by Phil Geusz
©2009 Phil Geusz
I used to write another column before undertaking this one. I wasnt an experienced columnist back in those days, or at least I certainly wasnt when I began. Due in part to this inexperience, I decided to focus on furry writing and fiction as my topic. By the time five years or so had passed, I was literally tearing my hair by the roots prior to every issue, trying to come up with something new to say about such a narrow subject. I can say with complete honesty that the death of TSAT magazine, in which this column ran, was at least in this sense a great relief to me. Thus, when I switched over to this new venue I chose as my topic the much wider one of all things furry, and reckoned Id never in all the rest of my years have anything further to say about anthropomorphic fiction.
Until just about a week ago. When I finished re-reading an old classic, Rudyard Kiplings The Jungle Books. And good god in heaven, is it fine stuff!
For those whose only exposure to Kipling comes from the wretched, twisted-out-of-all-relation-to-the-original Disney version of Jungle, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that the author of this work is one of the towering figures of the literary world. The youngest man to ever win the Nobel Prize for literature, Kiplings catalog of works is a veritable gold mine recording his life on three continents. While its impossible to list even his best known stuff here, simply because there is so much of it, my personal favorites include Kim and Gunga Din, If one wishes to experience the British Empire, it is said, one has merely to read Kipling.
The Jungle Booksthere are actually two, The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, but theyre most often collected into a single volume, creating the somewhat misleading plural titleare an unstructured collection of stories that range in setting from the deep jungles of India to the Arctic Circle. The most famous of these are the Mowgli works, about a boy adopted by wolves in India, and that of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a cobra-killing mongoose about whom nearly all of us read in school. In these works you will find perhaps the very finest characterization work ever done, with animal characters ranging from seals to cobras to crocodiles to vultures. Unforgettable examples include Bagheera the panther, whose voice drips from the pages like sweet, slow honey; Kaa the boa constrictor, whose ancient wisdom and insight borders on the alien; and Chill the vulture, who can afford to be everyones friend because all come to him, eventually. Kiplings work is not only full of deep insights about animal nature and the common experiences of all living things, but his innate grasp of and passion for the English language shines through every single sentence. Kipling is at least as much a poet as a novelistindeed, Jungle is laced with poems every bit as good as the stories themselvesand he seems to have crafted practically every paragraph as carefully as if it were a poem unto itself, bringing every last syllable into perfect harmony. Perhaps the best example of this can be found in the Mowgli story Letting in the Jungle, which ends with Mowgli begging the elephants to ruin a village by breaking down its walls and letting the jungle take it over. In this work, he makes his plea three separate times, each of them practically a song that ends with the refrain Let in the jungle! The fact that this so strongly echoes the works title is hardly an accident; Kipling the poet clearly structured the entire tale around this potent image and refrain. Everything else is secondary. Its one of the most powerful and compelling couplings of prose and story-structure Ive ever seen in all my life, and is exactly the sort of thing that makes me look at my own efforts and want to hide my face in shame.
The Jungle Books, in short, is not just another work of furry fiction. It is the work of furry fiction, what our genre can and should aspire to be when entrusted to the hands of a true master. Its a must-read for any would-be furry author who wants to see how it should be done, in my opinion, and probably for anyone else who is any way interested in reading about the lives and struggles of creatures very like ourselves. In any event, I can promise that it wont be time wasted!
The Jungle Books, being public domain, are available for practically nothing from many sourcesI paid $1.99 to read them on my Kindle, but I bet a little searching would turn them up online for free. [Editors note: Mr. Geusz would win that bet, as both The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book may be freely downloaded from Project GutenbergQGL] One thing to watch out for is that many sources offer only Book One under this title, and dont include Book Two. Letting in the Jungle, for example, is in Book Two.
So, its free, or next to it! Whatre you waiting for?