Kipling Did It Best: The Original Jungle Book

March 8, 2014
The Jungle Book
Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is a different beast from the Disney version that most people know about. Having just reread and enjoyed it immensely, I thought I’d share some ways the book is different (or more interesting) than the movie.

Mowgli

Mowgli
Mowgli, the protagonist of The Jungle Book, is a one-year-old boy adopted by wolves in the jungles of India after a tiger murders his parents. He gets his name, which means “frog,” because he seems cute, naked and fearless to his wolf parents. And no, he doesn’t wear a pair of red underpants in the book.

Baloo

Baloo
In the books, Baloo the bear is a stern teacher who instructs Mowgli in the customs and languages of the animals in the jungle. Although he’s very fond of Mowgli, he isn’t afraid to hit his pupil when he makes a mistake. And, if, like me, you always wondered why he didn’t just fight Shere Khan the tiger, you’re probably thinking of a 8-foot tall, 900-pound Grizzly. As an Indian sloth bear, Baloo would be half the size and one fourth the weight of a large male tiger, hardly a fair match.

Kaa the Python

Kaa the Python
Kaa the python on the other hand, is much more impressive from the clownish, mincing villain that appears in the movie. He is cold and rational, but also is one of Mowgli’s greatest and deadliest allies. Think of Mycroft from the recent Sherlock series, if Sherlock’s brother could smash through stone walls with his head. Kaa, Bagheera the panther and Baloo battle a city full of monkeys to rescue Mowgli, and Kaa kills hundreds of them by himself.

Shere Khan, the whiny tiger

Shere Khan, the whiny tiger
Kipling got an interesting biological fact right with Shere Khan, the tiger and main (non-human) villain of the story. In the book, Khan is quite powerful, but his moans and whimpers sound throughout the jungle whenever he is hurt. In the animal kingdom, top predators are most likely to limp or yelp when they’re hurt, simply because they have nothing to fear. Herbivores and animals that are hunted, on the other hand, instinctively hide their pain, because any sign of weakness can make them a target.

Female Characters

Although most of the characters are male, Kipling has several strong female characters. Mowgli’s adopted mother gets the nickname of “demon” among her tribe for being the fiercest member of her pack. She stares down and even frightens Shere Khan when he first comes for a baby Mowgli. Other stories also feature strong female characters (typically the wife of a married couple is both smarter and braver than the husband).

Other Stories

Other Stories
Many of the stories in The Jungle Book have nothing to do with the jungle. Rikki Tikki Tavi (made into a pretty good animated story by Bugs Bunny animator Chuck Jones) follows a battle between a mongoose adopted by a white family and a pair of cobras, is at least set in India, but “The White Seal,” about an arctic seal that searches for a land free from hunters, is about as far from the jungle as it’s possible to get.

Her Majesty’s Servants

Her Majesty's Servants
The most unusual story follows a discussion among different animals employed in the Royal Indian Army, each of whom thinks it is the bravest. A cavalry horse talks about charging into battle with its rider. A mule talks about carrying smaller artillery into the mountains, and a pair of oxen talk about pulling large cannons. Though the debate is never settled, the winner may be an elephant, that while it runs away, is just smart enough to imagine what getting killed might be like.

Other Books

Other Books
Kipling wrote a second Jungle Book, but it’s not quite as good as the first, at least to my taste. For a similar story in a very different setting, check out Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book, which also follows an orphaned boy raised from a baby in an unusual environment–only this time it’s a graveyard instead of a jungle, with vampires, ghosts and wights instead of panthers, bears and tigers.

Thanks!

Thanks!

I hope you enjoy. Here’s a picture of me reading to my favorite person. Thanks for reading!

Awesome Music from Around the World, Part 7

December 17, 2012

After a year-long hiatus, Awesome Music from Around the World is back. This double entry (Serbia! Cuba! Guyana!) brings up the total to 55 countries. For this entry, I included several musicians who only spent part of their childhoods in the countries they’re “from.”  Technically it may be more likely to say that these musicians are from the United States, the United Kingdom, or Australia–all of these countries are increasingly countries of immigrants. But, I’m interested in the little touches that a home country may have on a person–a bit of leftover accent, a few early memories, or stories from parents–even after a person has left there for years (I’m also glad for any excuse to finally include MIA, Eddy Grant, Kenna, and others). I’ve marked these entries with an accent for technical accuracy.

