Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Short Stories on Wednesdays - Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling

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


  1. Thank you for bringing this story back to me! I remember loving it as a child. I wanted my own mongoose.

  2. Nan,
    By all means, read this story aloud! Do you remember this from TV and it was narrated by Orson Welles? Wonderful story. Rudyard Kipling's home in England is called Bateman's. Look it up when you get a chance!

  3. This one took me back to my childhood - thanks for posting.

  4. I believe I was in 3rd grade when our teacher read this story and then we watched the cartoon movie of the book. I fell in love with Riki-tiki-tavi....great short story!

  5. Thanks for reminding me of this story, Nan. I read it when I was at school and loved saying the name - Rikki Tikki Tavi. I'll have to read it again.

  6. I have a beautifully illustrated edition of the Jungle Book that I found at a second's sale last month. I'm waiting for my son to grow a little bigger but I realize there's nothing to stop me from enjoying it :)I'll definitely give it a read now.

  7. I haven't read from The Jungle Book in ever-so-long. How wonderful to be reminded of it and of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and of Kipling's genius. As a child, I used to like to keep saying Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, loving the way it rolled around my tongue. Ha! I'll probably be saying it in my mind all day today.

  8. I don't know how I missed it, Pages of Julia, as a kid, or why I never read it to my kids. But there it is. I'm just happy to have read it now!

    Kay, I don't remember it on tv. I will look up RK's house. I have a biography of him waiting on my shelf, too.

    Cait, I'm so pleased.

    Good for that teacher, Staci!

    Margaret, it is great fun to say!

    CHE, lucky you!

    Penny, and then there is the kids' book with a name that begins 'ticki ticki tembo no sa rembo' - I ought to write about that one sometime. :<)

  9. Kipling is in the popular mind the anti-Poster boy of post colonial literature-I recently read a short story by Kipling about the relationship of an Englishman in India in the time of the Bristish Raj to an Indian woman "Without Benefit of Clergy" that made me see that Kipling is much more than a simple minded colonial writer we have come to see him as-anyone who dismisses Kipling really should read that story

    I enjoyed your excellent post a lot-I have posted on some of his animal stories

  10. Inviting review so I've just downloaded this from Gutenburg... Thanks Nan!!!! I haven't read that one!

    (I've also downloaded
    The Day's Work - Volume 1 by Rudyard Kipling which contains the short story "the Maltese Cat" about a polo pony..which if my memory serves me is a good read)

  11. Mel U, I have a feeling that Kipling is coming back into favor. It's just a feeling but I think it's true. I think we have to stop judging the past by the present. It's like not reading Wodehouse or Christie because they make racial slurs. That's how it was. Same thing when it's against women. I have two books I hope to read next year - one is Women of the Raj by Margaret MacMillan and the other is Kipling Sahib by Charles Allen. If you are interested in this whole time and place, as I am, there are three excellent, amazing autobiographies by M.M. Kaye.

    Val, thanks for info on more by Kipling. I shall look into the site.

  12. I love this story! Thanks for reminding me of it, Nan. I am going to get it for my granddaughter to read to her when she's a bit older. :)

    This was also a wonderful animated feature on television years ago.

  13. I decided to read the story aloud

    I can't remember the last time I did this when I was reading on my own. You're right, for certain stories it works especially well.

    And like for other people here, you've also stirred up childhood memories for me with this one :) If I remember right, I read this story in an old book that included the Jungle Book too. Great review!

    This week I posted on two batches of short stories: one from three U.S. authors, and another batch of four Latin American authors.

  14. Yvette, it's such a great story!

    HKatz, wouldn't you love to have that book, now. I shall be over to read your short stories. That's a lot to read in a week!

  15. I like the header picture with the man reading aloud as his wife sews. Ah, the good old days before we sat in front of the TV all evening.

  16. Barbara, there's more info about it under 'banner picture.' I expect there are people who still do this. Or both read.

  17. I loved this story when I was a kid! Our family had ferrets as pets and I often conflated ferrets with mongooses, so that made the story extra cool.

  18. Such a great memory and story, Christy! I loved it.

  19. I loved this story as a child, and I love it just as much now, along with Jungle Book,the Just So Stories,Puck of Pook's Hill, and Rewards and Fairies- and they're all so much better for being read aloud.

  20. Chris Cross, thanks so much for taking the time to leave a note. I have so much Kipling I haven't yet read.


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