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Jun 11

wtf moments rereading kipling #8

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“There was not a sting upon him, for the smell of the garlic had checked the Little People for just the few seconds that he was among them. When he rose Kaa’s coils were steadying him and things were bounding over the edge of the cliff — great lumps, it seemed, of clustered bees falling like plummets; but before any lump touched water the bees flew upward and the body of a dhole whirled down-stream. Overhead they could hear furious short yells that were drowned in a roar like breakers — the roar of the wings of the Little People of the Rocks. Some of the dholes, too, had fallen into the gullies that communicated with the underground caves, and there choked and fought and snapped among the tumbled honeycombs, and at last, borne up even when they were dead on the heaving waves of bees beneath them, shot out of some hole in the river-face, to roll over on the black rubbish-heaps. There were dholes who had leaped short into the trees on the cliffs, and the bees blotted out their shapes; but the greater number of them, maddened by the stings, had flung themselves into the river; and, as Kaa said, the Waingunga was hungry water.” From ‘Red Dog’, in The Second Jungle Book, 1895.

Set aside what you know of his politics for a moment; and what you’ve assumed about his primary readership at this time, 1894-1910, the period of his “books for children”. Set aside too the Disney Kaa, the Disney Mowgli, the the Disney jungle. Almost casually, in the sense that it wasn’t particularly his life’s main project, Kipling established a type of modern cinematic body-horror that’s all the more startling for being so offhand. This nightmarishly exciting scene, of the teenage wolfboy running across the Bee Rocks, to lure the dhole, the marauding Dekkan Red Dog pack, into a fatal trap as the bees wake in vast swarming numbers, and go to war — the dhole who survive bees and river being ruthlessly mopped up by Akela’s wolves downstream — was my favourite Mowgli story as a child, I think simply because it’s so sustainedly descriptively intense and vividly grisly; the sense of the ground itself clouding volcanically up into aggressive life; that terrible image of the falling “things”, dogs become lumps of pure bee. And, you know, just the idea of MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF UNTAMED BEES!

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