attention to posters' behavior at the Forge by likening it to Chuchundra, the rodent who runs around and around the baseboard, but cannot come into the center of the room. I'm given to understand that there is an animated version that's been around for a long time, but have not seen it.

A lot of people don't pay attention to the later Mowgli stories, probably because the Disney movie set the parameters for most. But they are savagely, morally unswerving, and I think that the first Tarzan novel (another book whose perfect resolution was invalidated by sequels and adaptations) comes straight out of those.

All the natural history is really solid stuff. I was impressed by discovering how accurate it was when I worked in the Mammal Division at the Field Museum of Natural History, and when I took advanced mammalogy classes during grad school. The profs in that class knew too - they referenced Kipling frequently when describing the variations of wolves, bears, hyenas, sea mammals, and others.


10. On 2007-01-19, Vincent said:

Did I say here already? I guess I didn't. There's a pair of stories, "Kaa's Hunting" and "Letting in the Jungle." Mowgli's relationship with Bagheera really struck me in "Kaa's Hunting" when I read the 1st book a few years ago. I kept going back to it in my mind. But then reading its fulfillment in "Letting in the Jungle" - damn.

The animated "Riki Tiki Tavi" is fine. It sticks close to the story - the dialogue might even be word-for-word. Is it my imagination that Orson Welles did the voice over? Anyway it's worth putting on if you have a couple of kids to entertain, but of course it doesn't do Kipling's language any kind of justice.

Look at that, it was Orson Welles, and Chuck Jones directed it.


11. On 2007-01-20, Brennan said:

I used to religiously watch the animated Rikki-Tikki-Tavi every year on television, it was amazing. It is extremely faithful to the story.

I loved both Jungle Books as a kid, and I really ought to go back and re-read them.


12. On 2007-01-20, Ron Edwards said:

"If you move, I strike. If you do not move, I strike."


13. On 2007-01-20, Avram said:

Yeah, back in the '70s, Chuck Jones did animated versions of "Mowgli's Brothers", "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi", and "The White Seal". I saw them in original broadcast as a kid, but "Mowgli's Brothers" is the only one I've seen again since, my girlfriend having found it on video one year. After watching it I can't watch the Disney version anymore.


14. On 2007-01-20, Curly said:

I was assigned to trap coyotes a decade and a half ago, on a Nebraska farm.  It was a hard winter, and they were taking calves.  I was sent out on an ATV trike with leg traps, tent, coffeepot, little plastic whiskey bottles like you get on an airplane, food... and those Jungle Books to pass the time.

On the third night the full moon was so bright I could read by it. I was set-up in a sandy blow-out, hoping it would break the crazy shifting wind that was tossing the tent nylon around noisily.  The blue moonlight in the sand crater was like being on the moon.  The coyotes started yipping with countless echoes, it was impossible to tell how many there were, or how far away. It went on and on and on. At times I was sure they were jumping against the tent.  I beat the frying pan with a spoon, and charged outside.  Nobody there.

I got so exhausted I couldn't tell if I was still awake and reading incoherently, or asleep and dreaming nonsense Kipling stories.

Finally, the tent blew over so the noisy flapping stopped.  I was so glad for quiet, that I just lay there in the collapse and plunged into a dead-deep sleep.

Late the next morning, I collected all the traps and gave up. Not a single trap was sprung.  Not even the trap next to a deer carcass—which they had really chowed-down on.

Back at the farm, I took a long shower & used up all the hot water, which irritated everybody. Still couldn't get warm.  Slept all day and generally failed to pull my weight.  Forgot to finish the Jungle Books.


15. On 2007-01-20, Vincent said:

Curly! That's a great story!


16. On 2007-01-20, Larry Lade said:

Kipling + Chuck Jones + Orson Welles? I was totally unaware of such a thing.

For fast reference, The Jungle Book is
and the Second is


17. On 2007-01-20, Brand Robins said:

There are ways in which the Jungle Books are the most awesome examples of colonial literature ever produced.

They certainly are more fun than any of the other colonial literature.


18. On 2007-01-22, Vincent said:

I've never played Go, so the other day I sat down with J and he showed me the rules. Turns out that there are all these little known patterns in Go, and when you place your piece, you're saying to your opponent "hey you know that one pattern? Let's do it over here." I go here, you go here, I go here, you go here, I go here, you go here, and I think I've set it up so at the end I'll win the pattern.

But like I say I've never played Go. So here's J, he places a piece and he looks up at me, like "hey? Hey?" And I'm like, "I guess I'll play ... here?" And he's like, "well, you could do that, but then..."

On account of how I don't know the patterns, see?

I feel exactly the same way right now! Brand, what's the pattern here?

Unguided by knowledge of the pattern, I go, "well, I don't expect Kipling (or anybody) to write from anything but his own very personal perspective - and Kipling (more than many) fulfills that expectation. Certainly I don't expect him to give me any kind of authentic experience of being Indian. Instead, I find what he says about human beings to be very compelling, and astutely observed; that he observed it in his particular context shapes its form, but it's still quite compellingly human in content."

