Wednesday, October 9, 2013

covert classics

Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland - Through the Looking Glass
Mark Twain:  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Robert Louis Stevenson - Treasure Island
Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
Jonathan Swift - Gulliver's Travels
Charles Dickens : Oliver Twist - A Tale of Two Cities
Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo
Jules Verne: A Journey to the Center of the Earth
Washington Irving: Rip van Winkle

Although all of these authors wrote books that became famous as stories for children I don't think any of them wrote the books strictly for children. Like most great children's classics, the authors used the unintimidating forum of children's literature to speak to people of all ages with the hope that somehow we'd understand the deeper messages they conveyed.

For the sake of space I've left a number of wonderful books off the list but the one I want to mention now is Rudyard Kipling. When we say "The Jungle Book" most of us invariably think of Disney's films, both animated and live action, that have become the norm for Rudyard Kipling's immortal children's stories. While the Disney interpretation is fun and enchanting, it makes a dramatic departure from the actual stories and takes considerable creative license in telling just a part of the Kipling stories. Even what we get from Disney falls far short of the applicable parts of Kipling's original that Disney used. What? Kaa, the snake, as Mowgli's friend and powerful ally? What? A deeper story of Mowgli's experience as a wolf and his relationships with Mother wolf and Father wolf? Oh yes, much, much more.

Kipling's original masterpiece also includes several other wonderful chapters about the continuing adventures of Mowgli and also adds the marvelous tale of "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," the heroic mongoose whose battles with wicked cobras in an Indian garden easily matches Mowgli's showdowns with Shere Khan.

The book also includes the tale of "The White Seal." This short chapter of "The Jungle Book(s)" provides a wonderful commentary, in the form of animal parable, on human society, competition, male ego and human pride. Our hero, Kotick, the white seal, through his fearless explorations and his willingness to fight for a dream, changes the minds of his parents, his peers and his society for the better. The invitation to each of us is very clear to find and free the white seal that exists in all of us.

If you haven't seen the Disney film in a while I thought I'd share what was probably everyone's favorite scene when Baloo (Phil Harris) and King Louis the orangutan (Louis Prima) sing a scat duet (never mind Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera the worried black panther):

The pictures here are copies of the Jungle Book illustrations done by the brilliant 19th century watercolorists, Maurice and Edward Detmold.

The other cool thing about all of these books is that they're cheap and easily available.


  1. I had never seen these pictures - thank you.
    the Ol'Buzzard

    1. They were twin brothers who were very popular artists in their day but, sadly, mostly forgotten now.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed words and 'vid'. : )

  3. I am stunned by the gorgeous artwork and so enjoyed the video too. A wonderful reminder to reread these classics, especailly Kipling - thank you, Susan.

    1. The paintings really are incredible, aren't they? The uncle who raised them was an artist and a collector of Oriental art so, unsurprisingly, the two boys emulated the style of Hiroshige and Hokusai. They also developed techniques that allowed them to print their own works.

      Kipling is quite wonderful. Besides the Jungle Books my other great favorite is the novel Kim. I can't help but think your granddaughters would love all of them.

  4. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was my all time favorite. We had a wonderful cassette tape of Just So Stories recorded by Jack Nicholson and Bobby McFerrin, when the kids were small, that we wore right out. I remember some of these illustrations from books we had whe I was a small child.

    1. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is a perfect short story. It's funny you mentioned the Just So stories because when we were reading Kipling again Jer and I realized Anthony's story is just like one of them (kind of).

      The Detmold illustrations are magnificent and perfectly suited to the formality of the the Jungle Law. The books are well worth the time now we're no longer children :)

  5. A fine list (though I have not read them all) and an interesting thought about children's literature. "unintimidating forum"? I'd never thought of it that way.

    You may have just given me an idea (and not the first time you've done that either).

    1. That idea first occurred to us during the years we were reading books to our son. He was a child before the time of literature being targeted at specific age groups so we went through all the classics we remembered. One of his favorites was Don Quixote - a thoroughly ribald, disgusting and off the wall story.

      I'll be interested in your follow-up of this idea.

  6. I only remember The Jungle Book from reading it when I was a Wolf Cub. That was long ago, and early in my longish adventure in the Scouting movement. Very formative and important stories!

    Thanks for including the pictures.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!

    P.S. I hope this pneumonia doesn't somehow sneak down the wires and trouble you or your computer. It is NOT fun!