Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Books

Kaa's advice to Mowgli:
"A brave heart and a courteous tongue, they shall
carry thee far through the Jungle, Manling."
Ohhh so true!

After reading about all dem lions, I decided to revisit The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling. I still like the stories but it's funny when you re-read something as an adult that you remember from your childhood and it's not exactly how you remember it. When I was a kid, I just saw the stories as cute tales about jungle animals and that's about it. As an adult, I was surprised at how much moralizing is written between the lines! No wonder, as I read up and found that that was Kipling's plan all along. He wanted to take all these lessons he'd learned over a lifetime and write them down in a way that children might benefit from them early on in life. Seeing as how I didn't even notice that element as a child, it's hard to say if the morals took lol. Thinking about it though, aside from the usual struggles with temptation -- maybe consuming more sugar than I should, occassionally letting impatience get the best of me, that sort of thing -- I think in general I came out a decent person after all. So maybe there was something to Kipling's idea... hmmm... sneaky.

The "rules"  and hierarchy system the jungle animals set up for themselves are what I found most appealing as an adult reader. This is the kind of stuff I didn't really grasp fully as a child. Life lessons abound! For example:

  • Mowgli is a boy who wanders into the jungle one day and seems to be an orphan. He's taken in by the jungle wolves and over the years grows up learning that he is allowed to hunt anything for food except cattle because his place in the wolf pack was "purchased" by Bagheera the panther (who took up the role as a sort of surrogate parent) when Bagheera gave the wolf pack a freshly killed bull. {Acknowledge / Respect those who sacrificed for you}
  • The "Call of Protection" : Baloo The Bear teaches Mowgli this call, the wording of the call (which, in the story is basically a poem sort of greeting stated aloud) varying between species. It's used as sort of a truce or peace greeting. If Mowgli uses the Call of Protection towards a fellow jungle dweller, it is forbidden by jungle law for him to be attacked by that animal. This goes for all animals except for monkeys. Kaa the python says that monkeys have no hierarchy or language of their own, they just use bits and pieces of language and structure that they've stolen from other species, jumbling it all together until it's pretty much nonsensical.{We may all be different but there's commonality among all animals}
  • When a period of drought and famine hits the jungle, Hathi the elephant, considered Master Of The Jungle, calls a Water Truce, where "flesh eaters" (carnivores) are forbidden from hunting and are expected to eat plants until the truce is lifted. The truce is put into effect because Hathi sees that all the animals are too weakened from malnourishment, so in the heat of the night the carnivores and herbivores gather together at the Peace Rock with the nearly dried out riverbed (but the coolest part in the jungle, from the water that remains) and tell stories of better times or share hard time experiences. {Don't kick someone when they're down ; sometimes you hear it phrased as "There by the Grace of God go I" } 
    • Jungle Mural
      "And only when there is one great Fear over all, as there is now, can we of the Jungle lay aside our little fears, and meet together as we do now." ~~~ Hathi, Master Of The Jungle

    • During this time, Khan The Lame Tiger disregards the truce, deciding to hunt as he pleases. He kills a man in a nearby village and then comes back to the riverbed to basically gloat about the incident. He also rinses off his paws in the river, tainting the remaining water with the blood of man. 

In The Jungle Book, Kaa The Python believed that
 poison snakes were cowards! :-P

Mowgli had a bit of a tough time in the jungle. Bagheera, Baloo and Kaa developed a sort of system for watching out for Mowgli, keeping him safe and educating him about the ways of the jungle, but young Mowgli suuuure kept those guys running! He always seemed to be getting into some sort of scrape! The worst incident being when Mowgli gets kidnapped by those "evil mooonkeys" Kaa said had no hierarchy. The monkeys are not considered as part of the clan amongst the jungle animals partly because of the hierarchy / language thing and partly because they live up in trees instead of down on the ground (not sure how that's different from the birds or Kaa himself.. there's a ton of animals that live in the trees, but that's how Kaa explains it in the story). The monkeys carry Mowgli kicking and screaming to the "Cold Lairs" - ancient civilization ruins where monkeys and wild boars like to live. The other animals avoid the Lairs, except in times of drought when water sometimes pools there. Luckily, Mowgli manages to yell out a Call of Protection to a bird passing by, hoping that in his panic he's doing the right call. The bird takes the jungle SOS, tracks down Kaa and the guys and tells them what he saw. So then, they're in a mad race to get to Mowgli before the monkeys do something stupid.

