“Bees are not men.”

Since I’ve been reading the works of Jack London and Rudyard Kipling, I’ve wondered whether they knew each other and what they may have thought of each other’s work.  As they lived and wrote during approximately the same time period (turn of the twentieth century), I’d be curious as to whether they would have anything to say to each other.  After reading London’s short story, “The Strength of the Strong”, I have an inkling of what might have taken place if they had met.

The anthology I’ve been using to read London’s short stories has been Jack London: Short Stories edited by Earle Labor; Robert C. Leitz III; I. Milo Shepard.  The notes for this short story indicate that London wrote this as a reply to a short story that Kipling wrote called “The Adventures of Melissa” (originally published as “The Mother Hive”) in which Kipling attacked Socialism.  According to these notes, London also told a fellow writer that “No one was in the slightest way aware of the point of my story”.

Short stories of Jack London: Authorized one-volume edition

“The Strength of the Strong” is told by a prehistoric grandfather to his prehistoric grandsons.  The grandfather explains that people used to live in trees by themselves and they only had the strength of “one”.  When they realized that together, they might have the strength of “ten”, people moved from the trees to caves.  Then they discovered that some of them could hunt, some could protect, some could cook.  After a while, some of the people became stronger than others and took all the land.  Some of the people learned how to hunt better and took all the food.  Eventually, the majority worked very hard for very little, while a select few didn’t work at all and had tons of food and land.  At one point, someone decides they need “money”, so they string sea shells together and call it “money”.  For some, all they did all day was (literally) make “money”.  After reading the story, I had to agree with London’s own assessment.  I’m not really sure what point he was trying to make.  It was difficult to figure out which political and economic ideals he was satirizing and which ones he was embracing.

However, London brilliantly satirizes Kipling’s writing style and story-telling methods.  All the characters in London’s story have Kipling style names with a slight twist that pokes fun of them.  The grandfather’s name is Long-Beard while his grandsons are Deer-Runner, Yellow-Head, and Afraid-of-the-Dark.  Other characters had names like Strong-Arm, Three-Clams, One-Eye, Little-Belly, Dog-Tooth, Pig-Jaw, Big-Fat, Twisted-Lip.  My favorite was The Bug.  He went around making up songs and stories about bees to calm people down whenever anyone got too riled up and distraught over their circumstances.  I have a hunch that The Bug was supposed to be Kipling.

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that, while both London and Kipling extensively used animals in their stories, London’s animals were more like animals whereas Kipling’s animals were more like humans (anthropomorphic – there’s that word again).   London seems to make a very clear point in what he thinks of this aspect of Kipling’s writing when, in the last line of “The Strength of the Strong”, he states “all that will come to pass in the time when the fools are dead, and when there will be no more singers to stand still and sing the ‘Song of the Bees.’  Bees are not men.”

Tune in next week when I’ll let you know what this story of Kipling’s, “The Mother Hive”, is all about.

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2 responses to ““Bees are not men.”

  1. Hi Dale,
    Did I tell you I bought (for a ridiculously low price) the Complete Works of Jack London on my Nook? I am currently reading his Novella “The Scarlet Plague” which, hitherto, I didn’t even know existed. It’s a post-apocalyptic dystopian story – one of the first, apparently – that I learned about after reading the 1949 Sci-Fi classic, Earth Abides, with a similar setting. A couple tidbits: the plague that nearly wipes out humanity in this book took place in 2013 (that’s next year!) and London speculated that the 2010 census showed the world’s population at 8 billion. Pretty close!
    -Jay

    • I remember you telling me about getting all his works for really cheap. I did not know that “The Scarlet Plague” existed until now. I ran into a book of his at the library that I had never heard of. I think it was called The Valley of the Moon. It seemed like it had something to do with socialism or unions or something like that. It was written in a strange format, kind of like a newspaper. I’ve also realized that my library now has a ton of his works in eBook format. But The Scarlet Plague might have to get put on my list. So far I’m enjoying 1Q84.

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