You may visit Breadcrumbs Reads for more short stories this Wednesday.
Today's story is by Rudyard Kipling from The Jungle Book. The title Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is very familiar to me, but as I began I realized that I didn't know this tale at all. Even though I was all alone in the house this afternoon, I decided to read the story aloud. The narrative is very poetic, and there are two song-poems which bookend the story.
I see now why this story is so famous. It is well-written, gripping, exciting, and informative. That may have been one of Kipling's gifts, the ability to teach his young readers about the natural world within the pages of a terrific story.
Rikki-tikki, the mongoose, is washed away from his family burrow during a great flood and manages to live only by clinging to a blade of grass. A small boy finds him, and thinking he is dead wants to have a funeral for him. His parents bring the little mongoose into the house and wrap him up warmly. When he sneezes, they are delighted he is alive. Rikki-tikki is welcomed into the household, and says to himself:
'There are more things to find out about this house than all my family could find out in all their lives. I shall certainly stay and find out.'The mother is a bit frightened that he might hurt their young boy, Teddy, but her husband tells her that the mongoose will not bite him.
'Teddy's safer with that little beast than if he had a bloodhound to watch him. If a snake came into the nursery now - 'And the story goes on to show the truth of these words. And what a story it is. Can you imagine a cobra slipping into your house? Coiling itself around a jar near the bathtub all ready to strike when you come into the room, defenseless? And how unappealing is just the idea of twenty-five (!!) cobra eggs hidden in a melon bed 'about the size of bantam's eggs, but with a whitish skin instead of a shell.' I would sure want a mongoose to protect me!
In the course of the tale we learn that
It is the hardest thing in the world to frighten a mongoose, because he is eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity. The motto of all the mongoose family is, 'Run and find out.'And that
it is impossible for a mongoose to stay frightened for any length of time.And after Rikki-tikki had done his good work, he
had a right to be proud of himself; but he did not grow too proud, and he kept that garden as a mongoose should keep it, with tooth and jump and spring and bite, till never a cobra dared show its head inside the walls.Oh, such a wonderful story. If you have children please try and read it to them, and if you don't or if your kids are grown, give yourself a real treat and read Rikki-Tikki-Tavi aloud. You'll be happy you did, I promise.
Painting of Rudyard Kipling done by Sir Philip Burne-Jones, 1899
fifth story in The Jungle Book
19 pages long
first published in magazines, 1893-94
first published as book, 1894
this copy published 1987