Now I'm looking at you with my hand still over my piece and a big old question mark on my face.


19. On 2007-01-22, NinJ said:

Yeah, hey, let's play Go some more. I have a feeling you could be as good as I am in three or four games.


20. On 2007-01-22, ScottM said:

I love trying Go, but I'm at the same "I don't know the patterns" stage.  I'll bet with NinJ's help, you'll be well matched soon.


21. On 2007-01-22, Larry Lade said:

Heh. Yeah, learning go from another person can be a frustrating experience.

I highly recommend Janice Kim's How To Play Go series, which is way more accessible than anything else I've found.

I have no similar recommendation for primers on the British in India.


22. On 2007-01-22, Brand Robins said:


The topic you're wanting to know about is vast and huge and complex. It's also not easily summarized, because doing so tends to leave out huge and important issues.

For example, if I say, "Well Kipling was a white man who was writing based on a lot of local folk animal-traditions without giving a lot of credit to the locals" then I'm not saying the part where "Kipling often said that the English overlooked the vast literary traditions of India." Or if I say, "Kipling was born and lived much of his life in India" I miss the part where "an India that was pacified, controlled, and economically drained by his own class." When we talk about the "Mutiny of 1957" we don't talk about the "First War of Independence." When we talk about "white man's burden" we don't talk about "Gunga Din."

So, really, what I'm going to answer is that when you say "I find what he says about human beings to be very compelling, and astutely observed; that he observed it in his particular context shapes its form, but it's still quite compellingly human in content" I nod in agreement. I just don't end my personal, in my own head, discussion there, because what we mean by human is entirely shaped by context.

Reading Kipling is always fascinating, both for what he says and what he doesn't, and who he was and who he wasn't. Same with reading, well, just about anyone, but due to Kipling's genius its more... all present. You can read endless dreary prose from the ear and write a thesis about it and not get as much of the fucked up, beautiful, contradictory, and human as you can from one of Kip's stories.

Many professors of literature in England agree. Most professors of literature in India don't.


23. On 2007-01-22, Brand Robins said:

"You can read endless dreary prose from the ear and write a thesis about..."

Should be "From the ERA" not ear.


24. On 2007-01-23, Vincent said:

Thanks for all that, Brand! I dig.


25. On 2007-01-23, Curly said:

The wikipedia entry on Rudyard Kipling is a nice bio.

I like the inconvenient details it offers:

*The mention of Orwell is paradoxical.  On one hand, their early lives were so parallel, and Kipling obviously was an influence on works like Shooting An Elephant and Animal Farm.

On the other hand, Orwell abhorred Kipling's colonial cheerleading.  Still, they were both anti-Nazi.  So it's hard to pair or parse them in convenient ways.

*Consider the anecodote about how Kipling was raised to age 6 by Portuguese and Indian servants to "think and dream" in their tongue, and was then sent to England (to prevent kids like him from 'going native').  But in England he was abused by his guardians. Then he turns-around and champions England's superiority.  Freudian.  ...and then the Boy Scouts decide that this is a good guy to base their child-grooming program on?!

*Kipling travelled the US, met Mark Twain, and settled in Vermont.. where he wrote the Jungle Books!  (Whoa. They're American Literature?)

*Kipling left the US after a US/UK dispute over whose hegemony would prevail in Venezuela; and the anti-British sentiment resulting from the incident.

*"His books are conspicuously absent from the English Literature curricula of schools and universities in India"    Isn't it odd that his place in English Lit isn't secure?  I can understand his Political writing being out of fashion. And yet -those- works ARE read in India.

*The section on Kipling's influence on Heinlein is right on the money. Their strengths and flaws are so matched. And there's the same difficulty in -only- condemning or -only- endorsing either of them.  Lastly, they're each iconoclastic enough; that they can't quite be dismissed as 'just another' dead white male pig.


26. On 2007-01-23, Neel said:

Isn't it odd that his place in English Lit isn't secure?

Not really, at least in India. It's never terribly fun to read about yourself as the alien other. It's basically the same reason that Uncle Tom's Cabin does not receive a terribly enthusiastic response from American blacks.

My favorite poem by him is "The Old Issue", which neatly encapsulates his perceptions and his blind spots. It's a poem about how governments use the exigencies of war as an excuse for tyranny, and it was written to advocate the second Boer War (the war that bequeathed the phrase "concentration camp" to the English language).


27. On 2007-01-23, Brand Robins said:


I'm suddenly reminded of the short from the Family Guy where Peter says, "It's just as realistic as a white man's dialog in a Spike Lee movie."


28. On 2007-01-24, GB Steve said:

When I visited my mum's parents as a kid, I often asked for them to read us the Just So Stories. They are still amongst my favourites and Kiplings B&W illustrations are very evocative too.

