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- 05/04/12--14:55: _John Mullan's 10 of...
- 06/21/12--04:28: _A brief survey of t...
- 12/19/12--09:01: _Charlie Fletcher's ...
- 01/04/13--01:00: _Michael Morpurgo: H...
- 02/25/13--07:31: _50 unseen Rudyard K...
- 05/29/13--06:14: _Rudyard Kipling 'ad...
- 05/29/13--10:30: _Like most writers, ...
- 07/10/13--03:27: _Disney to make live...
- 08/24/13--05:28: _Paris hotels attemp...
- 08/24/13--16:01: _On my radar: Stuart...
- 09/26/13--03:43: _Robert Frost's snow...
- 10/04/13--03:49: _Why I love … The Ju...
- 10/25/13--07:19: _Top 10 family movies
- 12/03/13--06:10: _Who says children's...
- 12/05/13--03:22: _Jungle Book movie t...
- 12/14/13--04:00: _Comfort reading: Ki...
- 12/20/13--08:26: _Christmas poems and...
- 12/21/13--04:02: _Miss Clara Bow - a ...
- 01/05/14--06:39: _The Jungle Book – r...
- 02/14/14--04:30: _Food in fiction – quiz
- 05/04/12--14:55: John Mullan's 10 of the best: long walks
- 06/21/12--04:28: A brief survey of the short story part 41: Rudyard Kipling
- 12/19/12--09:01: Charlie Fletcher's top 10 adventure classics
- 02/25/13--07:31: 50 unseen Rudyard Kipling poems discovered
- 05/29/13--06:14: Rudyard Kipling 'admitted to plagiarism in Jungle Book'
- 05/29/13--10:30: Like most writers, Kipling was a literary magpie | Sarah Churchwell
- 07/10/13--03:27: Disney to make live action Jungle Book
- 08/24/13--05:28: Paris hotels attempt to lure customers by playing up literary links
- 08/24/13--16:01: On my radar: Stuart Murdoch's cultural highlights
- 10/04/13--03:49: Why I love … The Jungle Book's scat-singing Baloo the bear
- 10/25/13--07:19: Top 10 family movies
- 12/03/13--06:10: Who says children's books can't be great literature?
- 12/05/13--03:22: Jungle Book movie to be directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
- 12/14/13--04:00: Comfort reading: Kim by Rudyard Kipling
- 12/20/13--08:26: Christmas poems and stories – books podcast
- 12/21/13--04:02: Miss Clara Bow - a picture from the past
- 01/05/14--06:39: The Jungle Book – review
- 02/14/14--04:30: Food in fiction – quiz
From Basho's haiku to Galgut's Lesotho
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho
From a journey that he undertook across Japan in the late 17th century, the poet Basho made a work that marries philosophical rumination to descriptive poetry. Most of the poems are haiku, set in a diary-like narrative.
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
Cast out from his home, Tom starts walking to Bristol to join the navy. He takes some wrong turns, acquires the companionship of the dull-witted Partridge and wanders through Gloucestershire, to Coventry, and thence to London. Plenty of inns along the way, and a highwayman in Highgate.
The Prelude by William Wordsworth
The poet recalls his walking tour of France and Italy as a student during the summer hols. He walks some 2,000 miles with his friend Robert Jones, and turns it into blank verse: "And earth did change her images and forms / Before us, fast as clouds are changed in Heaven." The climax comes when they cross the Alps without realising it.
The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
Nell Trent and her grandfather decide to flee London and head north to escape the malevolent Quilp. Nell, a devotee of Pilgrim's Progress, and her grandfather seem to journey through a symbolic landscape, in which redemption and damnation are both near at hand.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
The orphan Kim, living on his wits on the streets in Lahore, takes up with a Tibetan lama and accompanies him on a long journey on foot to find the river that washes all sin. "'Now let us walk,' muttered the lama, and to the click of his rosary they walked in silence mile upon mile." On the way he gets recruited by British secret service to help them against the Russians.
The Long Walk by Stephen King
In some nightmarish alternative USA, 100 teenagers have to take part in a walk that is a national sport. Setting out from northern Maine, they walk down the east coast, having to keep up a speed of 4mph or be shot. There are no rests and there is no finishing line. The last walker left alive is the winner.
The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald
German academic Sebald turned a long, wandering walk through East Anglia into a sequence of visionary meditations. The odd things he sees inspire evocations of flooded towns, deserts and Chinese silk factories. The Suffolk coast becomes a landscape of existential emptiness. He communes with Shakespeare and Sir Thomas Browne and turns walking into a new kind of fiction.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
In some post-apocalyptic future, a nameless man and his young son walk south across a devastated land, pushing what they have scavenged in a shopping trolley. They are fleeing the oncoming winter and dodging predatory cannibals, walking through a land of horrors towards the distant sea.
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
Successful New York lawyer Tim Farnsworth has a peculiar affliction: sometimes he cannot stop walking. When the fever comes upon him, he sets off to walk and walk until exhaustion brings him to a halt. Meanwhile his wife, having attached a tracking device to him, is out searching for him. He is "a frightened soul inside the runaway train of mindless matter, peering out from the conductor's car in horror".
In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
In the first part of a novel obsessed with journeys, the narrator, also called Damon, goes backpacking in Lesotho, trekking across mountains and desert with an uncommunicative and obsessive fellow walker called Reiner, whom he met while walking in Greece. Bound together by some unstated homoerotic fascination, the two men walk to mortify themselves.
George Orwell thought he was 'morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting', but Kipling's stories are both original and exciting
For George Orwell, Rudyard Kipling was "a jingo imperialist … morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting". Frank O'Connor thought him "a damned liar"; Craig Raine has bemoaned his "grating air of worldliness"; Edmund Wilson described his entire body of work as "shot through with hatred". For Barbara Everett he is "the easiest of great writers to find repellent".
But Orwell also admired Kipling; O'Connor considered him, albeit grudgingly, one of the great short-story writers; Raine calls him England's "greatest short-story writer … whose achievement is more complex and surprising than even his admirers recognise". Wilson states, "Kipling really finds new rhythms, new colours and textures of words, for things that have not yet been brought into literature … he is extraordinary as a worker in prose"; and Everett asserts that his work possesses "an extreme originality of technique, which deserves all the recognition it can get." You can't, it seems, be unalloyed about Kipling. He not only divides opinion; he subdivides it.
Kipling was just 23 when his first collection, Plain Tales from the Hills, was published in Calcutta and London. Many of these short, tough-hearted stories about civil and military Anglo-Indian administrators began life as "turnover" pieces in a Lahore newspaper. The economy they demanded persisted in his writing, becoming fundamental to his style. In his posthumously published autobiography, Something of Myself, Kipling wrote: "A tale from which pieces have been raked out is like a fire that has been poked." The influence of Plain Tales is easily discernible in the work of Isaac Babel and Ernest Hemingway, who also worked as journalists. This passage from The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows (1884) is perhaps a single repetition away from signature Hemingway:
One of the Persians got killed in a row at night by the big well near the mosque a long time ago, and the Police shut up the well, because they said it was full of foul air. They found him dead at the bottom of it.
One of Kipling's most famous innovations is his use of dialect, which begins agonisingly with the 'Oirish' of Private Mulvaney in Plain Tales, but which he honed into a powerful storytelling tool. Without it, wrote Edmund Wilson, we wouldn't have had "either the baseball stories of Ring Lardner or the Cyclops episode in Ulysses", to which Raine adds the cockney pub conversation in A Game of Chess from The Waste Land. Meanwhile, Kipling's love of intricate hoaxes, which attains its artistic climax in the Jamesian revenge story Dayspring Mishandled (1928), prefigures Borges.
It is fitting that a narrator so concerned with imparting technical knowledge (how to build a bridge, what being shot is like, the way a boat sinks in calm water – what Pound called "Kipling's 'Bigod, I-know-all-about-this' manner") should have continually developed his technique throughout his career. Some critics maintain, as Raine has noted, that "whereas in the early work excision creates intensity, in the later stories it merely creates obscurity". Certainly ellipsis and ambiguity define Kipling's post-1900 work, which, if not modernist itself, travels on a modernist trajectory. Here, as WW Norton identifies, Kipling "brought to its strange perfection that narrative manner of implication, abstention, and obliquity of which the first considerable example is Mrs Bathurst".
This confounding story of 1904 begins with a detailed description of place – a burning hot beach near Cape Town – and a series of missed connections, both of which take on symbolic importance as four men engage in desultory conversation. They discuss a deserter, his connection to the eponymous Auckland hotelkeeper, and his death in a Bulawayo teak forest, burned to charcoal by lightning. Why did the dead man obsess over a newsreel image of Mrs Bathurst detraining at Paddington? Who is the charred figure found squatting at his feet in the forest? Several theories have been advanced, but Everett thinks decoding the story misses its point. John Bayley sees it as "a perfect artistic embodiment of unreliable narrators and partial views scattered Empire-wide, and also of the fact that most things in life never 'come out'". Its "ambiguous charge of human feeling," writes Everett, "is the very stuff of Kipling's greatest stories".
