Kadlu, an Inuit, names a new puppy Kotuku after his fourteen-year-old son. Kotuku is happy, and looks forward to when he will need the dog someday. The men in his Inuit village raise dogs to use for hunting seal, which is the village’s food source. Where they live is beautiful but extremely harsh. The Northern Lights are marvelous but nine months of the year the weather is only wind and snow, and for six of those months there is only darkness.
Kotuku chafes at his youth and feels like he is ready to become a man. He wants to listen to the hunters’ stories in the Singing-House. In the meantime, though, he trains the puppy Kotuku and learns to use the lash on the dogs appropriately and to sail across the black ice with his team. It is hard and heavy work, but rewarding. Kotuku the dog grows strong and displaces the head dog.
Life for the Inuits is not easy; they only have themselves to rely on. One terrible winter, this fact becomes even more conspicuous. Autumn was savage and cruel. The village brings in a few women and a girl whose men hunters had perished; the girl comes to live with Kotuku’s family. Kadlu’s tribe loses some of its best hunters. Seal is extremely hard to come by, and even a whole seal does not go far in terms of food. There is barely enough light to keep the lamps lit, and “All the Inuit dread the dark that presses on them without a break for six months in each year; and when the lamps are low in the house the minds of people begin to be shaken and confused” (266).
What is worse is when some of the dogs, including Kotuku, are struck by the madness. The cold and dark and hunger make them crazy, and such a sickness spreads. The dogs are separated and tied down. One day, Kotuku the dog runs away from Kotuku the man, vanishing from his sight.
Kotuku himself begins to hear voices in his head; the starvation weighs on him tremendously. He begins to hear a voice that he believes is a tornaq, the Woman-Thing essence of stones. Kotuku tells his family the voice told him where to find seals, so, along with the girl, he prepares to set out to follow the tornaq.
He believes the voice told him to go North, so that is where he and the girl go. It is a brutal, dark journey. They cross the ragged and silent floe of ice, cracked and fractured into ravines and gullies. It feels like a nightmare at the end of the world.
Kotuku feels more and more crazed, but the girl believes he is following his guardian spirit. Suddenly they see a shape slip into the ravine. When it appears, it is hard to see but looks fantastical - tall, long, with multiple legs. The girl is not afraid, but says it is Quiquern, the phantom of a giant toothless and hairless dog with six or eight legs. The two huddle in their hut, but the thing does not reappear.
Their food stores will only hold out for two more days. The girl whispers that they will go to meet Sedna of the Underworld soon if they cannot find seals. She urges him to call his tornaq by singing. He begins. There is another noise that grows louder, and the girl says it is the great breaking of the floe. Kotuku begins to despair, thinking that the tornaq betrayed them. All Inuits know that “when the ice breaks after its long winter sleep there is no knowing what might happen, for solid floe-ice changes shape almost as quickly as a cloud” (273).
The two almost feel better about this, as they will die quickly rather than starve. They do see the thing, though, howling in the distance sitting on top of a hummock. The girl suggests following it, and they take off across the cracking and shifting and tumultuous floe. The Thing eventually leads them to a small islet off the coast that is solid and not shifting ice. They also see that the thing they were following is Kotuku the dog and another, accidentally fastened together with their collar and harness. They were both freed from the madness and clearly had been hunting, as they are glossy and fat.
Kotuku and the girl sob and laugh at this “Quiquern.” Kotuku the man says happily that his tornaq sent him the dogs and that there must be food nearby. The boy and girl sleep and then hunt. They see that the season is turning and are extremely happy.
They kill twenty-five seals and leave them in the ice for their people, and then load more to take home. They are very worried that the villagers starved to death in their absence, and when they return home the dwellings are silent and dark. However, all voices cry weakly out that they are there and alive.
A great feast is prepared, and the girl and Kotuku plight their troth together.
Kotuku scratched these stories on a piece of ivory. His father Kadlu lost it after Kotuku left it with him when he and the girl went North. A Lake Inuit found it, sold it to a man who was an interpreter on a whaler, who then sold it to Hans Olsen, a quartermaster on a ship who took tourists to Norway. Hans Olsen then stopped at Ceylon where he sold it to a Cingalese jeweler. That is where the narrator found it, buried under some rubbish in a house. He then translated it.
After Mowgli lets in the jungle, his life is very pleasant for a time. All the jungle is his friend and is afraid of him. He has many adventures, but there are changes as well. Father and Mother Wolf have died, and Baloo and Bagheera are very old. Akela is milk white in his old age. There is a new leader of the Free People, Phao. Mowgli occasionally visits Council Rock to see Phao, and all seems well.
One evening, Mowgli is with Gray Brother and his other wolf brothers when an astonishing cry echoes throughout the jungle - it is the pheeal, a shriek that indicates there is a major killing afoot. This cry has not been heard since Shere Khan was alive. Mowgli and the Four are very perplexed, and hurry to Council Rock.
As the wolves gather, another wolf covered in blood and sweat rushes in and collapses before them, crying “Dhole! Dhole!” He is Won-tolla, which means he is an outlier and not part of a pack. He is no enemy, though, and they listen to him tell of how the red dogs - the dhole - destroyed his family and how he was able to take out a few before fleeing. The Pack is perturbed, and Won-tolla says that if they decide to go after them he will help once he recovers strength because he has a Blood Debt to pay.
The red dogs are vicious and numerous; they hunt in huge numbers in the grassy Dekkan. Mowgli hates them because they are dirty and cruel and have hair between their toes. Akela also hates them, and gravely says this will be his last hunt. Mowgli proclaims his desire to help, and even though Akela and Won-tolla try to dissuade him, he is adamant. He tells Phao and Akela to ready to battle and he will count the dogs.
Out in the dark jungle, Mowgli comes across his friend Kaa. He sits on Kaa’s coils and tells him what is afoot in the jungle. Kaa murmurs that he must be growing deaf not to have heard the pheeal, but he asks Mowgli why the boy wants to participate when the Pack cast him out. Mowgli admits he is indeed a man, but he is still of the Free People. Kaa sighs that he should not tie himself into this Death-knot with the wolves, but relents in his wariness when Mowgli remains firm.
Kaa knows that this will be a deadly fight, and tells Mowgli he may die. Mowgli knows this is a possibility. Kaa sits silently for a time, ruminating on what he has seen over his very long life. Finally, he stirs and tells Mowgli to follow him because he knows what they can do to the Dhole. Mowgli grabs onto Kaa’s back and they swim through the river deep into a gorge into the heart of the jungle.
Mowgli is very uncomfortable and asks Kaa why he has brought him to this Place of Death. Kaa consoles him that the true masters of the jungle who reside here are asleep right now. These are the Little People, as he deems them - the fierce wild bees of India, black and angry and in such numbers to defy comprehension. This is their abode, their place of honeycombs and mountains and trees and rock. The smell of generations of their dead is horrendous. Mowgli sees their latest kill laid out cleanly and neatly. He is repulsed and tells Kaa they must go.
Kaa tells him again that the Little People do not wake until dawn. He tells Mowgli a story of how a buck was chased by predators and came into the territory of the Little People. The buck jumped into the water and the bees did not get him but instead got his pursuers. Kaa suggests that Mowgli do this very thing - lead the dhole here, escape, and let the Little People destroy the red dogs in his wake.
Kaa and Mowgli return to Akela and Phao and tell them the plan. Mowgli explains that he will spend the evening luring the dhole to the appropriate place. Kaa worries for him, but Mowgli is sanguine about his possible death. He grabs wild garlic to rub on himself when he nears the Little People, for he knows they do not like it. Alone, he muses that he was once Mowgli the Wolf and Mowgli the Frog, but now will be Mowgli the Ape and Mowgli the Buck, and finally Mowgli the Man.
He knows that the red dogs are following Won-tolla’s blood trail and moves swiftly through the jungle until he comes upon them. Perched high in a tree, he sees and smells the cruel pack. They are silent but mannerless creatures, angry in their hunger and bloodlust.
Mowgli calls out to them, taunting and criticizing them until they are stirred into a frenzy of hate and rage. At one point the leader leaps up at him and he grabs him and slices his red tail off. This dhole is senseless with his desire for revenge.
The night passes. Finally Mowgli begins to move monkey-like through the trees. The dogs follow, never letting him out of their sight. At the last tree, he smears garlic on himself. The dogs laugh that he mustn't try to cover his scent.