I hope to be updating this blog more regularly in the near future–please stick around and enjoy the music!

46. Guyana* – Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue

Eddy Grant’s reggae classic sounds just as good today as it did 30 years ago. But beneath the rocking chorus and beat, there’s an angry (and still relevant) protest against consumer culture that showcases the latest electronic goods while leaving the poor behind.

47. Australia – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds- Bring It On


I dig this song. It’s got a little bit of gothic atmosphere, a touch of Johnny Cash, and it builds to an awesome, rocking chorus.

48. Sri Lanka* – MIA – Paper Planes

MIA samples the opening to the Clash’s “Straight to Hell” to great effect in this entry from her second album, Kala. But, her chorus and lyrics, which tell the story of a violent but sympathetic member of the London lower class, hold up just as well, and fit in the spirit of Joe Strummer’s work.

49. Iceland – Sigur Ross – Hoppipolla

Take a five-minute journey into a genre between rock and ambient music in “Hoppipolla” (“jumping into puddles”). In the accompanying video, groups of elderly men and women reenact their childhood, getting into trouble, and going to (pretend) war with each other. If you ever wondered what Icelandic sounded like, this may be your chance.

50. Jamaica*, Barbados – Shaggy (feat Rayvon) – Angel

Shaggy teams with Barbadian signer Rayvon for a great reggae love song, with Shaggy singing about his infatuation, and Rayvon covering the importance of a lasting, dependable relationship. That last point is undermined by a plethora of scantily clad women in the music video, but since when has the genre been known for restraint when it comes to the female form?

51. Belgium* – Goyte – Somebody That I Used to Know

In this ballad, Goyte sings about a poisoned relationship that has fallen apart. After infatuation, breakups may be the most common topic for songs these days. But this song has a level of detail that makes the relationship feel like a real thing, and the perspectives of both parties seem imperfect but understandable. (I don’t normally like novelty/take-off songs very much, but this Star-Wars-themed take on the song is pretty great).

52. Ethiopia*- Kenna – Say Goodbye to Love

Malcolm Gladwell has already written about Kenna’s struggles with commercial success (Kenna makes great music, but is hard to pin down into a single, marketable genre). “Say Goodbye to Love” is one of his more radio-friendly hits, but it’s a good one.

53. Lebanon* – Mika – Rain

The Lebanon-born British singer Mika channels a bit of Freddy Mercury and a bit of Lewis Carroll in “Rain.” Bouncy, energy-filled electronic fun.

54. Serbia – Djordje Balasevic –  Nedostaje mi nasa ljubav

A colleague Bora Zivkovic has kindly shared many favorite songs from his native Serbia. I chose this entry (“I miss our love”), a melancholic but beautiful song from Djordje Balasevic, who’s been making music from a variety of genres for the past 30 years.

55. Cuba – Buena Vista Social Club – Chan Chan

During the 1940s, Havana’s Buena Vista Social Club was a hot spot for musicians to come together and play. Members of the bands that played there reunited in the 1990s for a series of concerts, a documentary and global fame. “Chan chan” became one of their most famous songs (“De Camino a la Vereda” is pretty great too, but it lacks the footage of life in Cuba in this video).

55.5 South Korea – Psy – Gangnam Style

I’ve covered South Korea before, andthis song has been so overexposed and overplayed that even people in North Korea probably know this song by heart now. But now that it’s been a few months, take a look back and see how this song really does hold up. The video is inventive in addition to being weird, Psy has a fine baritone voice, the song is definitely catchy, and it bumped Justin Beiber off the #1 most-watched music video spot. That alone earns Gangham Style an entry on this list.

 


Awesome Music From Around the World, Part 6

December 17, 2011

Welcome to my 6th entry in Awesome Music from Around the World. In this entry you’ll find music from Algeria, Belarus, Hawaii, Turkey and Mali. Enjoy!

 

41. Algeria – Rachid Taha – Bonjour

Joy isn’t as common as infatuation, anger or disappointment in modern pop music, but it shines through in this single from Algerian singer Rachid Taha. In this song, Taha greets everyone from Grace Kelly to Superman to his own buttocks while hand-delivering greeting signs to people throughout his neighborhood.

