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NA205212 - KIPLING, R.: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (Unabridged)
and other stories
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi • Toomai of the Elephants
The Miracle of Purun Bhagat • Quiquern • The White Seal
In 1892, the newly married Kiplings took a cottage in Vermont. In this
honeymoon year, Kipling did not write as much as usual, but he did produce a ‘wolf-story called “Mowgli’s Brothers” ’, and he then worked intermittently until 1895, on what were to be published (in two volumes) as The Jungle Books. The title derives from the stories featuring Mowgli, but in fact those tales are intermingled with others set elsewhere and with quite different characters.
The Jungle Books are normally regarded as children’s literature and of course they are marvelously successful as such — quite as successful as Just So Stories, which Kipling wrote a few years later, and which also take as their theme, the character of animals. Both books reveal Kipling’s love of language as an almost musical medium, his deep affection especially for India, and his refusal to patronize or simplify for the sake of a young audience.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is perhaps the story most obviously aimed at children in
this collection. The hero of the story is Rikki himself, the little mongoose who adopts the English family in the Segowlee bungalow, but the most important human character is the son Teddy, whose life he saves. Teddy is passive and dull compared to the Indian or Anglo-Indian children Kipling loves to describe (Kim, Little Toomai): all the spirit and zest of the tale is devoted to the resourceful mongoose that uses speed and skill to outwit and finally destroy the great cobras who lord it over the property.
Like Rikki, Little Toomai, in Toomai of the Elephants, must experience a rite of passage. Rikki makes his first kills; Toomai, having gone on a wild ride through the jungle, sees what few others have seen — the elephants’ midnight dance — and thus is ‘initiated and free of all the jungles’. Kipling loves to see the world with the freshness of a child’s vision — for Little Toomai, life in the camp when they catch the wild elephants is far more interesting than the dull life of the Cawnpore elephant-lines, while his father prefers the safety of the plain. Perhaps only a child has the innocence and imagination to witness the great gathering of the elephants…
The Miracle of the Purun Bhagat is also set in India, and is perhaps the most purely beautiful piece of storytelling in the collection. This is very much the world of Kim — the ‘long, white, dusty Indian road’, the ‘silence and the space’ of the Himalayan foothills. Purun Bhagat has abandoned earthly power and prestige to seek spiritual enlightenment, but he must on one last occasion use his worldly authority to save the villagers who sustain him: like the lama in Kim, he finds that it is impossible wholly to leave behind the things of this life. Kipling shows us that the natural is more wonderful than the supernatural: Purun’s ‘miracle’ is actually the product of his absolute intimacy with the natural world.
The White Seal tells the story of Kotick who, being different from his fellows, sets out to discover a safe haven for the seal-nurseries and must then persuade the others to leave the familiar behind and risk encountering the new. Kipling perhaps intends an allegory about the human fear of change and the role of a leader who stands out from the crowd — but, if so, it is all implicit and done with the lightest of touches.
Quiquern is the mythical ‘phantom of a gigantic toothless dog…supposed to live in the far North’, seen by two starving and desperate Eskimo hunters of Baffin Land. Kipling’s evocation of the utter bleakness of this northern territory is quite as vivid as his depiction of India. As in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and The White Seal, his is a story of survival, but in this case the emphasis is human rather than animal. Once again, Kipling gives us a natural explanation for the supernatural: the Quiquern turns out to be two lost dogs whose harnesses have become entangled and who flit before the hallucinating hunters until they are all eventually reunited and the village is saved.
Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay in 1865. Educated in England from 1871, he returned to India in 1882 and worked as a journalist, soon acquiring a reputation for cleverly crafted short stories and skillful verse. Hugely popular in his lifetime, he eventually settled at Bateman’s in Sussex. He produced a vast body of work, including the much-loved children’s tales, The Jungle Books and Just So Stories and his masterpiece of adult fiction, Kim (also available on Naxos AudioBooks).
Notes by Perry Keenlyside
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