The moment has come. Mowgli leaps down and begins the two-mile run. He knows the dogs are slower than the wolves or he never would have done this. As he nears the Little People, he hears a humming noise like nothing he’s ever heard before. They are rousing themselves at the sounds of Mowgli’s footfalls. With one great leap Mowgli flings himself into the gorge. The garlic prevents the bees from attacking him for that one moment, and he falls into Kaa’s waiting coils. The Little People roar and begin to rage over the dhole. The dogs are frenzied by the stings and throw themselves into the river. Others retreat.
The dogs know they cannot remain on shore with the bees so they jump into the water. The wolves are waiting for them, though, and Mowgli also swims underwater with his knife to stab any dog he can reach.
The fight is long and laborious and many wolves die. It is a dark, tumultuous struggle that finally results in victory for the wolves. Won-tolla eagerly doles out his Blood Debt. Akela perishes after he gasps a goodbye to Mowgli and dies in his arms. As he is breathing his last, he urges Mowgli to go back to his own people; his hunting here has ended, his debts are paid. He cries to Mowgli that Mowgli will drive Mowgli away.
The Pack sings the Death Song for Akela and for the others. No one sings for the red dogs, as none were left alive.
“The Spring Running”
Mowgli is about seventeen years old and is the undisputed master of the jungle. Everyone fears him for his wit and strength, though his eye is always gentle. It is the turning of the season, the Time of New Talk (mating).
Mowgli and Bagheera are sitting leisurely, but Bagheera begins to sense that the time for singing is beginning. He stretches and shakes and tells Mowgli he has not forgotten his song. Mowgli is annoyed, and says this is the time of year where the animals go off and leave him to walk alone. Mowgli is sullen for a bit but his bad temper leaves him after a few minutes.
In the Indian jungle, it is hard to detect the revolutions of the seasons, but they do turn. Spring is the loveliest and most wonderful; the earth feels new, the smells are fresh, the Jungle-People quiver and feel a sense of delight. There is a noise of Spring, “the purring of the warm, happy world” (311).
Mowgli has always liked the turn of the seasons, but this year he does not. Soon the animals will take off and sing their song in their own way, whether grunting or screaming or whistling. This year Mowgli feels a strange sensation and it seems one of pure unhappiness.
After Bagheera leaves, he frets and wonders why he feels heavy. He decides to call the Four for hunting, but none of them respond. He mutters his frustrations that when they needed him with his Red Flower and to kill the dhole he was there, but now no one answers him.
He fights with a couple of young wolves just for fun, but then stops because he cannot and will not kill. He sighs that he must be dying and losing all his strength. He spends the evening alone, finding some delight in sailing through the trees with his sure footing. His senses seem sharpened and he smells and hears and sees everything. This fills him with delight and he whoops and laughs and sings to himself.
He nears the Marshes and sits for a moment. The sadness creeps back in; neither bird nor beast will talk to him. He sobs and thinks unhappy thoughts, but almost feels pleasure at how much sadness he feels. He sees Mysa, the wild buffalo whom he finds annoying, and mocks and needles him. Mysa yells at him and calls him a brat like the people by the crops yonder.
Mowgli did not know there was a village there, and decides to investigate. He sees glimmers of the Red Flower and feels drawn in. He walks through the tall, dewy grass toward a hut. The hut door opens and a woman’s voice can be heard, consoling a child that the sound outside was nothing to worry about.
Mowgli shivers when he hears the voice - it is Messua’s! He calls out to her and she is shocked and scared, but when he answers that she once called him Nathoo, she knows it is truly him. She invites him in.
She is older and grayer now, but Mowgli has also changed; she marvels at how he looks like a tall, strong, and wild god of the jungle. There a is a little child there, and he is initially scared by Mowgli but then calms down and is intrigued by Mowgli’s knife.
Messua explains that her husband died a year ago and this is their child, and thus Mowgli’s brother. She thanks Mowgli profusely for saving their lives. Mowgli sits. He feels odd, like too many sensations are running through him. He is dizzy and feels poisoned, but drinks the warm milk Messua gives him.
She smiles and tells him how handsome he is and how one day he will marry a young woman in the village. Mowgli falls asleep and Messua prepares food.