42. Turkey – Tarkan – Simarik

Turkish pop singer Tarkan has been compared to an early Elvis Presley, both for his music talents and for bringing sex appeal to cultures that are still in many ways repressive in that regard. There’s definitely a bit of a peacock to Tarkan, but “Simarik” (“spoiled”) remains a catchy and fun song nonetheless.

43. Hawaii – Isreal Kamakawiwo’ole – Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Isreal “IZ” Kamakawio’ole’s take on “Somewhere over the Rainbow” works thanks to its simplicity (only vocals and ukelele) and Kamakawio’ole’s beautiful, haunting voice. An activist for Hawaiian rights and pride, Kamakawio’ole is still a revered figure there. After his death in 1997, his body was laid in state; after his body was cremated, his brothers paddled a traditional canoe to a bay where Kamakawio’ole’ spent much of his childhood and released his ashes into the ocean.

44. Mali – Rokia Traore – Kele Mandi

Rokia Traore’s spare, meditative song goes well with this fan-made video, which features close-up views of insect and plant life. Both (to me, anyway), feel calm, a little alien, and unexpectedly beautiful.

45. Belarus – Seryoga – Chernyj Bumer

Step about the magic chernyj bumer, or “black boomer” for a ride with Seryoga, the #1 rapper from the former Soviet Union. The conceit for the music video–beautiful women gather in a black BMW to dance in the hidden music club inside–is mildly clever but emotionally and sexually retarded. But the song itself works well combining Seyoga’s lyrics, a hip-hop beat, and accordians.

45.5 England – The Pipettes – Pull Shapes

I’ve been trying to include more women singers in this list, but I would have found a way to include the Pipetttes no matter their gender (even though I already included England in my first entry). The Pipettes combine the catchiness of early 1960s girl groups with a bit of modern pop and polish. It’s not the deepest niche, but when it works, as it does here, its glorious. “Pull Shapes” is British slang for dancing, by the way.


From the Archives: Possible Star Wars Sequel, circa 1983

December 9, 2011

I came across this sample of my old writing, probably from around the time of Return of the Jedi, or possibly a little earlier, at a recent visit to my parents’ house.

I still think a shot-for-shot adaptation of this story would make a better movie than any of the Star Wars prequels.

I’ve got another entry of Awesome Music From Around the World coming soon, with entries from Hawaii, Turkey, Algeria and other countries. Stay tuned.

Full Text: “Han Solo Blasted a bad guy & Ran away when he came to a lake and Swam and he got out and Hopped in his ship and burped. One day I talked and skiped.”


Awesome Music From Around the World, Part 5

September 21, 2011

My Awesome Music Around the World feature is approaching 50 entries and shows no sign of slowing. This entry features Swedes mixing swing and hip-hop, a Malawian singer alongside the lead singer from Vampire Weekend, macho Chechen dancing, and more.

36. Russia: Leningrad – Dorogi

Leningrad, a ska-punk band based out of St. Petersburg, formed shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. “Dorogi” (the road) has a great beat and takes full advantage of the lead signer’s gravely voice as well as the band’s full brass section. I love music videos that tell a story, and this is a great one. It follows an unassuming Russian youth who wakes up alone and bloodied, and then flashes back to the night before. The video manages to be simultaneously bleak, engaging, and life-affirming. I won’t spoil the ending except to say that it ends on one of the most badass, and Russian, notes in music video history.

37. Malawi: The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa

Malawi’s Esau Mwamwaya and the England-based DJs Etienne Tron and Johan Karlberg to form The Very Best, a band that mixes African and Western genres.  Warm Heart of Africa is one of several great songs on the band’s first album, released in 2009. The song manages to be distinct, fun, and catchy, and the video features a dancing giraffe and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. What more could you ask for?

38. Sweden – MOVITS! – Sammy Davis Jr.

“They say I sound old school, baby, like Frank and Sammy Davis,” sings MOVITS! lead singer Johan Rensfeldt, but the Rat Pack never mixed old-school swing with hip hop, and they couldn’t sing a word of Swedish. MOVITS! gained some fans in the United States after appearing on the Colbert Report, but they deserve a lot more, for this number especially. (Click here for a less pretty copy of the video with lyrics in English.)

39. Uruguay – La Vela Puerca: Va a Escampar

In “Va a Escampar,” (the rain will clear) La Vela Puerca take their time, building from Sebastián Teysera’s voice and acoustic guitar to a crescendo of electric guitar and horns. The video isn’t as coherent or original as I would like but the music to “Va a Escampar” manages to balance a touch of melancholy and hopefulness while still working as a rock song.

40. Chechnya – 12 (movie scene): Chechan Dance Music

This entry comes from 12, a Russian remake of 12 Angry Men. 12 takes a while to get started, and it’s not as tight as the 1957 classic, but it makes up for it with some inspired twists and a brilliant ending. In this scene, (approximately the first two minutes of this clip), a boy impresses a group of soldiers in his village some traditional Chechen dancing, which may be the most macho form of dance in existence.

 

What do you think? Do you have suggestions for more awesome music from other countries? I know Chechnya isn’t technically a country, but I’m invoking my “Puerto Rico rule” to include it anyway.

You can catch more awesome music videos in my previous entries, and you can see all the entries in my updated global map.

Thanks to the denizens of the Cracked Forums for the great suggestions, especially Yurksemesh and EFHRK for entries 37 and 38 respectively.


Awesome Music from Around the World – Now with Maps!

September 7, 2011

I created an interactive map world map listing every country that I’ve gathered awesome music from. Check it out here, or via the image below:

I hope to have a new entry featuring music from Russia, Uruguay, Mali and other locations coming soon, as well as an update on some non-blog related work. Stick around!

My goal is to get an entry for all 180-something countries in the world, so if you have a suggestion, pass it along!


Use Postcards Instead of Greeting Cards to Save Money and Make a Connection

July 27, 2011

Greeting cards are expensive. They’re also usually either obnoxious, sentimental, or excessive. I like the idea of marking birthdays and other special occasions with a personal note, but I don’t need cards that play “happy birthday” when you open them or bad jokes about the turning 30, 40 or 50.

Now I give people postcards instead. Postcards have many advantages over greeting cards:

Dr No postcard

I picked up a collection of 50 movie poster postcards a few years back and have been using them ever since. This one's for my Dad's next birthday. Photo (c) MGM Studios.

  • They’re cheap. I can pick up two to three postcards for the same prices as a single greeting card. You can also buy collections of postcards from $10 to $20; this often comes out to three to 10 postcards for a dollar.
  • They’re efficient. Every part of a postcard does something. One side has the picture/photograph, while the written message goes on the other. A greeting card uses twice as much space to do the same amount of work (outside picture/photo, inside page one, superflous inside page two, wasted empty back). Also, with a postcard you don’t have to worry about writing enough to fill up two empty pages.
  • They’re earth-friendly. Giving someone a postcard uses half the paper that a giving a person a greeting card of the same size does. If you send a postcard, you’re using one-fourth of the paper since you don’t need an envelope.
  • They’re personal. The sheer variety of postcard subjects allows me to easily buy cards that show a connection with my friends, family and other people in my life that I can’t quite do with a greeting card. Here are a few subjects of the cards I’ve been able to give recently:
    • A vintage map of Paris for the birthday of a co-worker from France
    • A reproduction of Klimt’s mother and child painting for my Mom on Mother’s Day
    • A vintage poster from the sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet for my movie-buff father’s birthday
    • A photograph of a roaring polar bear for my brother for Christmas
  • They’re fun. A postcard stands out in the mailbox or even among a stack of greeting cards. And I’ve come to enjoy hunting for postcards or thinking about how I can use a new postcard.

Two collections of postcards I bought a few years back (“Movie Posters Postcards” from the Museum of Modern Art and illustrations from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel series, both discontinued) have formed the basis for my postcard collection. You can find many collections on Amazon in the $10-$20 range. I’ve also come across great postcards for sale at bookshops, art supply stores, comic book stores, museums and art galleries, and, yes, even greeting card stores.

Leaping woman

With the right message, this could work for a friend or family member getting a new job, graduating from college, or celebrating a birthday. Photo (c) Richard Avedon.

Beer postcard

In a pinch, this could work as a birthday card for 90% of my friends. Photo (c) Nouvelles Images.


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