In the book, it's said that monkeys have no hierarchy, 
but Disney, in their 1967 interpretation / watered-down version, 
created "King Louie" the boisterous orangutan.
Interesting addition, since orangutans are actually apes. 

"I Wanna Be Like You" song from The Jungle Book (1967)

Kaa, Baloo and Bagheera trying to save Mowgli from the monkeys turns into this epic jungle battle where pretty much any animal within hollerin' distance lends a hand to get the "Man-Cub" back. Mowgli, ducking into one of the ruins, uses the Snake Call (Call of Protection), bringing a swarm of cobras to his aid. Kaa is strongest opponent of the monkeys. He is the only animal they fear, because being a python, he sometimes steals monkey babies  or elders for food (now you might see why Disney rose-colored the hell outta this story, filling it with jazzy song and dance numbers instead of images like Kaa digesting baby monkeys or Khan The Lame Tiger mauling a guy!).

Generations of monkeys had been scared into good behavior by the stories their elders told them of Kaa, the night-thief, who could slip along the branches as quietly as moss grows, and steal away the strongest monkey that ever lived; of old Kaa, who could make himself look so like a dead branch or a rotten stump that the wisest were deceived, til the branch caught them. Kaa was everything that the monkeys feared in the jungle, for none of them could look him in the face, and none had ever come alive out of his hug.

Kaa and the guys win the battle and get Mowgli out of the Cold Lairs safely. Kaa tells Mowgli what's coming next is not for the young boy to see (hinting that he was getting ready to kill all the monkeys), so he sends Mowgli back home to rest. Later on in the story, more dramas hit Mowgli, such as being rejected by his Wolf Pack. He does a stint in a local village, trying life as a village youth but finds he's not too fond of having to spend his days farming and shepherding herds or being yelled at when he screws up rather than hunting, napping and scarfing bananas with Baloo. Can't blame the poor guy - who would relish that kind of transition?

Interesting little bit from the book - Mowgli is described as being able to walk 9 mph -- 
Well, I looked it up and, to date, the average walking speed
for humans is between 3-5 mph.... Dude can truck it! ;-)

Mowgli uses one of the herds he's left to shepherd to get back at the hated Khan. One of the other people in the village sees what he does and runs back to the village claiming Mowgli is really a witch who can summon the animals at will. The couple that had taken in Mowgli as one of their own are also accused of sorcery. The villagers decide to burn the couple at the stake (seriously!). Mowgli devises a plan that saves the couple and gets them to safety but because of the experience he develops a hatred toward man, except for Messua, the woman who acted as his foster mother in the village. Messua believed Mowgli to be her actual son she lost to the jungle years before, but after some questioning and figuring, Mowgli knows he's not the missing son. Still, she continued to accept him as such.

After guiding Messua and her husband to safety, Mowgli returns to the jungle but not to the old wolf pack. He feels he's been shunned by both foster families, so he decided to be a wolf pack of one (that's right, I said it Hangover fans). He goes off and lives around his old friends but more off by himself until Kipling hints that one day adult Mowgli goes off and gets married. Nothing else is really mentioned of it other than saying it happens, so not sure if he brought Mrs. Mowgli back to the man cave or what.

"Wolf Pack Of One" speech from The Hangover

Kipling gives a vivid description of what he calls the "jungle pheeal":
"It was what they called in the Jungle the pheeal, a hideous kind of shriek that the jackal
gives when he is hunting behind a tiger, or when there is a big killing afoot. If you
can imagine a mixture of hate, triumph, fear and despair, with a kind of leer
running through it, you will get some kind of notion of the pheeal that
rose and sank and wavered and quavered far away across the Waingunga."

So there's a bunch here as far as laws, hierarchy, friends having your back, etc that a reader could easily find relatable. There are some gruesome parts (again, must have blocked that out as a kid lol) but there's also a good deal of sweetness, of taking the cards you're dealt and appreciating what you have. A tippa the hat to Kipling for giving me that gentle reminder. 

So with that said, I want to leave you all with my favorite song from the Disney movie. I still remember being about 9 yrs old, going to the theater to see this movie with my Aunt Chrissy (not in the 60s of course but for a re-release in the 90s lol) right after she got back from her Peace Corps stint in Ecuador, and me humming this song in my head the rest of the day -- hell, I still sing this song on a bad day .. Enjoy: