07 June 2006

8. Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

For a long time I have been a fan of the band Blues Traveler. I got into them courtesy of my brother KC who has a bunch of their albums, including some of their live stuff (there is even more in the Live Music Archive). One of my favorite songs of theirs is called "Bagheera." It's about the Black Panther from the Jungle Book who serves as one of Mowgli's tutor's.

I recently read the Jungle Book to get a sense of how true the song's lyrics were and what the context was.

The first three stories in the Jungle Book are about Mowgli, the Man-cub who is raised by a bunch of Wolves of the Free People's tribes. Because he is a Man and has fewer skills it is considered unsportsmanlike for creatures of the Jungle to kill him, though he is still at great risk of the dangers of living in the Jungle. So he gets some extra instruction from his tutor Baloo, the Bear. He is given the secret languages of the Jungle so he can claim protection no matter where he goes, and learns all the various subtleties of Jungle Law.

In the first story we see how the baby Mowgli runs from the scene of a tiger attack right into the den of Father and Mother Wolf. Hot on his trail is Shere Khan, the lame but terrible tiger who attacked Mowgli's village. Shere Khan attacks cows and humans because he has a bad foot, injured at birth, and is not capable of catching bigger game. The tiger demands the Man-cub as part of the reward for his hunt, but Mother and Father Wolf tell him that he is not to have the Man-cub and has to wait until the tribe speaks.

At the next Tribal Council the Mother Wolf asks if she can adopt Mowgli. Baloo, the teacher of Jungle Law, who is allowed at the meetings because he eats only nuts and roots and wild honey, quickly volunteers to tutor Mowgli. The leader of the tribe, Akela, agrees to let Raksha, the Mother Wolf, adopt Mowgli if a second will stand in for him.

"A black shadow dropped down into the circle. It was Bagheera the Black Panther, inky black all over, but with the panther markings showing up in certain lights like the pattern of watered silk. Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody cared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as Tabaqui, as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down.

'O Akela, and ye the Free People,' he purred, 'I have no right in your assembly, but the Law of the Jungle says that if there is a doubt which is not a killing matter in regard to a new cub, the life of that cub may be bought at a price. And the Law does not say who may or may not pay that price.

To kill a naked cub is shame. Besides, he may make better sport for you when he is grown. Baloo has spoken in his behalf. Now to Baloo’s word I will add one bull, and a fat one, newly killed, not half a mile from here, if ye will accept the man's cub according to the Law. Is it difficult?'"

The next two stories trace Mowgli's expulsions from the tribe and the consequences of that decision for the Tribe, Mowgli, and the rest of the Jungle.

There are a few more stories, all with animals- one about a mongoose, one about a white seal, and one about animals in the service of the British Empire. All of them were quite good.

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