Monday, January 2, 2012

Kipling's Mongoose

I read The Jungle Books at a young age. I was probably ten or so when I discovered Kipling's world of wolves, tigers, snakes, and man-cubs. Of friendly panthers and troublesome villagers. And of course the poetry. It was the poetry that stayed with me the most. Shortly after reading the story of Mowgli, I had memorized the opening poem.

"Now Rann the Kite brings home the night
that Mang the Bat sets free.
The herds are shut in byre and hut
for loosed till dawn are we.
This is the hour of pride and power
of talon and tusk and claw.
Oh hear the call--good hunting all
Who keep the jungle law."

I'm not sure why the poem stuck with me but it did. I enjoy Kipling. I know that his reputation in the last couple decades has slipped. He seems antiquated with his colonial views. But he was a master with words. I was reminded of how good when I stumbled on the animated film of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a Chuck Jones cartoon that I'd loved as a child. And of course I had read Kipling's story as part of The Jungle Books. I watched the cartoon and then went back to read the story. Like How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Chuck Jones stayed incredibly true to the source material. Most of the dialogue and all of the narration are taken directly from the story. Even the Tailorbird's song is faithfully reproduced. The only thing missing is the opening poem. I had tried to memorize the poem years ago. And when I re-read the story I remembered why. It is wonderful.

For reference Red-Eye is Rikki because of his red eyes before striking. Wrinkle-Skin is Nag, the cobra.

At the hole where he went in
Red-Eye called to Wrinkle-Skin.
Hear what little Red-Eye saith:
'Nag, come up and dance with death!'

Eye to eye and head to head,
       (Keep the measure, Nag)
This shall end when one is dead;
       (At thy pleasure, Nag.)
Turn for turn and twist for twist--
       (Run and hide thee, Nag.)
Hah! The hooded Death has missed!
       (Woe betide thee, Nag.)

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