Posted in Short Stories

“…for the price of a bull and on Baloo’s good word.”

I read Rudyard Kipling’s short story “Mowgli’s Brothers” last night – it’s a part of Kipling’s The Jungle Book.  I confess that in reading this story I can’t help but picture the Disney animated movie that I’ve grown up with.  The real story is a little less tame than Disney’s, but I think Walt Disney and his associates must have at least read the Kipling stories to create the characters in the movie.  One note of interest (at least to me) is that Disney’s movie version was the last movie that Walt Disney worked on, himself.

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The story is the opposite of the novel I just read, Jack London’s White Fang.  In that novel, a wolf goes to live with “man”.  In this story, Mowgli, a child, goes to live in the jungle with wolves.  Bagheera, the panther, while ferocious to the rest of the jungle displays a firm gentleness in protecting and befriending Mowgli.  Baloo, the bear, teaches Mowgli all about how to find food – without a lot of effort.

When the wolves are at their council to determine whether Mowgli should stay, Bagheera offers a dead bull to the pack.  Because the council needs two members to speak up for Mowgli (other than his wolf parents), Baloo offers his affirmation of Mowgli.  Therefore, Mowgli is allowed to stay with the pack “for the price of a bull and on Baloo’s good word.”

As Akela, the wolf leader, grows old, the question comes up again as to whether Mowgli can stay.  Sheera Khan, the tiger that originally chased Mowgli into the jungle as a child, continues to hold a grudge against him.  As he has planted seeds of doubt into the minds of many of Mowgli’s “brothers”, they try to hand him over to the tiger.  Mowgli uses “Red Flower” (fire) that he’s stolen from the man-village to ward off his attackers on the council and then decides it is his time to return to his village, though it’s not without much grief and tears.

The animals in Kipling’s stories are more anthropomorphic ( I like using that word) than in London’s novels.  While there is still talk of the “Law of the Jungle”, it’s a law that is made up by Kipling himself for his stories; whereas, London’s “law” seems to be based more on nature in “real life”.

Posted in Fiction

” ‘What’s to be afraid of, lass? Come and kiss me.’ “

I’m counting Rudyard Kipling’s story The Man Who Would Be King as a short novel (novella?) as opposed to a short story.  I don’t know if there is any formal rule about what constitutes each.  If anybody out there has any knowledge on this topic, feel free to let me know.

The title of this story has been familiar to me for a long time, but I’ve never been familiar with the plotline.  I know a movie was made in the 1970’s with Sean Connery.  After reading the story, I might have to see if I can watch it.  From what I can tell, it may not exactly follow the book.  I’ve also discovered that the Dreamworks animated film, The Road to El Dorado, was based on this story, although only loosely.

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The narrator is an English newspaper man in India.   The research I’ve done has most believing this person to be Kipling himself.  He just doesn’t name himself as such.  The narrator encounters two quirky English vagabonds during the first few years of his career. Their names are Peachey Carnehan and Daniel Dravot.  They tell him of their rather odd plans to become Kings of Kafiristan, a country by or province of Afghanistan.

A number of years later, when the narrator has become an established newspaper man, Peachey Carnehan comes crawling into his office.  He tells the story of their eventual coronation in Kafiristan, in which they not only become Kings, but are looked upon as actual gods.  Given the fact that they started out as nothing but vagabonds (with a few guns) the story is humorous because it is so absurd – or perhaps it’s absurd because it’s so funny.  Hard to say.  It’s also somewhat disheartening to see the villagers so readily accept anyone.  Maybe this is the point of what Kipling is trying to get to, but due to the absurdity, I’m not sure.

One of the items in their contract is that they will stay away from liquor and women.  This becomes problematic when Dravot decides he needs a wife.  The villagers offer up a girl to Dravot who is rather fearful of both the men since they are reported to be gods.  When Dravot says ” ‘What’s to be afraid of, lass?  Come and kiss me’ “, the girl buries her head in his beard and bites him on the hand.  The bite draws blood bringing into question their status as gods – because gods don’t bleed.  This is the beginning of their downfall and Dravot is eventually killed.  Carnehan survives in order to make his way back to the newspaper man to tell him the story.