A similar cryptic energy inhabits They (1904) and The Wish House (1924), which the younger Kipling, beholden to Poe and Maupassant, would have made more shocking and less resonant. The first, written in the aftermath of the death of Kipling's daughter, describes an isolated country house in which the ghosts of dead children congregate. The second – shadowed, like all the stories written after 1915, by the death of his son, John Kipling, at the Battle of Loos– portrays a Sussex cook who visits a "token", or wraith, to take on the suffering of the man who rejected her. Thus her cancer becomes both physical manifestation of her disappointment and symbol of unconditional love. Typically of late Kipling, this moving and disturbing story poses more questions than it answers.
Repressed or thwarted love is a dominant theme in this period, from the strange sadism of Mary Postgate (1915), where a lady's companion appears to orgasm while watching a German airman – whom she may be hallucinating – die at the bottom of a country garden, to its most powerful evocation in The Gardener (1925). The story begins by describing how Helen Turrell's nephew, born of an unsuitable union, came to be in her care. Years after his death in the trenches, Helen travels to Belgium to visit her nephew's grave. The story turns on one word in its closing lines, easy enough to miss, which reveals that he is her illegitimate son, and that the story's third-person narration is in fact an expression of her self-deception. This realisation unlocks the story's freight of sadness, and explains the genteel, buttoned-down quality of its prose. Only once does this mask of reserve slip, when Helen ascends to the cemetery, like a soldier going over the top to face the enemy:
Culverts across a deep ditch served for entrances through the unfinished boundary wall. She climbed a few wooden-faced earthen steps and then met the entire crowded level of the thing in one held breath. She did not know that Hagenzeele Third counted twenty-one thousand dead already. All she saw was a merciless sea of black crosses, bearing little strips of stamped tin at all angles across their faces. She could distinguish no order or arrangement in their mass; nothing but a waist-high wilderness as of weeds stricken dead, rushing at her.
The effect, emerging from such nondescript passages, is pointedly dizzying. Kipling may be unfashionable. He is certainly at times objectionable. But at his best he is also indelible, and a much more exciting, original writer than his reputation allows.
Next: Danilo Kiš
The author of Far Rockaway lists 10 swashbuckling tales of derring-do that carried him off to the 'isle of story'
I wrote Far Rockaway in part because I could not get my two children to plough through what they saw as the thick shell of heavy, antiquated prose encasing Treasure Island and Kidnapped to get to the stories within. The good news is that fine Story will always out, one way or another: that supposedly impenetrable prose really worked for them when read aloud, and they listened happily to the audiobooks on two long journeys to the Outer Hebrides. Heresy to say it in these pages, probably, but I think Story, Vitamin S, is more important than actual reading…
The other reason I wrote it was because I'd been lucky enough to chair a discussion with Alan Moore where he talked about his theory about Idea Space, a separate and universally accessible place in which mental events occur. It got me thinking about where stories and their character might go to exist outside us. This allowed me not only to shamelessly steal his cleverer idea and apply it to a kind of Story Space in which half the book occurs, but to remix and mash up some of the characters from classic adventures and hopefully share them with a new audience. Who might even then go back and discover them in the original.
The following 10 classics are the ones responsible for getting me into trouble with this whole storytelling thing in the first place. I guarantee they are chock-full of Vitamin S.
1 and 2. The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure by Hergé
The adventures of Tintin were my gateway drug to the deeper addiction to all books and stories that came after. They also gave me a love of visual storytelling in general and clean-lined illustration in particular. The physical comedy – usually involving Captain Haddock or Cuthbert Calculus – is superb and something the written word alone could not convey. And, of course, they introduced me to pirates …
3 and 4. Treasure Island and Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson
… speaking of whom: Long John Silver. Stevenson (who after all wrote that great novel about split personality, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) is really good at balancing light and shade in his characters, making them three dimensional and real. Both books are rattling good adventures, full of jeopardy and betrayals. In Treasure Island, Silver is a villain who's almost a hero, and in Kidnapped, the swordsman Alan Breck Stewart is a hero who's pretty close to a villain, if not an actual murderer. And when I finished my first book, Stoneheart, I realised the character of the Gunner has a lot of Alan Breck's DNA in him …
5. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
This book took me to India for the first time without leaving the comfort of my chair. I was immediately hooked by the teeming world of the Grand Trunk Road, the bazaars, the busy cantonments and towns and the remote hill stations. More than that I was entranced by Kimball O'Hara, the worldly street urchin who has a foot on both sides of the racial divide of colonial India and slips from one to the other like quicksilver, but not, in the end, without cost. It's an exciting story of espionage and skullduggery, but more than that it's a story about identity and choice. Kim's liking for intrigue and adventure is tempered by his love for the Llama he serves, and in the end he … well, read the book.
6 and 7. Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies by Rudyard Kipling
These two books are history and fantasy told in a series of linked short stories: Puck, "the oldest Old Thing in England", appears to two children and magics characters from the past to bring history alive by showing it from an eyewitness's point of view. These books gave me a sense of how the past is always present in a landscape, just waiting to be tapped into. (Bonus features: really great poems between the chapters, including If … and Cold Iron.)
8. The Sword in the Stone by TH White
The early part of King Arthur's life told in a whimsical fashion and set in a quirky vision of Merrie Englande that's underpinned by a deep understanding of medieval history. The boy Wart is befriended and tutored by Merlin, who is – eccentrically – living backwards in time. Merlin uses magic to shapeshift the boy into various creatures, allowing him to learn as he experiences the adventures that follow. In fact eccentricity is the seductive hallmark of the whole book, and though you come for the story and the magic, you find – as with the previous two books – that you've stayed for the history.
9. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
Orcs. Sorcerers. Dwarves. Elves. Hobbits. Daring, cowardice, self-sacrifice, swordplay, unlikely friendships and ultimate heroism. What's not to like? Just as the previous three books rest on a strong footing of real history, the Tolkien world works because it sits on a firm foundation of Old English and Norse mythology. Some "high fantasy" novels stumble because the worlds don't make sense and the names of the characters get wildly out of control. Not so with Tolkien: not just a great adventure saga, LOTR has a proper substructure which makes it a dynamic and engaging retelling of the old stories.
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
As a teenager I fell in love with Scout Finch at first read and have felt that way ever since. The book actually made me a bit less of a jerk because it provoked and seduced me into seeing the world through other people's eyes – the first time I remember a story doing that to me. As a father I often wish I could be more like Atticus Finch, an ambition I fail miserably to come close to achieving. You can't read this book and not be outraged by injustice and prejudice, nor can you fail to understand both sides of the court-case it swings around. If Tintin was my gateway into children's books, this was the portal into adult reading. It made me grow up.
Just So Stories was the first book that Michael Morpurgo loved as a child. As a writer for children himself, he marvels at the inventiveness and ingenuity of the stories
My copy of Just So Stories, in its brick-red cover with the Elephant's Child straining away with all his might to escape the jaws of the Crocodile on the banks of "the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River", the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake in close attendance, was the first book I truly loved. My mother was an actress, who had performed in rep all over the country, including a season or two at Stratford. But by the time I was born, my mother had stopped acting to become a full-time mother. So my elder brother Pieter and I were for a while, for that critical time when reading to children in bed is so important, the only audience she had. She just had to open the book and she would become by turns every character inside those pages: she was Rudyard Kipling telling the tale; she was the Camel acquiring his hump, the Rhinoceros getting his skin, the Elephant's Child growing his trunk – by Crocodile means – and she was the Cat that Walked by Himself.
She played the whole orchestra, every instrument from the kettle-drum to the piccolo; she was the conductor and the composer. And because all these stories are "told" as opposed to "written" (although the writing is sublime; it is what makes the stories feel so wonderfully "told") every one of them felt personal, and as if newly invented by my mother each time she told them to us. She made the words (how Kipling loves to play with the sounds and rhythms of words) sing on the air, and she made them laugh too. The poetry of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear – both also great favourites of my mother for our bedside reading – had the same effect on me. But compared even with them, Kipling was always the master of laughing words.
She would read us Just So Stories so often that we knew them almost by heart. And it was the story of "The Elephant's Child" that we clamoured for most. So why did this story resonate so particularly for a boy of five or six? Perhaps because there were so many different characters to play. She became in voice, in gesture, each of the parts of the Elephant's Child's family: his broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, who spanked him for his "satiable curtiosity", spanked him "with her broad, broad hoof"; his hairy uncle, the Baboon, who spanked him "with his hairy, hairy paw". I looked forward eagerly to the Kolokolo Bird's mournful cry in answer to the Elephant Child's perfectly innocent question about what the Crocodile has for dinner. With a trumpeting voice reminiscent to me at the time of all the ancient aunts I knew, my mother would point dramatically towards Africa, and intone: "Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out." So off goes the Elephant's Child, eating melons and throwing the rind away because, at the time, he has only "a blackish, bulgy nose" and can't pick it up.
When finally the Elephant's Child does meet the Crocodile somewhere "in these promiscuous parts", and asks the question he's been longing to ask all this time and that no one will answer, the Crocodile tells him: "Come hither... and I'll whisper." This is the moment we were waiting for. At the point when he lowers his head closer to the Crocodile's "musky, tusky mouth", my mother would become the Crocodile. Suddenly, she had Crocodile eyes, Crocodile hands, Crocodile voice, and every word was spoken between clenched Crocodile teeth, unless, of course, she was speaking as the Elephant's Child. Then she would hold her nose and squawk loudly as only elephant's children do in such circumstances. "Led go!" she would cry. "You are hurtig be!"
From the start the story is intimately told. Kipling talks to us like an uncle reading to us at bedtime, calls us "Best Beloved". We feel he means it; he's at once on our side. He takes us on an adventure to the wilds of Africa, sets his tale among a family of all kinds of animals, creates a world where they all grow up together in harmony – well, a sort of harmony, much like any human family. In Kipling's day, children were spanked quite frequently, the elephant's child is spanked hard and often for asking too many questions. Ostrich, Giraffe, Hippopotamus, Baboon, Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, they all spank him to shut him up. But he won't be put off. The wonderfully satisfying denouement is the ending all children long for – as the Elephant's Child gets his own back. With his newly elongated nose, he returns home. As usual he is ever so polite to his family: "How do you do?" he says. "What have you done to your nose?" they say. "I asked [the Crocodile] what he had for dinner, and he gave me this to keep." And then he proceeds to spank "all his dear families for a long time, till they were very warm and greatly astonished". No ending of any story was ever or could ever be more gratifying to a child.
Children love these stories as well because of their extraordinary ingenuity and inventiveness. Kipling has an Aesopian understanding of animals, of our dealings with them and our curious interrelatedness, interdependence, how we can learn about our own strange behaviour, our vanities and our foolishness, through them and through our relationship with them. Kipling, however, tends to paint us, the human species, particularly children, in a more flattering light than Aesop does. In Aesop's tale of a father and son taking a donkey to market, both are so swayed by the opinions of others as to who should or should not ride the donkey, that they end up carrying the donkey between them. They are made to look ridiculous, and stupid.
In Kipling's "How the Rhinoceros got his Skin", and "The Cat that Walked by Himself", man and woman and child are portrayed much less judgmentally. The Parsee is interrupted in his cake-making by a grumpy and obstreperous smooth-skinned Rhinoceros who proceeds first to scare the Parsee up a tree and then to steal his cake, which is "all done brown and smelt most sentimental". The Parsee is not best pleased.
Them that takes cakes
Which the Parsee-man bakes
Makes dreadful mistakes.
Five weeks later, in a heatwave, the Rhinoceros unbuttons his skin and goes for a swim. The Parsee "smiled one smile that ran all round his face two times", danced three times round the skin and rubbed his hands. He has a cunning plan. He fills his hat with "old, dry, stale, tickly cake-crumbs" and rubs these crumbs into the Rhinoceros's skin. Out comes the Rhinoceros, puts on his skin, and of course it's rather itchy. So he goes home, "very angry indeed and horribly scratchy". Which is why "every rhinoceros has great folds in his skin and a very bad temper, all on account of the cake-crumbs inside".
With Kipling, man often plays a significant part in the Darwinian development of our fellow creatures, wild or domestic. In "The Cat that Walked by Himself" the transformation from wild to domestic is easily explained, ingeniously too. Essentially it is about the deal done between ourselves and our domestic animals — a "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" kind of a deal. The dog is seduced by the Woman into her cave by her offer of a sweet-smelling meat bone. "Wild Dog lifted up his wild nose and smelled the smell of the roast mutton." The Cat won't go with him. "Nenni! I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me." He's not going to be anyone's poodle. The dog does the deal; he gets the warm fire and the bone, and in exchange he has to hunt with the Man and guard the cave at night.
In the same way, Wild Horse is happy to wear a plaited halter and be ridden if he can eat the wonderful grass the Woman provides three times a day; and Wild Cow gives her milk in exchange for the same wonderful grass. Still the Cat will not come near the cave. He goes "through the Wet Wild Woods waving his wild tail and walking by his wild lone". It is finally the cunning of the Woman that ensnares him into the cave – it is an extremely crafty deal, during which all is explained, even why it is that dogs chase cats up trees.
And how do we come off as a species in these creation tales? Well, pretty much as we are: wise, cunning, manipulative and very clever too. Kipling's Just So Stories are in the great tradition of creation tales, of which, in western culture at least, the best-known of all is to be found in Genesis. In more recent times Ted Hughes echoes the primacy of God's hand in his Tales of the Early World. Kipling also acknowledges in his stories God's hand in managing creation – whether God is the Djinn in charge of All Deserts in "How the Camel got his Hump" or the "Eldest Magician" in "The Crab that Played with the Sea". He breathes on the Earth and one place "became the great Indian Desert, and the other became the Desert of Sahara, and", Kipling says, "you can look them out on the map." Every creature was created to be obedient – all but one, the Crab.
It is a little girl who noticed that, when "the beasts were being taught their plays, one beast went away naughtily into the Sea before you had taught him his play". This was Pau Amma, the Crab, who is now causing great confusion and consternation by stirring up the sea. The Eldest Magician, aka God, has to put things right.
Yes, God plays his part in Kipling. But so does Darwin, and so do man and child. He encompasses, unslavishly, all the possible explanations here: God, man, nature, we all seem to be woven together, collaborating together in a great and mysterious enterprise.
What I love particularly is the part children play in this creative game. They are not always there within the story – sometimes they are simply being told it. But in others they play the major role. In "How the First Letter was Written" and in "How the Alphabet was Made", it is Taffimai Metallumai ("we will still call her Taffy, Best Beloved") who first finds a need for writing (in pictures to begin with) and then the way to do it.
Adults of course get the wrong end of the stick entirely, and it is a while before they understand just how clever she has been. It is the child's understanding that teaches the adults the way of the future. They're still doing it today with modern technology.
•Just So Stories is published by the Folio Society at £24.95.
A limited collector's edition, introduced by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat, will be available from 17 January 2013 at £445
Scholar unearths trove of unpublished work by poet voted Britain's favourite
Kipling scholars are celebrating the publication of lost poems by the author whose exhortations in "If" to "keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you" are regularly voted the nation's favourite poem. Discovered by the American scholar Thomas Pinney in an array of hiding places including family papers, the archive of a former head of the Cunard Line and during renovations at a Manhattan house, more than 50 previously unpublished poems by Rudyard Kipling will be released for the first time next month.
The collection includes several poems dating from the first world war, which Kipling initially supported, helping his son John to gain a commission in the Irish Guards.
A short poem, "The Gambler", finishes with the couplet: "Three times wounded; three times gassed / Three times wrecked – I lost at last", while another fragment runs: "This was a Godlike soul before it was crazed / No matter. The grave makes whole."
After his son's death at the Battle of Loos in 1915, Kipling regretted his earlier enthusiasm for the conflict, writing in his "Epitaphs of the War": "If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied".
Another poem discovered by Pinney, "The Press", prefigures contemporary worries over media intrusion: "Have you any morals? / Does your genius burn? / Was your wife a what's its name? / How much did she earn?" wrote the poet in a fit of anger at the questions he was asked by journalists. "Why don't you write a play - / Why don't you cut your hair? / Do you trim your toe-nails round / Or do you trim them square?" (The complete poem is reproduced at the foot of this article.)
A discovery in a lighter mood is a stash of comic verse that Kipling wrote on a ship sailing from Adelaide to Ceylon, which is believed to have been read aloud by the author to his fellow passengers. "It was a ship of the P&O / Put forth to sail the sea," wrote Kipling, going on to mourn the slow progress of the liner across the ocean. "The children played on the rotten deck / A monthly growing band / Of sea-bred sin born innocents / That never knew the land."
"Kipling has long been neglected by scholars probably for political reasons," said Pinney, emeritus professor of English at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Despite winning the Nobel prize, Kipling's reputation has suffered over his association with British imperialism – he was described as a "jingo imperialist" by George Orwell, who also called him "the prophet of British Imperialism".
