Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jack, Meet Rudyard.

I've mentioned this in passing before, but something I'm immensely proud of this year is getting to read The Chronicles of Narnia to Jack.  All seven books.  I sometimes paraphrased a word here and there, because it's darn near impossible to explain the innocent and colorful use of the word ass in 1950s Britain to a threeyearold-type-person.  But he generally got and enjoyed the full brunt.  Especially the parts about SOWHDFIGHTS! and TOONICKS! and dwarf pipe-smoking habits.  There were unintended consequences, sure.

I keep meaning to write about this, but the Christian allegory in these little "children's books" is just staggering.  It can deepen your faith.  I mean it.


I shifted over to (I now know) an abridged copy of The Wind in the Willows, which was pretty darn delightful.  It's likely the most charming and beautiful thing a former president of the Bank of England has ever written.  But honestly, it didn't capture Jack's attention like Narnia.  I then tried Bill Bennett's seminal The Book of Virtues.  Jack liked Androcles and the Lion, but not much else.

I needed to find a new bedtime story book.  And fast.  But I'm a huge, gigantic, very large book snob.

Most of you will know that The Dude was/is/likely will always be obsessed with Disney's 1967 adaptation of
The Jungle Book.  It's great, and if you haven't gotten that far back in the catalog, go check it out.  He was so very consumed by it that I went and got a copy of Rudyard Kipling's original for myself a few years ago.  I talked about it a bit here.  Actually, I should say originals.  There are actually two Jungle Books.  Betcha didn't know that.

I loved them.  I hadn't read any Kipling apart from the odd piece of poetry, and he's darn good.  Jack likes him too.  We're now deep into the Subcontinent, where Mowgli does less singing and dancing, but more dealing with the uberdangerous folk in the Indian jungle.

My biggest challenge so far is simply scrubbing out the word "kill."  Now, we're not the handwringers at The Atlantic or the NYT fretting over perceived (and largely imagined) "violence" and all that business.  But almost every single sentence is about killing, being killed, threatening to kill, talking about the kill, needing to hunt and kill, kill kill kill kill.  I get it.  It is the jungle, after all.

Jack is already familiar with the concept, though obliquely.  But I just don't want to absolutely steep him in the word (and general idea), and it then ooze out of him 24/7, which he's wont to do.  Like with everything else in his little Kryptonian brain.  So I've had to be creative with my synonyms about killin'.

And creative in the description of the ongoing blood feud (!) between Mowgli and Shere Khan.  Uh, that little story arc didn't quite make the Disney cut.

Second biggest challenge?  Convincing Jack that Kaa is a good guy (or at least neutral).  Disney's Kaa is goofy and frequently winds up with a knot in his tail.  Kipling's Kaa?  A very, very bad dude.  How bad?  A could-start-his-own-outlaw-motorcycle-gang-for-pythons kind of bad dude.  Observe (emphasis mine):
The fighting strength of a python is in the driving blow of his head backed by all the strength and weight of his body. If you can imagine a lance, or a battering ram, or a hammer weighing nearly half a ton driven by a cool, quiet mind living in the handle of it, you can roughly imagine what Kaa was like when he fought. A python four or five feet long can knock a man down if he hits him fairly in the chest, and Kaa was thirty feet long, as you know. His first stroke was delivered into the heart of the crowd round Baloo. It was sent home with shut mouth in silence, and there was no need of a second.
My favorite passage, this time about Bagheera (emphasis again mine):
Bagheera stretched himself at full length and half shut his eyes. "Little Brother," said he, "feel under my jaw."

Mowgli put up his strong brown hand, and just under Bagheera's silky chin, where the giant rolling muscles were all hid by the glossy hair, he came upon a little bald spot.

"There is no one in the jungle that knows that I, Bagheera, carry that mark--the mark of the collar; and yet, Little Brother, I was born among men, and it was among men that my mother died--in the cages of the king's palace at Oodeypore. It was because of this that I paid the price for thee at the Council when thou wast a little naked cub. Yes, I too was born among men. I had never seen the jungle. They fed me behind bars from an iron pan till one night I felt that I was Bagheera--the Panther-- and no man's plaything, and I broke the silly lock with one blow of my paw and came away. And because I had learned the ways of men, I became more terrible in the jungle than Shere Khan. Is it not so?"
A problem I thought I would face, but didn't?  Translating the arcane English for Yakubu.  He just soaks it up.  On the other hand, I guess nobody interpreted the KJV to a very small kid in 1980s East Texas and he understood just fine.

But thank goodness we're off that Curious George meathead and on to some far more interesting (and less infuriating) animals.  Rudyard's guys would treat him like salami on a Ritz cracker.

Exit question:  Anybody got any good suggestions for reading material?  I was thinking about doing The Sword and the Stone portion of T. H. White's incredible The Once and Future King, but will have to re-review it for suitability.  Ideas?


Jennifer said...

Swiss Family Robinson
Black Beauty
The Call of the Wild

El Comodoro said...

Hey those are great. And somehow Jack London had just completely escaped my mind.

OK, that's 2013...

Anonymous said...

So--feel free to shoot me RIGHT DOWN as most would not consider it great literature, but we have found the HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON series hilarious and wonderful. Much like the differences between Rudyard's Jungle Book and Disney's, the movie "How to Train Your Dragon" and Cressida Cowell's books are far, far different. Seriously. I find myself marking great passages and quotations from them. And if your kiddo is soaking up Kipling, then it's not really a step down--just a step into a different century. Get the first one (it's cheap), take a crack at it and consider the possibility.

Also, of course, THE HOBBIT should be on the list for some day. If he likes adventure, then I would also jot down Lloyd Alexander's Prydian Series starting with THE BOOK OF THREE. Again, these might be "someday" books, but they are most excellent. When young Caroline gets old enough to join in the fun, pick up Jeanne Birdsall's books about the Penderwick Sisters and "a very interesting boy." I know, I know. . .they're girls, but Thad listens just as happily to them as Victoria does to Hiccup and his dragon adventures. Plus, I happen to recall an ode you once wrote to toy kitchens. Keep in mind that my kiddos are 14 and 11, and I'm STILL reading to them. It's one of the best things we can do! (Um. . .did you know that I'm a reading/English teacher? Betcha couldn't tell huh?)

El Comodoro said...

Something seems familiar about toy kitchens, now that you mention it.

And no, no shooting down is anywhere near necessary. That's super good input. The Hobbit is on the list, sure - but I just wasn't certain about exactly when we should hit that.

Had not heard much of How to Train Your Dragon, but will absolutely give it a shot. Had never heard anything at all about Lloyd Alexander... Will have to look his stuff up as well.

I'm not saying I want him/them to be English Lit majors, but this was just the direction we seemed to be going.

I dunno. We're making this stuff up as we go along.

Anonymous said...

We ALL make it up as we go along, and you are doing a fine job of it! I'd save THE HOBBIT until maybe 4th or 5th grade. We finally let Thad watch THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy the summer her turned 10. Lloyd Alexander is fantasy--your archetypical hero story. AND, you can go to Cressida Cowell's website to download the first chapter of everyone of the Hiccup books to see if they might someday be your cup 'o tea.