I haven’t done a lot of research on the meaning of this story, if their is one.  I liked the basic absurdity of the whole thing – and don’t really need to understand anything about it in order to enjoy it.  My initial guess is that Kipling is trying to make some sort of statement about the way governements and religions can dupe the “people”, but that seems a little beside the point, so I’ll settle to just enjoy it for what it is.  It kind of reminds me of something that Kurt Vonnegut might write.

Posted in Short Stories

“…a belt-loosening silence about the fires…”

I have come to learn that Kipling’s short stories have been put into a number of different categories.  I was familiar with his “Just So” stories and his “Jungle Book” stories.  This week I read a story called “The Courting of Dinah Shadd”, which is considered one of his “Soldier Stories”.  I believe this is one of several stories involving the same characters.

The narrator camps out with his troops and as they begin to settle in to the “belt-loosening silence about the fires”, one of his comrades, Terance Mulvaney, an Irishmen, begins to tell the story of how he met his wife, Dinah Shadd.  As the story progresses, the reader begins to understand what the narrator already knows.  Mulvaney likes his drink and likes his women.

Mulvaney bemoans the fact that after all the time he’s spent in the army, he is still only a private.  He then goes on to explain that after courting Dinah Shadd, one of his colonel’s daughters, and after getting “serious” with her, he happens upon another young lady, Judy Sheehy, and for no other reason than because he can, he begins to “court” her.

Of course, eventually, the two women meet up with Mulvaney at the same time – along with their mothers.  Mrs. Sheehy gives up on Mulvaney actually choosing her daughter over Dinah Shadd, but not without cursing him, of which one of the curses is that he’ll never be more than a private.

Mulvaney’s story within a story is told in an Irish brogue that is brilliant writing but also sometimes agonizingly frustrating to a reader that is unfamiliar with this accent.  I’ve found that I get more out of stories written this way if I read it quickly as opposed to reading it slowly and trying to understand what each syllable and word means.  I can also figure out better what the character is saying if I read it out loud.  This isn’t always practical and is difficult to do sometimes without getting strange looks from others.

Posted in Short Stories

” ‘Wild Thing out of the Wild Woods, go back to the Woods again…’ “

I’ve only read one of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So” stories, so far,  but I get the idea from this one that they are similar in nature to a Greek myth or to one of Aesop’s fables.  They are not very long and they tend to provide an explanation for “how things are” or “how things came to be”.

“The Cat That Walked By Himself”  is a smart and funny story that anyone who has had any experience with cats will understand and appreciate.  It takes place somewhere around the beginning of time, or at least early in time, before many of the domesticated animals we have today were domesticated.  The Dog, Cow, Horse and Cat were still considered “wild”.  Actually, Man was still considered “wild”.  Guess who had to come along and “tame” him?  Yeah, that’s right – Woman.  The Dog, Cow and Horse all make a visit to the Woman (the Man is out hunting – he hasn’t been completely tamed!) and decide that domesticity isn’t such a bad thing – the woman makes a deal with them and the three of them end up becoming the Woman and Man’s friends and servants.

During these dealings, the Cat continues to be the Cat that walks by himself.  He has no intentions of giving in to the Woman’s requests and becoming domesticated.  The Woman tells him “Wild Thing out of the Woods, go back to the Woods again…”.   The Cat then makes his own “bet” with the Woman.  One in which the Woman loses and the Cat gets to hang out by the Woman’s fire and drink milk and generally slink around the Cave (The Man and Woman still live in a Cave).

The question that has to be asked after reading this story is “Who is the real winner of this bet”?  While the Cat does not crave domesticity, he ends up looking as though he has been domesticated, although it’s on his terms and not the Woman’s.  Intriguing.

Posted in Short Stories

“…back to the place whence his soul had come.”

One of the many reasons I like reading is to be able to experience something that maybe I wouldn’t be able to otherwise…like a different culture or a different time period.  Rudyard Kipling’s short story “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat” did just that.  With beautiful prose, it whisked me away to an India caught between English rule and Hindu beliefs.