And the titles are very good for 1001 Nights:
How the Whale got his Throat
How the Camel got his Hump
How the Rhinoceros got its Skin
How the Leopard got his Spots
The Elephant's Child
The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo
The Beginning of the Armadillos
How the First Letter was Written
How the Alphabet was Made
The Crab that Played with the Sea
The Cat that walked by Himself
The Butterfly that Stamped.

My favourite was always The Cat that walked by Himself which starts thus:

HEAR and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild. The Dog was wild, and the Horse was wild, and the Cow was wild, and the Sheep was wild, and the Pig was wild—as wild as wild could be—and they walked in the Wet Wild Woods by their wild lones. But the wildest of all the wild animals was the Cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.


29. On 2007-01-24, Vincent said:

Sometimes when I put one of my cats off the table or kick it out of bed I say "all places are alike to you! Be on the floor!"


30. On 2007-01-25, Jonathan said:

Yeah, Kipling is pretty amazing. (Assuming you can look beyond his 19th C biases.) Love The Jungle Book, love Just-So Stories ("The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo" is absolute brilliance), love "The Man Who Would Be King" (see mention of biases above, though)...I actually own an early printing of "Barrack Room Ballads."

I've actually found a lot of enjoyment in 19th century literature as an adult—I didn't read Wuthering Heights until that awful couple of years in Amherst (1995, I think) and it knocked my socks off. In a completely different way, I finally read "King Solomon's Mines" for a class a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely. Er, I guess I'm drifting. So yeah—Kipling=great.

Oh, and by the way, hi. :-) Hadn't heard from you or Meg in forever, so I thought I'd pop over here to say hello!


31. On 2007-01-25, Meguey said:

My favorite Just So story is The Begining of Armadillos. "Can't curl, but can swim; slow solid, that's him."


32. On 2007-01-25, Jeff Z said:

Orwell's essay on Kipling is essential reading. One of my favourite passages:

"It took a very improbable combination of circumstances to produce Kipling's gaudy tableau, in which Private Ortheris and Mrs. Hauksbee pose against a background of palm trees to the sound of temple bells, and one necessary circumstance was that Kipling himself was only half civilized. "


"The trouble is that whenever an aesthetic judgement on Kipling's work seems to be called for, Mr. Eliot is too much on the defensive to be able to speak plainly. What he does not say, and what I think one ought to start by saying in any discussion of Kipling, is that most of Kipling's verse is so horribly vulgar that it gives one the same sensation as one gets from watching a third-rate music-hall performer recite 'The Pigtail of Wu Fang Fu' with the purple limelight on his face, AND yet there is much of it that is capable of giving pleasure to people who know what poetry means. At his worst, and also his most vital, in poems like 'Gunga Din' or 'Danny Deever', Kipling is almost a shameful pleasure, like the taste for cheap sweets that some people secretly carry into middle life. But even with his best passages one has the same sense of being seduced by something spurious, and yet unquestionably seduced.  Unless one is merely a snob and a liar it is impossible to say that no one who cares for poetry could get any pleasure out of such lines as:

For the wind is in the palm trees, and the temple bells they say,
'Come you back, you British soldier, come you back to Mandalay!'

and yet those lines are not poetry in the same sense as 'Felix Randal' or 'When icicles hang by the wall' are poetry. One can, perhaps, place Kipling more satisfactorily than by juggling with the words 'verse' and 'poetry', if one describes him simply as a good bad poet. He is as a poet what Harriet Beecher Stowe was as a novelist. And the mere existence of work of this kind, which is perceived by generation after generation to be vulgar and yet goes on being read, tells one something about the age we live in. "


33. On 2007-01-25, Curly said:

Thank you, Jeff Z., that essay really hit home for me.

As an American who consumes countless goods made in Chinese sweatshops, I'd say Orwell's words are still pretty fucking relevant:

"All left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham,because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy. They have internationalist aims, and at
the same time they struggle to keep up a standard of life with which those aims are incompatible. We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and those of us who are 'enlightened' all maintain that those coolies ought
to be set free; but our standard of living, and hence our
'enlightenment', demands that the robbery shall continue."

I'd also like to point out that Orwell used the term "blimp" several times, which reminds me to recommend the Powell and
Pressberger film 'The Life And Times of Colonel Blimp'. Blimp was a british cartoon character mocking the 19th century jingoistic imperialist blowhard.  The film version refused to make Blimp a pure buffoon, and thus is similar to Orwell's semi-apology for Kipling.

While you're watching that, make it a double feature with "The Man Who Would Be King" starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine, with Christopher Plummer as Rudyard Kipling... directed by John Huston.

Can anyone here distill the colonialist value-system into a "progression of sin", so we can play Dogs In The Vineyard as idealistic Brits who go-off to civilize India?

(And then, to really get depressed, we can use it to re-enact the British broken promises that set the stage for today's acrimony between Sunni and Shia in Iraq.)



34. On 2007-01-26, Larry Lade said:

We can play Dogs In The Vineyard in Kipling's India?




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