"His texts have never properly been studied but things are starting to change," said Pinney. "There is a treasure trove of uncollected, unpublished and unidentified work out there. I discovered another unrecorded item only recently and that sort of thing will keep happening. It is a tremendously exciting time for scholars and for fans of Kipling."
The 50 unpublished poems are being included alongside more than 1,300 of Kipling's poems in the three-volume Cambridge Edition of The Poems of Rudyard Kipling, the first ever complete edition of his verse, out on 7 March.
"They are all very engaging, and grab you immediately. A lot are very emotional little poems about the war, about his great identification with the ordinary British soldier, and his anger with the authorities," said Linda Bree, arts and literature editorial director at Cambridge University Press.
Bree agreed with Pinney that Kipling, who died in 1936 leaving behind books including The Jungle Book, Just So Stories and Kim, had been neglected by scholars until now. "I think, personally, it's because his poems are very simple. They are about simple situations, and perhaps for that reason scholars have steered clear a little," she said. "Perhaps they speak more clearly to the ordinary reader for that reason. And of course the imperial issue does make things more difficult. [But] he is one of the nation's greatest poets … 'If' is one of the most popular poems in the English language, [and] this edition shows that he wrote much else to entertain, engage and challenge readers."
The Press by Rudyard Kipling
Why don't you write a play –
Why don't you cut your hair?
Do you trim your toe-nails round
Or do you trim them square?
Tell it to the papers,
Tell it every day.
But, en passant, may I ask
Why don't you write a play?
What's your last religion?
Have you got a creed?
Do you dress in Jaeger-wool
Sackcloth, silk or tweed?
Name the books that helped you
On the path you've trod.
Do you use a little g
When you write of God?
Do you hope to enter
Fame's immortal dome?
Do you put the washing out
Or have it done at home?
Have you any morals?
Does your genius burn?
Was you wife a what's its name?
How much did she earn?
Had your friend a secret
Sorrow, shame or vice –
Have you promised not to tell
What's your lowest price?
All the housemaid fancied
All the butler guessed
Tell it to the public press
And we will do the rest.
Why don't you write a play?
• From The Cambridge Edition of the Poems of Rudyard Kipling, published by Cambridge University Press, £200, reproduced by kind permission of The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty
• This article was amended on 27 February 2013. The original said that Thomas Pinney is emeritus professor of English at the University of California. That should have been at Pomona College in Claremont, California, and has been corrected.
A letter by the author has surfaced in which he writes that 'it is extremely possible I have helped myself promiscuously'
A letter in which Rudyard Kipling admits that "it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously" from other stories when writing The Jungle Book has been put up for sale.
The one-page letter, written and signed by Kipling in around 1895, sees the author writing to an unknown correspondent following an inquiry about "The Law of the Jungle" – the rules of life in the jungle taught by Baloo to Mowgli in The Jungle Book, and later turned into a poem by Kipling in The Second Jungle Book.
"Now this is the Law of the Jungle – as old and as true as the sky; / And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die," writes Kipling in his poem. "The Kill of the Pack is the meat of the Pack. Ye must eat where it lies; / And no one may carry away of that meat to his lair, or he dies."
The letter, acquired by Adam Andrusier, director of Adam Andrusier Autographs, at the New York Antiquarian book fair last month from a fellow UK manuscript dealer, sees Kipling acknowledging that parts of the hierarchical jungle code may have been borrowed from other sources.
"I am afraid that all that code in its outlines has been manufactured to meet 'the necessities of the case': though a little of it is bodily taken from (Southern) Esquimaux rules for the division of spoils," Kipling wrote in the letter. "In fact, it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen."
Andrusier is selling the letter for £2,500, and says that "letters by Kipling that mention his most enduring work are extremely rare".
"A letter that casts new light on an author's celebrated work tends to capture the imagination of the collector," said Andrusier. "Personally, I rather like his candidness about the possibility of his plagiarism in The Jungle Book; I think people tend to have a misapprehension about writing needing to be unswervingly original, when so much literature is either consciously or unconsciously borrowed."
Kipling was no plagiarist. Creative originality takes many forms, and many forms can be remade from originals
Shocked headlines have reported that a newly discovered letter by Rudyard Kipling "admits plagiarising" parts of "Law of the Jungle", which appears in The Jungle Book. Actually, the letter as quoted admits nothing of the kind. Kipling is evidently responding to a reader, and although we don't know what question was asked, we can infer that Kipling found it somewhat asinine from the dismissive tone of his reply. "A little of it is bodily taken from (Southern) Esquimaux rules for the division of spoils. In fact, it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen." Given that "Law of the Jungle" offers mock-epic commandments governing wolves' behaviour, we might not think it strange that Kipling declined to produce his anthropological evidence for Wolf Council ordinances.
But even if he had, it would not constitute plagiarism. The fact is that most writers are magpies, borrowing and reworking source material from wherever they find it. Shakespeare's reliance on various older chronicles for his characters and plots is a commonplace, and it would be ludicrous to suggest that in Paradise Lost Milton was "plagiarising" the story of Genesis. When Amy Heckerling updated and reworked Emma into her 1995 film Clueless, she was not plagiarising Jane Austen, she was creating an imaginary conversation with a classic novel. If I'd opened this piece by writing, "To steal or not to steal, that is the question," the only literary misconduct of which I would be guilty is cliche, not "plagiary", to use the word's older form.
The word plagiarism only emerged in the 17th century (the Oxford English Dictionary gives its earliest recorded date as 1621), by no coincidence arriving at the same time as the concept of copyright began developing (finally enacted as British law in 1710). There can be no notion of plagiarism without a meaningful sense that authors have ownership rights, that texts or ideas can be "intellectual property"; and the idea that authors were producing "property" only became significant when they began to try to earn a living by selling that property. But copyright is notoriously difficult to enforce, because individuals don't own words or ideas: both are collective, nebulous, protean.
The word plagiarism derives from the Latin plagiarius: a person who abducts the child or slave of another; a kidnapper; a seducer; or a literary thief. There is a pleasing irony in a plagiarism that would enforce the property rights of slave-owners: having enslaved a story to my own ends, do I have the right to complain if others pinch that story too? Plagiarism is often comical, as when the University of Oregon plagiarised the section of Stanford's teaching handbook dealing with – plagiarism. Jonathan Swift and Laurence Sterne denounced plagiarism in words plagiarised from others. In keeping with the spirit of this, I have plagiarised these last two sentences from Richard Posner's Little Book of Plagiarism.
It was not until copyright established the commercial value of originality that European and American authors began to celebrate the artistic value of originality, elevating it to an aesthetic ideal. Today, what we mean by plagiarism relates more to honesty than to originality; we call it "borrowing" when it is acknowledged. Plagiarism is more like fencing stolen goods, the deceitful attempt to sell what one has purloined. Anyone who has had the unpleasant experience of someone else taking credit for her work knows that this argument is not academic: originality remains a valuable asset for any writer or thinker, as does labour.
But a conflicting imperative also operates, to situate one's original work within a literary genealogy, to assert one's place in a cultural tradition. In writing The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald "learned" from Conrad, James, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche by way of Mencken, to name some of the novel's most prominent influences. Do those debts make Gatsby less original or artistic, less of a masterpiece? How do we distinguish any of this from education?
In the end creative originality takes many forms, and many forms can be remade from originals. Invention from whole cloth is not the only – or even the optimal – method of literary creation, and it is virtually impossible to name an important author who could not be charged with some sort of intellectual borrowing or other. As Delacroix is supposed to have said of Raphael: "Nowhere did he reveal his originality so forcefully as in the ideas he borrowed."
Studio to return Rudyard Kipling's tale to big screen – at same time as Warner Bros plans rival adaptation
Disney is planning a live-action take on The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling's iconic collection of fables that inspired the classic animation of the same name.
The project is the second film based on Kipling's 1894 collection – which is out of copyright – to be announced. Rival studio Warner Bros is also planning a version, with Harry Potter's Steve Kloves working on the screenplay.
Variety reports that Disney's version will once again centre on the "mancub" Mowgli, who is raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. His friends include a bear, Baloo, and a panther, Bagheera, while the vicious tiger Shere Khan is among his enemies. Mowgli's story was just one of a number of morally toned fables in Kipling's tome, but Disney will overlook other chapters such as the story of heroic mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and the tale of elephant handler Toomai. Justin Marks will write the screenplay.
Disney's decision to produce a live-action version could be seen as a reaction to the success of Oscar-winning films set in the sub-continent such as Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire and Ang Lee's Life of Pi. Equally, it could be seen as the next stage in the revisionist programme that will feature new live-action versions of Sleeping Beauty (titled Maleficent) and Cinderella, hitting screens in the next couple of years.
Disney's 1967 take on The Jungle Book is one of its best-known musical animations, and the last to be released during the lifetime of company founder Walt Disney. A Jungle Book stage production debuted earlier this month in Chicago.
Marks has a couple of Hollywood screenplays heading towards production. He wrote an early draft of Disney's planned 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea reboot and also wrote The Raven, which is moving towards a release in cinemas, with Ricardo de Montreuil directing and Mark Wahlberg on board as producer and possible star. The Raven is based on De Montreuil's 2010 sci-fi short about a man on the run in a futuristic LA.
Exploiting cultural connections has become a profitable marketing ploy for hoteliers in the French capital
Marcel Proust once wrote: "The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but of having new eyes." Words full of insight. But it is doubtful that the author of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past) imagined that his oft-cited quote would be used to brand "literary-themed" hotels 100 years after the first publication of his defining work.
The rise of the belles-lettres establishment, celebrating France's literary culture, and even that of its neighbours, is the latest marketing sensation in the French capital, as hoteliers come up with ever more innovative – or desperate – ways to attract guests.
Sandwiched between a fast-food restaurant and a kebab house opposite the Gare de l'Est, the Le Marcel hotel has ideas well above its station. Born and raised in the chic 16th arrondissement, Proust would have spent little time in this, the gritty 10th, other than while passing through to catch a train.
But Le Marcel does not let the lack of linksto the great man spoil the promotional plot: "Marcel Proust's spirit hovers all around," says the hotel brochure. "The Marcel dresses up in indigo. This color (sic), a major element of romantic literature, is present everywhere in slight touches to recall that infinity is ubiquitous."
The rooms are named after some of Proust's most famous characters: the Saint Loup, after Robert de Saint-Loup, the boyhood friend of the narrator in À la Recherche du Temps Perdu; Guermantes, the duchess whose glamour seduces the young protagonist; and Swann – all characters that feature in the seven-volume work. There is, of course, a room named the Madeleine, after the cake that sparks the narrator's prolonged bout of recollection.
In the neighbouring 9th arrondissement, Les Plumes hotel pays tribute to literary lovers: George Sand and Alfred de Musset, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, Juliette Drouet and Victor Hugo. Set on the Rue Lamartine, named after the Romantic poet Alphonse de Lamartine, the hotel even has literary quotations etched on the shower glass. And in L'Hotel in the St Germain des Prés district, guests can sleep in the room in which Oscar Wilde died.
One of the first literary-themed hotels was the Le Pavillon des Lettres, which opened in 2010, a stone's throw from the French president's residence at the Élysée Palace, where 26 rooms pay tribute to writers including William Shakespeare, Émile Zola and Franz Kafka.
Whatever the conceit, it appears to work; Le Marcel is full, and Laurence Guilloux, director of the recently opened four-star R Kipling hotel, says its leather armchairs, fireplace and library are popular both with the "young and dynamic" and "older couples who like the ambience … it's about creating a character, a personality for each hotel".
It has been a good year for Paris hotels of all kinds, especially the high-end luxury establishments. Despite the economic recession and a slight drop in numbers on 2012 – a record year – the city's tourist authorities say 2013 is set to be "one of the tourist grands crus" for the capital. A fall in French guests has been compensated by an increase in British, American and, above all, Asian visitors.
Georges Panayotis, founder and chairman of the marketing and tourism research company MKG Hospitality, said the luxury hotels had done particularly well, justifying the investment in renovations many had undergone.
"Despite the difficult economic contest, the French hotel business has shown a remarkable resistance," he said. The emergence of author-themed hotels, he said, had shown the willingness of Paris hoteliers to raise their game in the face of international competition and demonstrated that the "investments are justified and profitable".
"The idea of themes, of innovation, of specialising, not just in hotels but restaurants, is all part of this," he said. "We're going back to the basics of the quality of service and welcome à la français."Outside the Gare de l'Est, a group of young Britons was heading for the hotel they had chosen on the internet because it "looked clean and was good value". Would they choose a literary-themed hotel next time? "If it wasn't too expensive, why not?" said Josh, a business student from Southampton. "Sounds fun. Maybe for a romantic weekend rather than a trip with friends, though."
Had he and his friends heard of Marcel Proust? "Er ... no." Rudyard Kipling, Victor Hugo? "Of course."
The French exception culturelle does not sleep easily with unabashed commercialism, but Gallic hoteliers have clearly decided that writers sell rooms. Even if some people have no clue who they are.
The Belle and Sebastian frontman on PG Wodehouse, early REM – and why he loves Thought for the Day
Stuart Murdoch is a founding member of the critically acclaimed indie band Belle and Sebastian. Formed in Glasgow in 1996, the group took their name from Belle et Sébastien, a 1965 children's book by the French writer Cécile Aubry. They have released eight albums to date and Murdoch has written a memoir, The Celestial Café, and is finishing a film called God Help the Girl. On 27 August Belle and Sebastian release The Third Eye Centre, a compilation of B-sides and rarities covering the past decade.
Carry On, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse
Obviously I love Wodehouse. As funny, laugh-out-loud writers go, he really has no rival. I picked this book because it is the first Jeeves and Wooster book and I love the start of things. I love the way that Jeeves shimmies into Wooster's life and then suddenly everything becomes all right. You get the sense right there that this is the beginning of a great bond, a great friendship. That calms me; I feel that Jeeves has shimmied into my life too and now just like Bertie everything will be alright for me too.
I do not watch much TV, but what I do watch I obsess about. Seinfeld is very old now and if you were to glance at it you might think it would no longer work. The sets are very obviously sets, the clothes and haircuts are terrible and the set-up appears extremely cosy, almost to the point of cliche. But it does still work – arguably better than it ever has done. Larry David's (Seinfeld writer and co-creator) Curb Your Enthusiasm contains some very funny bits. But for sheer sustained laughs Seinfeld is unbeatable. There is a Seinfeld scene for every situation in life.
It's this odd little thing that suddenly appears somewhere in Radio 4's Today programme. You get the stocks and shares, you get the weather, you get some politician mouthing off about their latest eye-catching policy and then suddenly you get this little pocket, this little interlude of spirituality. There are people talking about the supernatural right there in the middle of the BBC's flagship news programme every working day. I am a Christian, and I know that goes against the grain, and I know it's not fashionable but I genuinely love it. And not just when there are Christian speakers, I love it particularly when Rabbi Lionel Blue comes on. Am I a Christian apologist? Of course I am – I am a young person who goes to church. But I am also an apologist for Sikhism and Hinduism and Judaism. I will lie down on the metaphorical train lines to defend Thought for the Day.
Day for Night
I have been making a film for the last couple of years and since I had never directed anything before my manual for making a film is François Truffaut's Day for Night, which was recently reissued on DVD and Blu-ray. It was made in 1973 and its French title is La nuit américaine, which is a very poetic title and refers to a particular way of shooting night-time during day. Although by no means his most famous film it is very well regarded and is essentially a film within a film. I watched it a lot as I was making my own film, in order to get the sense of what a director needs to do.
I really do not want to be any more specific than that. Everyone knows their later stuff when they went stratospheric, but it's the early stuff, when they were part of the US punk-rock scene that really interests me at the moment. They broke up officially two years ago and everyone kind of shrugged their shoulders because they'd been in decline for some time. But it made me want to go back and hear those very early records. I take solace in those early records, they are punk rock and punk rock was the basic miracle of music. Punk really did change everything – a band such as REM simply could not have existed in the way they did without punk. The same goes for the Specials, the Smiths and us. Because of the way they happened, REM later became one of those huge bands it was OK to like.
I don't want to specify any particular novel of his and I know that because of his imperial associations he is not the hippest novelist around but I love him. He is deeply unfashionable but I don't think you could find a purer literary thinker than Kipling. He does not put himself into the narrative, you do not feel his personality but the trade-off is that you get all these wonderful flights of fantasy and go to these amazing places. His short stories and his novels are amazing. I read Kim at a fairly young and very impressionable age and the relationship between Kim and the old man was very touching; it had a profound and resounding effect upon me.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening displaces verse by Kipling and Eliot as most-requested on BBC's Poetry Please programme
Polls to discover the nation's favourite poem have traditionally crowned Rudyard Kipling's If as No 1, while TS Eliot has been hailed as the greatest poet, but now an audit of the poems most-requested on BBC Radio 4's Poetry Please has found that US poet Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is the piece that listeners most want to hear.
Programme producer Tim Dee has totted up every poem featured on the programme since it began in 1979, to produce a list of the most popular. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening has been read out 17 times in the show's 35 years on air.
Dee said: "The number of broadcasts is a direct ratio to the number of requests, so it's the one that people are most asking to listen to. It was a surprise. It's humanly thwarted, not getting to where it wants to get to, and there's that wonderful opening out at the end, like a prayer or a meditation; it speaks of human vulnerability. If you're living in a world where If is voted as the nation's favourite poem and TS Eliot is the favourite poet, it comes as a soft surprise."
The poem's last lines run:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
"To see Frost at the top is a nice correction to the patriotism of the 'nation's favourite' poems or poets. It's much more human," Dee added.
In second place on the Poetry Please requests list, broadcast 16 times in 35 years, is Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways, and in joint third place, having been read out 14 times, are Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas and Adlestrop by Edward Thomas, both poems associated with place.
"Adlestrop is a crowd-pleaser, but it's also a lovely, open-ended piece. Robert Frost was the poet who made Ed Thomas into the writer he was. They lived in adjacent villages in Gloucester and Frost helped him," Dee said.
The opening of Thomas's poem runs:
Yes. I remember Adlestrop –
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
Listeners most often request poems as a way of marking an emotional life event, whether it is the poem that wooed their spouse, the birth of a grandchild or the death of somebody close to them. Requests for the purposes of showing off are "quite rare", Dee said.
The list is notable for having no contemporary or even particularly recent poems on it – the most recent is Fern Hill, first published in 1945. There is no Simon Armitage, no Carol Ann Duffy, no Philip Larkin or Sylvia Plath, and no Seamus Heaney in the top 10. Eliot appears further down the list, with Journey of the Magi (nine readings), Macavity the Mystery Cat (six readings), and The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock, and Skimbleshanks (both five readings).
One feature shared by Poetry Please's top 10 most-requested poems – as well as their mostly emotional rather than intellectual concerns – is brevity: the majority of the top 10 poems are no more than a page or two long.
The top-most-requested poems are being collected in an anthology, Poetry Please: The Nation's Best-Loved Poems, with a foreword by poet Roger McGough, the programme's presenter, to be published by Faber on 3 October.
Poetry Please: the most requested poems
1. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost
2. How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43), by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
3. Adlestrop, by Edward Thomas
4. Fern Hill, by Dylan Thomas
5. The Darkling Thrush, by Thomas Hardy
6. Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold
7. Sonnet 116 (Let me not to the marriage of true minds), William Shakespeare
8. The Listeners, by Walter De La Mare
9. Remember, by Christina Rossetti
10. To His Coy Mistress, by Andrew Marvell
The 1967 animated version of Kipling's story is crammed with marching Raj elephants, hypnotic snakes and toe-tapping songs, but the jazz-singing bear is best
• More on The Jungle Book
• More from Why I Love …
"The jungle is JUMPIN'!" posters for The Jungle Book declared in 1967. The streets of Maidstone became a jungle, too, as thousands jostled outside the Granada cinema in a queue that stretched round the block and up Gabriel's Hill. There was only one screen back then.
Disney had a lot riding on the film. Founder Walt Disney died a few months before it was released; would the studio survive his passing? Would the Brits bridle at the liberties the Americans had taken with Kipling? Could family cartoons sufficiently entertain a young generation excited by Beatlemania and the poptastic delights of Radio 1? They needn't have worried. The posters didn't lie.
It was my first-ever trip to the pictures, aged four. Inside the vast, dark cathedral, the exotic musical overture swept the audience away to the dense forests of India. Cigarette smoke swirling through the projector's beam added body to the steaming tropical mists on screen. And when Baloo the bear launched into his jazzy explanation of life's Bare Necessities, all the children bounced in their seats, laughing and scratching along with him.
The film is crammed with memorable songs by the Sherman brothers, sung by marching Raj elephants and hypnotic snakes. But what really brought the house down was Baloo's scat duet with King Louie the orangutan in I Wanna Be Like You.
The song begins with the king of the swingers attempting to persuade the kidnapped man-cub, Mowgli, to divulge the secret of "man's red fire". Baloo and the black panther, Bagheera, arrive to rescue Mowgli. But Baloo, a beat generation bear if ever there was one, is seduced by the rhythm of the song and he's "gone, man … solid gone". Cunningly disguised as an alluring female ape with two coconut halves on his snout and wearing palm-frond wig and skirt, Baloo – voiced by the US big bandleader Phil Harris – enters mid-song and scats: "Hey! Da-zap pan-roni, hap da-de-da-lat da-dat dan-rone." In an instant, King Louie – aka the jazz trumpeter Louis Prima, who's only wannabe human after all – is driven mad with desire. Who wouldn't be?
As the pair trade scat gibberish and dance with abandon, Louie's monkey gang cavort around them. Everyone gets with the beat. "Gettin' mad, baby!" sings Baloo. Then, as the last chorus swells, he sings: "Take me home, Daddy!" Even when comic disaster ensues, Baloo's unmasking manages to remain note-perfect.
The song's infectious joy could bring a smile to any face. And it still does, to mine, four decades later. I have never forgotten the words to the song. If ever I have a blue moment, I can lift it with a whispered "scooby-dooby-doo-be" response from I Wanna Be Like You.
By the way, Disney did manage to shoehorn the Beatles into the film – at least, vultures impersonating John and Paul; the third vulture in their feathered band appeared to be more Stanley Holloway than Ringo, and the fourth … Anthony Newley? Inspired casting also brought authentically clipped vowels to the man-eating tiger Shere Khan, voiced by George Sanders.
Of course, all of that went over my head at the time. Instead of "Take me home, Daddy!" I clamoured to stay in my seat and watch the film again (and the second feature, Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar), which you could at the Granada with a well-timed toilet break. Instead, I got my wish in a different fashion. My nan took me to The Jungle Book again the next day.
Why I love ...
Time for some wholesome fun – what are the best movies for the whole family to enjoy? From Bambi to Spirited Away, here are the Guardian and Observer critics' top 10
• Top 10 romantic movies
• Top 10 action movies
• Top 10 comedy movies
• Top 10 horror movies
• Top 10 sci-fi movies
• Top 10 crime movies
• Top 10 arthouse movies
Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming previously collaborated on You Only Live Twice, but this feels closer to a true fusion: James Bond for juniors with a modern fairytale element. It's easy to unpick who did what: from Fleming's side you get a gadget-stuffed car, a heroine with an absurdly suggestive name (Sally Ann Howes' Truly Scrumptious), a Bond-style baddie (Gert "Goldfinger" Frobe) and a daring assault on his secret lair. It was also produced by Bond-merchant Cubby Broccoli, with sets by Ken Adam. And from Dahl's side you get empathetic children's plight (essential with two such ickily wholesome lead children), anarchically eccentric adults, a folkloric baddie to haunt young nightmares (the Child Catcher), and a class-conscious romantic subtext to ground it all.
What really makes the film fly, though, is the cartoonish reality it's set in. You can see why it's often mistaken for a Disney film. It's a similar universe to that of Mary Poppins, minus Dick Van Dyke's cockney mangling: a fantasy England with better weather, brighter colours and a lack of reserve about bursting into song-and-dance at the drop of a hat.
You can also see why it made for an enduring stage show. The musical numbers (penned by Disney's Sherman Brothers) are irresistibly catchy, energetically choreographed and extremely silly – though not without some grown-up wit. Thus, Frobe's Baron Bomburst attempts to off his wife even as he sings to her, "You're my chu-chi face," or the memorable Doll on a Music Box operates as both a risky subterfuge in the fantasy plot and a climax to the adult heroes' courtship – not to mention proof that Sally Ann Howes actually invented robotics.
Yes, it's corny and dated – especially the special effects – but it's a dense, action-packed yarn that easily holds children's attentions for two hours – and has done for generations. Steve Rose
One downside of Disney buying Pixar was that the latter's idiosyncrasies were phased out. In came sequels and prequels and princesses; out went oddball ventures with low-merchandising potential such as Ratatouille. The film's director Brad Bird (who had already scored a hit for Pixar with The Incredibles) put it best: "It's got an almost unpronounceable title named after a dish that's obscure to most Americans, and it's about rats in the kitchen. Oh, and French cooking too. Not what you'd call a slam-dunk at the box-office." Any such obstacles were overcome by originality, flair and sheer film-making joy.
Ratatouille is a wistful comedy about a rat named Remy (voiced by the comic actor Patton Oswalt) who can't stomach the junk food his family expects him to eat. He flees to Paris, where he reverses the fortunes of a legendary restaurant on the wane. He befriends Linguini (Lou Romano), a garbage boy harbouring dreams of becoming a chef, and hides beneath his toque, orchestrating the lad's movements at the stove by pulling his hair like a puppeteer yanking a marionette's strings.
Rats aside, the movie looks delicious. Colours and textures are heightened, from the nocturnal Parisian streets to the grub itself. The very sensation of eating is visualised, too: when Remy combines the flavours of strawberry and cheese, the screen fizzes with gaily coloured Catherine wheels. The film's message about the importance of experimentation and the democratic power of art is also sincere and sophisticated. There's even redemption for the sinister restaurant critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole), who gets to deliver the film's moral: "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." That message might be lost on younger viewers more entranced by the rodent slapstick, but give them time: seen at different ages, each viewing of Ratatouille delivers fresh flavours. It's a meal that never goes stale. Ryan Gilbey
It takes a particular genius to captivate viewers with a fairytale even as you're persistently reminding them that it's all made up and you can probably guess what's going to happen anyway, but The Princess Bride was serving up self-aware fantasy back when computer power couldn't begin to contemplate making something like Shrek.
The film is both lovably old-school and cunningly postmodern, framing and interrupting its wild adventure with "real world" bedside scenes that preempt any impatience and incredulity modern kids (especially boys) might have ("Has it got any sports in it?" "When does it get good?" bedridden Fred Savage asks his grandpa Peter Falk).
It gets good straight away. The story grandpa Falk (or, rather, screenwriter William Goldman) is telling would be more than enough for most movies on its own: a mischievous variation on the "rescue the princess" yarn that rapidly branches off in its own unpredictable tangent – one that's closer to Monty Python and the Holy Grail than Sleeping Beauty.
In fact, the "rescue the princess" element is the thinnest thing about the movie. The peripheral characters are so memorably sketched and performed, Cary Elwes and Robin Wright look rather dull as leads, crowded out as they are by the likes of Wallace Shawn, André the Giant, Christopher Guest, Peter Cook, and most memorably of all, Mandy Patinkin. It's still impossible to see Saul in Homeland without thinking, "My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!"
Those recurring catchphrases, and the sense of seasoned players having a great time, keep the movie romping along at such a clip, you keep expecting it to run out of steam, but not this time. Despite lack of special effects, star names or big-budget flourishes, here's barely a dull moment or a duff line in the whole thing. That's proper movie magic right there. SR
It can't be coincidence that Walt Disney died in 1966, during the production of The Jungle Book. There's a freedom and grooviness here that's largely absent from previous Mouse House features, as if the studio let down its hair and got with the beat once the old man was gone. The finished product is the least Disney-like Disney, with its distinct lack of wholesome, heteronormative values. You could even go further and read the film as a paean to the gay lifestyle. What is the story about if not a bunch of bachelors seeking to co-opt a fresh, young arrival into their ways of life? Until a pesky female comes along and spoils it all "He would have made one swell bear," sights Baloo. As for Rudyard Kipling, he'd have choked on his kedgeree to see the postwar liberties taken with his colonial fables. Disney instructed his writers not to bother reading the book.
But liberated hippie-era viewers dug it, and so has pretty much everyone since. For one thing, The Jungle Book is just about the only kids' cartoon with songs a grown-up would happily sing along to. Just as Baloo is powerless to resist King Louie's beat, the musicality of the movie is infectiously inhibition-conquering. This movie really swings. Few animated characters have ever danced so joyously, and there's a jazzy rhythm to the dialogue that almost makes it feel like beat poetry. And it was hip enough to even reference The Beatles!
Even with Kipling's "heavy stuff" removed, there's still a serious side to The Jungle Book. Gay allegories aside, the story of a child seeking his place in the world, sampling the lifestyles of others, having his naivety exploited and learning who to trust, speaks to us all. And there's something masterful about the way the weather reflects the emotional tone – the sky turning greyer as Mowgli approaches his lowest and loneliest point, before the decisive thunderstorm. When Mowgli finally does find his place with the humans, it's not exactly a happy ending – more a bittersweet one. It's a reminder that the fun has to end some time. Whether we like it or not, we've all got to grow up. SR
Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki took his lead from Lewis Carroll to rustle up this delirious rites of passage tale about a small girl's adventures in a bath-house for the gods. One moment 10-year-old Chihiro is bored on the back seat, en-route to a new home. The next, it seems, her parents are pigs, she's forgotten her name and is being asked to scrub down a "stink spirit" that has booked an appointment. Somewhere up ahead sits a dragon and a witch.
In a perfect world, more children's films would be like Spirited Away, which boasts a kind of dream logic, rustling up an outlandish universe which nonetheless runs to its own set of rules. Most film-makers install their supporting players as fixed representations of good and evil. Miyazaki, however, sends them bouncing like pinballs, troublesome and scary, so that the diffident "No Face" blooms into an all-consuming carnivore. Spirited Away has the same skittish, volatile rhythm. It's a magic spell, a booby trap, a helter-skelter to a happy ending. Xan Brooks
Until Cars ruined the record in 2006, the Pixar logo at the start of a movie was the nearest thing in cinema to the kitemark. Audiences could rest assured that the level of wit, storytelling and technical prowess would be incomparably high. Toy Story in particular was startlingly fresh. It wasn't only that, as the first full-length computer-animated feature, the technology was zingy back in 1995. It wasn't even that the narrative concept — toys come to life, with their own grudges, affections and hierarchies, when we aren't looking — was groundbreaking. Rather it was the aplomb and inventiveness with which these elements were combined. No distinction was made between the sensibilities of viewers young and old.
Some of the animation has inevitably dated as badly as the mobile phones of the era. Pixar hadn't really mastered humans back then. But given that the main characters were Woody, a toy cowboy, and Buzz Lightyear, the snazzy interloper who steals the affections of Woody's fatherless owner Andy, that hardly mattered.
The emotional core of the movie, centred around Woody's efforts to restore himself to Andy's arms, was horribly attuned to the displacement fears of the younger members of the audience, though it never became mawkish. The worst you could say is that the script overlooks the irony that the supposed villain of the piece, Andy's dysfunctional neighbour Sid, is actually the thriving creative element here. Unlike goody-two-shoes Andy, he dismembers old toys and fuses them into eccentric if freakish new hybrids. (He'd get a job at Pixar in a shot.) But the movie is such a riot of ideas and colour that this is no deal-breaker. The rest of the feast includes gold-standard voice work (as Woody, Tom Hanks gives arguably his greatest performance); a smattering of acute, original songs by Randy Newman; and a screenplay (Joss Whedon is among the writers) full of jokes that pop like champagne corks. RG
There are those who believe that Steven Spielberg reached the peak of his powers with this rapturous 1982 fantasy. They have a point: this is a movie to phone home about. In ET he distilled an entire career's worth of themes, preoccupations and pleasures into one poignant vision. The plot is simplicity itself. A fatherless boy, Elliot (Henry Thomas), stumbles upon a stranded alien in his backyard and endeavours to help him get home—wherever home might be. With the help of his siblings (Robert MacNaughton and a button-nosed, button-cute Drew Barrymore), prying grown-up eyes are evaded. No adult male is even seen from the waist up until near the end of the movie: this is emphatically a boys' world, but one in which there is a persuasive maternal presence. (Was there ever a movie mother as sympathetic as Dee Wallace playing Elliot's beleaguered single parent?)
ET himself, as designed by Carlo Rambaldi, guarantees our affection, though it looks touch-and-go at the start. Vast pop-eyes set in a shrivelled-pumpkin head on an extendible neck, with vocal cords of purest sandpaper-and-tin-tacks, he is the antithesis of the foetus-like aliens from Close Encounters. The relationship which develops between alien and child, though, is one of the most profound and moving in all cinema. There's no doubt that the special effects (including flying BMXs and a spaceship like a Christmas-tree bauble) and John Williams's career-best score do their bit. But it's the intimate touches that make ET one of the most delicate of all those movies that are routinely lumped together as "blockbusters." "The equivalent of the mothership landing in Close Encounters," Speilberg once said, "is, in ET, perhaps a tear out of Henry Thomas's eye." RG
This 1942 story of a fawn growing up to be prince of the forest is the apotheosis of a five-feature run of Disney films each worthy of that overused word "masterpiece"; its predecessors are, chronologically, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Dumbo. No other animation studio — not Pixar, not even Studio Ghibli — managed five knock-outs straight out of the box like that. It is also one of the strangest and most sensually avant-garde of animated movies, with minuscule adjustments in light, shading and sound playing the part that emphatic characterisation and narrative would later be expected to occupy. Imagine the film facing the focus groups and test screenings of early 21st century Hollywood. It would wobble on its tiny legs in the face of such orthodoxy.
And of course, the picture is still the most upsetting of all Disney animations. The murder of young Bambi's mother by hunters is not only a model of visual skill and economy (no humans are ever seen) but the cinematic childhood trauma by which all others are judged. By the time the studio tried to replicate that scene with the demise of Simba's father in The Lion King, it had forgotten what made Bambi so piercingly special: subtlety, elegance, understatement.