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Purun Dass grew up within India’s Hindu culture, but believed that society was changing and if he was to get anywhere, he needed to get on board with the English way of doing things.  He didn’t completely give up his Hindu beliefs, but kept them somewhat quiet.  As a result, he was able to rise in the ranks of the English-controlled Indian government.  He even became Prime Minister of one of India’s States.  At a point in time, when Purun Dass was at his most prominent, he “died”.

While many within the government and many of those he governed may have thought he actually died, Purun really decided to leave his world of achievement in order to get “back to the place whence his soul had come”.   He left most of his worldly possessions to travel through the small, poorer villages of India.  In finding a final destination, he settles on the top of a mountain in a small hut that oversees a village.  The villagers decide that he is a holy man and rename him Purun Bhagat.  Both the villagers and the animals of the forest become his friends or “brothers”.

In being in tune again with the animals and nature, his instinct tells him that a rainstorm will end with a tragic mudslide destroying the village.  He uses his “leadership skills” to travel to the village with his animal friends to warn the villagers of the impending doom.  The villagers leave and are saved (though their homes are not).

The relationhip between Purun Bhagat and his animal friends was the most fascinating part of the story.  Animals seem to play a large part in Kipling’s writing.  While they may be a little more anthropomorphic than Jack London’s animals, Kipling still seems to have the same type of respect and awe for the natural world.

The contrast between the English government and the Hindu culture was done in a manner that seemed more complimentary than adversarial- neither culture was made out to be the “bad guy”.  While one had the upper hand in power, the other had the upper hand in spirituality.

If Kiplings other stories are as wonderful as this one, I can’t wait to read more.

Posted in Fiction

“…the ghost of a dry smile…”

Captains Courageous is the first full-length novel I’ve read by Rudyard Kipling.  I think it’s possible he could become a favorite.  I say full-length, but it was only 144 pages.

Harvey Cheyne, the son of a millionaire (i.e., spoiled brat), falls off a luxury liner in the Atlantic Ocean after he gets sick from smoking a cigar.   Manuel, a sailor on the We’re Here, a Gloucester schooner, rescues him and brings him aboard his ship.  After Harvey has “words” with the Captain of the ship, Disko Troop (a great name!), he realizes that his life has been saved and that his attitude probably won’t get him very far, he apologizes to the Captain and jumps in as a helping hand.  He befriends the Captain’s son, Dan, and learns the ropes (literally, sometimes).  Harvey ultimately earns the respect of the crew, a handful of colorful characters.  He realizes that the work of a sailor is a work worth doing.

During Harvey’s apology to Disko Troop, Kipling writes that Disko gave Harvey “the ghost of a dry smile”.  I liked the way Kipling used this phrase to imply both the fondness Disko felt for Harvey and his unwillingness for Harvey to see that fondness – at least not right away.

When Harvey eventually returns to his parents, his father reacts to the changes in Harvey in a rather surprised manner.  He hadn’t recalled seeing Harvey with such a sparkle in his eye.  I don’t think hard work was the only lesson Harvey learned.  It seemed that he was affected just as much by the adventurous life of the crew of the We’re Here.   Harvey’s father tells the story of his climb to the top of a major railroad company as one of heading west, sleeping in desserts, encountering all types of people, fighting criminals – a similarly adventurous life.  One he hadn’t realized his son was missing out on.

Many conversations took place on the We’re Here.  One aspect of the novel that could frustrate readers is that the speaking voices of the crew were written exactly like they talk.  I think this is called “eye dialect”.

One of the deeper conversations among the men on the We’re Here revolved around the role of The Sea in their lives.  They seemed to come to an odd, but probably right, conclusion that while The Sea could not be controlled and that their work and livelihood could be wiped out with one violent storm, it did not mean that they stopped doing what they were doing.  At the same time, they could not put too much faith in their work and jobs, because at any moment The Sea could destroy it all.  Living with this tension perhaps was the key to their enjoyment of this life and adventure.

This is the only Kipling novel that takes place in and around the United States.  I’m interested in reading his novel, Kim, in the near future.

Has anyone out there read anything else by Kipling?