Gray Brother is outside and whines, which scares Messua, but when Mowgli awakes, he tells her the animals will never harm her. He prepares to leave and Messua tells him he must come back.
Outside, Mowgli asks his brother why he did not come when he called so long ago. Gray Brother replies that it was only last night, and that they were all doing their singing. When they were done, he followed Mowgli here. Mowgli is about to respond when he sees a girl in white walking down a path. He watches her, then turns back to Gray Brother.
Gray Brother placates Mowgli by saying yes, they always follow him except for the Time of New Talk. He adds quietly that this is Mowgli’s time to go back to Man even though he is not sure why Mowgli would want to. The two run back into the jungle, talking as they go. Gray Brother sends out the cry that Mowgli is returning to Man. No one answers or joins them at Council Rock except for Kaa, Baloo, and the Four.
Mowgli cries to Kaa that he is so torn up inside, so confused and distressed. Baloo speaks up as teacher of the Law and states emphatically that Mowgli will always be Master of the Jungle, that he is not cast out, and that the jungle is always his. Bagheera bounds in, and tells Mowgli there is a dead bull that is his debt paid, and that he is free.
Mowgli cries and embraces his friends.
This is the last of the Mowgli tales.
We will look at the two Mowgli tales in detail, starting with “Red Dog.” One of the first things about this tale that is worth noting is the interesting type of power Mowgli has. He seems to have a lot of power, yes, but he does not have very many responsibilities. Kaa tells him he does not need to help the wolves, and the dying Akela urges him to return to Man. Mowgli’s power, Laura Stevenson writes, “[is] unlike the ancient Hathi’s [and] is associated with the pastoral independence that comes from his position as an alien power, not with responsibility for maintaining the law.” Second, the dhole (tellingly, referred to most often by this non-English name) are clearly a lesser native people. They are the Other: they are numerous like insects, they do not live in caves, “they had hair between their toes while [Mowgli] and his friends were clean-footed” (285), they smell terribly, they “have no manners” (295), and they look far from noble with their “low-hung tails, heavy shoulders, weak quarters, and bloody mouths” (295). Kipling writes about them with disdain, implying that they are not “good” natives and should be routed.
In “The Spring Running,” mating season crystallizes the fact that while Mowgli is a boy he can be Master of the Jungle, but when he is a man he must take up his real responsibility out in the world of Man. It is no accident that mating season is the time in which Mowgli finds himself drawn back to Messua. Critic Jane Hotchkiss identifies the sexual aspects of the tale, such as Messua giving Mowgli milk, Mowgli feeling dazed and dizzy and confused, and Messua marveling at his now manly form. The “sexual energies” are “intense” and the “poison follows [Mowgli]” as he tries to run out his strange sensations. Messua’s husband is dead and she has an infant son, and “thus the infant slot in this family romance scene is filled, and the position of spouse is open.”
Mowgli’s move to the world of Man is intentionally supposed to read as bittersweet. It is as if he, the Adam of the Jungle Eden, is expelled (even though he is not being officially kicked out, his friends assure him). Even before that, Mowgli details his depressed spirits and bewilderment at what is happening around him. However, Mowgli has broken no law or violated any norm; it is, as critic James Harrison writes, “an exclusion from Eden which results from mere maturation, the individual and species alike outgrowing a state in which the simple laws of nature suffice.”
Also, this Eden is no pastoral paradise in that it is a place for predation, power, and hardship. The most Edenic time before the First of the Tigers killed the buck was also one more of idleness than idyll. When the Law was implemented in the wake of Death and Fear, it made the Jungle a fairer, more just, and livable place. Kipling suggests there is a clear need for the Law and that Law is good. And as for the characteristics of this Law, it is almost religious in its detail but very secular in its attribution to the animals themselves rather than some divine power. It has an Enlightenment basis in its focus on pragmatism and rationality, and though it promotes freedom, Harrison says “true freedom lies within the Law.”
In conclusion, Kipling suggests that even though Mowgli has decided to live in the world of Man, he still occupies an interstitial position. He looks like a man but retains animal characteristics; he speaks all the languages of the Jungle and, to a lesser extent, that of Man. Critic Sue Walsh sums this up: “According to both Jungle and village Mowgli functions as an original and originating point of difference and division; and through his expulsion Jungle and village strive to reconstitute their unities.”