Saturday, July 23, 2016
Why Did Kipling Write The Jungle Book Inside Out?
I'm having the profound pleasure of reading the Jungle Book out loud. And because we're using the edition with Nicola Bayley, there are imaginative visual treasures, too. Even my big kid can be lured into the delights, even when said child is tired and grumpy. That's the power of the premise, the characters, and racing plot.
And yet--reading it (repeatedly--my little one wants me to start at the beginning as soon as we are done) I am very aware of Kipling's structure. So--for all you writers and readers out there, help me figure this one out. Why does Kipling write Mowgli's story inside out?
First, we watch a baby wandering the wolves cave. As Mother Wolf--Rakshi, the Demon--falls in love with this newest baby, the lame tiger, Shere Khan, snarls outside the door, unable to come in because of the size of his great head.
Then, we grow up with Mowgli, into the paradise that is his home, scratches and bites and bear smacks and all. We meet Akela, the great wolf, Baloo and Bagheera, and of course, the cowardly tiger, Shere Khan, the Lame One, who happens to be an orange bully with a big mouth who gets others to fight his battles for him or else he feasts on cattle and humans, i.e. those who cannot fight back.
We learn all of this through prose and poetry--something I'm delighted that my children now insist on reading out loud themselves, with relish, as we pass the book back and forth.
We also meet the lesser wonders--Ikki, the porcupine, Tabaqui, the jackal. We learn the laws of the jungle--laws showing respect and fairness (at this point). And Mowgli's paradise is made better by his human ability to learn other's speech and to stare down all within it, which he considers a game.
But those who live within the jungle do not find Mowgli's abilities a game, something the bully, Shere Khan, plays on when Akela begins to grow old.
So Mowgli, advised by Bagheera, goes to man to get the Red Flower--fire. He saves Akela's life, but, feeling the pain of profound rejection for the very first time, he is forced to leave and join another klan--man.
Middle of story, right? We're at the peak of that ark. Clearly, what comes next will be the slide down--either Shere Khan eating Mowlgi or Mowgli killing Shere Khan.
Except here, instead of racing to the showdown, Kipling veers backward, into idyll, and instead, we learn of Mowgli's wonderful, terrifying kidnapping by the banderlog--the monkey tribe, who think they are the most important creatures on earth and who are always bragging about what they're going to do--until they forget to do it and instead, race off to do something else. This is an incredible story on its own. The banderlog, who are funny, chilling, make us fear for Mowgli's life, and that of Baloo, and Bagheera. Plus, we meet Chil, the kite, the blind cobras, and a thirty-foot, near-sighted python named Kaa, and the the abandoned city of a great king, far in the jungle
where Mowgli is ultimately rescued. And we watch as Bagheera and Baloo nearly walk down the hypnotic path that leads to Kaa's belly. (It seems only Mowgli, the man-cub, is immune.)
Then, bam, we're back in the original story arc, back in the village, where Mowgli must learn to fit in--picking up man-speak within three months, and plotting with his brother wolves and Akela to kill Shere Khan.
But Mowgli's success at this venture leads the man people to believe that Mowgli is a sorcerer who can become animals at will, so they, too, cast him out. Though the ending is happy, it is also about having nowhere to belong--neither with the Man clan nor the Wolf clan.
It is, perhaps, a story about being a writer.
So--many of you guys and all of you guys read. Kipling could have easily folded the banderlog tail--er tale--into its proper place in a linear plot, and yet he doesn't. Those of us who watch various film or theater versions watch it in a linear way.
So--why did Kipling flip part of it into the middle? Would you have written it that way? I'm not sure I would have, though honestly, I would flat out love to write something that is as clean and pure and dreamily gut-real as Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.