And how does The Jungle Book appear when I return to it? Absolutely lovely.
It's oft viewed as a children's book, but it doesn't feel that way to me, and it certainly didn't feel like that to Kipling's fans back in his day, who was so popular the British wanted to knight him (he turned it down). The Jungle Book eventually earned him a Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1907.
Written in the 1890s, I can only imagine how thrilling the depictions of Indian jungles and its creatures were to people who had no television or ability to travel far, because they are absolutely amazing even now, and that amazement is shared through words.
Above the use of words as artful engines of the imagination, what really sparkled for me in this book was the love the man-cub Mowgli had for his animal family, and they for him. That these creatures addressed each other so formally, with thees and thous, made their respect and love for one another that much clearer: it turned their relationships into royal affairs.
I got my copy from the library,a 1955 hardback with pen-and-ink illustrations. Some lovely lines:
By Red Flower Bagheera meant fire, only no creature in the jungle will call fire by its proper name. Every beast lives in deadly fear of it, and invents a hundred ways of describing it.
"Put dead bats in my head! Give me black bones to eat! Roll me into the hives of the wild bees that I may be stung to death, and bury me with the Hyena, for I am the most miserable of Bears!"
And Mowgli, on money: "Ah, yes. The stuff that passes from hand to hand and never grows warmer."
For writers: Characters are better for the relationships they have with others, whether those relationships are fair or foul.