Not forgetting the tender and pioneering drawn-cel animation techniques. The film may be cherished by younger audience members for its cutesy-pie woodland characters such as Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk, even if those same viewers will need the word "twitterpated" explained to them. (Clue: it has nothing to do with social media.) But the real triumph is the animation's unprecedented level of realism. The film's colours are vivid and true. Like the emotions. RG
Frank Capra's 1946 heartwarmer stars James Stewart as a bright boy from a dull burg. George Bailey wants to kick the provincial dust from his boots and see the world. He winds up embittered, skint and suicidal, his golden promise all behind him. Eventually, in what may be cinema's most literal representation of the deus ex machina, a kindly angel shows him what Bedford Falls would be like had he never actually lived in it.
A flop on first release, It's a Wonderful Life has now been enshrined as a Hollywood classic. It's seen as an evergreen staple of the Christmas schedules; a picture that's as purely, reassuringly American as a slice of apple pie or a Norman Rockwell illustration. But is it really that simple? These apples taste sour and there's black on that palette. Evil goes unpunished and the hero's right back where he started.
What makes Capra's film so great, I think, is that its buoyant message is borne out of disappointment and pain. George Bailey makes peace with what he's lost and then embraces what he's gained. It's a wonderful, compromised, effortful life. It's the life we all relate to. XB
The Wizard Of Oz, starring the 17-year-old Judy Garland, is America's Alice in Wonderland: a piece of movie-mythology which is surreal, subversive and intoxicating. The talking apple trees that slap you when you try to pick their fruit are the equal of anything in Lewis Carroll. "There's no place like home" the movie tells us. But the truth is that there are plenty of places like boring old home, but nowhere like glorious Oz, that place of enchantment, experienced in vivid colour after the drab monochrome of Kansas. Hollywood and the entire movie business was built by talented people who couldn't wait to get away from home, get their one-way bus ticket to Los Angeles and work in the Oz dream factory, with all the fervour of insiders who know that the wizard is just a little guy, but promote his gigantic legend all the same, as an inspiring and superior reality.
This is a movie which speaks to our fascination with the exotic, the mad, the unreal. The Ozscape production design is elaborately theatrical and artificial and yet seductively complete and entire of itself. The film itself can be unexpectedly subtle. One of its cleverest, unacknowledged touches is Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow during the black-and-white section, when of course the point is there is no rainbow, and so the shift into colour is itself the film's fulfilment of a rainbow-prophecy. There is enduring freshness and innocence in the film, exuberance, life and fun. And Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion is genuinely funny: watch this YouTube clip of Dorothy's first encounter with the Lion, crying, and you can see at 1:02 how Judy Garland almost corpses at Lahr's comedy business, wiping his eyes with his tail.
It is a story which makes heroes of children, and child-like adults, showing how they take control of their own lives with a bold plan audaciously carried out. In dreams begin responsibilities, and in this adventure begins Dorothy's sense of how to make sense of the adult world. Peter Bradshaw
The University of Kent did. But any serious reader should know that this is preposterous
It's been a strange few days. On Friday afternoon, I uploaded a screenshot of a university website to Twitter. A few minutes later, it went viral; over the weekend, the internet went ballistic. On Monday, the university changed its website.
It was all started by Richard Cooper (@RichardHCooper), a University of Kent graduate who was considering taking a creative writing course there. But he was troubled by a statement on their site.
"We love great literature," it said. "We are excited by writing that changes the reader, and ultimately – even if it is in a very small way – the world. We love writing that is full of ideas, but that is also playful, funny and affecting. You won't write mass-market thrillers or children's fiction on our programmes. You'll be encouraged to look deep inside yourself for your own truth and your own experiences, and also outside yourself at the contemporary world around you. Then you'll work out how to turn what you find into writing that has depth, risk and originality but is always compelling and readable."
By the time I saw this, a number of children's writers including Philip Reeve had already protested. At first, the University couldn't see the problem. I tweeted the screenshot so everyone could see it and judge for themselves. It was picked up by the Guardian Children's Books feed, then by writers such as Patrick Ness and Michael Rosen, and is still being retweeted every few minutes, often accompanied by expressions of outrage and dismay.
It's not hard to understand why. The statement sets up a rhetorical system that places "great literature" in opposition to children's fiction and thrillers, making them mutually exclusive. It implies that children's fiction cannot be great literature, and appears to belittle children's fiction as a form that by definition cannot do the things great literature can.
And yet, by every criterion listed, children's fiction is entirely capable of being great literature. Indeed, if you're looking for writing that changes the reader and the world, there may be no better form. I work with the CLPE (Centre For Literacy in Primary Education). I've visited countless schools and seen for myself the life-changing power of children's books. It's impossible to overstate the transformative effects they can have upon individual readers – and collectively, across generations, upon the world.
I already suspected this from my own experience. The books I read as a child shaped my deepest beliefs. When I was at university, my friends and I were thrilled to discover that our childhood favourites seemed even more powerful than we remembered. This was true of classic authors such as George MacDonald, Rudyard Kipling, E Nesbit and Tove Jansson; or 1960s writers like Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Peter Dickinson and Ursula Le Guin.
In the work of such authors, we found stories that were compelling and readable; that had depth, risk and originality; that offered all the imaginative space and possibilities we wanted from literature. Garner and Cooper made connections between ancient myth and contemporary reality; Dickinson dealt with human origins, with politics and war; Le Guin with the interconnectedness of all life. These books were tackling the biggest ideas and questions imaginable.
That was the kind of literature I wanted to write, and that was when I made the choice to do it in children's fiction. I may or may not succeed, but I've never doubted the form itself. That's why I found the Kent statement so hard to take.
The twitstorm showed me how many other people share my feelings. Authors, critics, publishers, teachers, booksellers, librarians, readers around the world: suddenly, there were hundreds of voices expressing exactly these beliefs. I'm far from the only one enthusing about Philip Pullman and JK Rowling, David Almond and Meg Rosoff, Malorie Blackman and Jacqueline Wilson, MT Anderson and Sally Gardner …
The list could go on. But Kent has now apologised for its statement, changed it, and asked for children's literature recommendations. If you have some, please tweet them @UniKentWriting. I'll be following them on Twitter, but now I think it's time to get back to actually writing books.
The live action version of Rudyard Kipling's classic adventure would be Iñárritu's first putative blockbuster, though he has regularly shot in English – notably 21 Grams and the upcoming Birdman, a comedy starring Emma Stone and Michael Keaton.
However, this live-action Jungle Book, written by Harry Potter's Steve Kloves and back by Warner Bros, is facing serious competition in the shape of a similar project from Disney, which earlier this year was reported to have attached Iron Man's Jon Favreau as director. Disney recently confirmed an October 2015 release date for their movie, so it would appear their project is well advanced.
As Kipling's stories are in the public domain, no one studio can own them exclusively, though a head-to-head clash is never desirable. Recent experience with Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror showed that movies based on similar material don't necessarily destroy the second film's chances: Fox's Mirror Mirror, which reached audiences first in March 2012, took $166m worldwide, while Huntsman, three months later, managed $396m worldwide.
Reader Tim Hannigan finds a comfortable travelling companion in Kipling's 'little friend of all the world'
The great explorer Wilfred Thesiger usually carried just two books when he stepped into the wild. One was Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim; the other was Rudyard Kipling's Kim. He could read them over and over, he said, with the joy of poetry. I would have been happy to make do with just the latter title, for at some bleak bivouac in the Empty Quarter – or indeed at home in a British winter – Kim would offer all the warmth I could ever ask for. This is the ultimate comfort read, and the promise of its joy and colour is always something to cling to as you trudge across a desert of bad weather, hard work or turgid texts.
Published at the threshold of the 20th century, Kim is the story of the eponymous orphan boy – of Irish descent but Indian-born, "a poor white of the very poorest" and a street urchin in the great Mughal city of Lahore. He falls in with an itinerant Tibetan lama on a quest for a sacred river, and ends up conscripted into "the Great Game", the imperial cold war of espionage and derring-do fought on the fringes of the British Raj.
In synopsis, then, it sounds like a Boy's Own adventure. But while ripping yarns can certainly be comforting, it's not the plot that makes Kim soul food of the first rank. When Laurens van der Post was interred in a Japanese prison camp in World War II Indonesia, he found himself willing to trust a Korean informant simply because of the reassuring associations of the man's name – he was called Kim. And there's the crucial clue: what makes Kim such a glorious wellspring of comfort is its humanity. The hero is known in the alleyways of Lahore as "Little Friend of all the World", and the book revels in the joy of human company. People are good, it says; neck-deep in the "broad, smiling river of life" is a good place to be; and with Kim you can be neither cynical nor lonely.
Kipling has, of course, been roundly condemned by many a post-colonial critic, his very name made a byword for objectionable empire nostalgia. It's certainly true that the India of Kim is an unchanging place, with British rule an incontestable part of the scene. But the warm soul of the book is in its people, not its politics. It brims with Indian noise and heat and colour – a great comfort in itself when the world outside your window is slate-grey and sodden. And yet these roaring bazaars and clamorous caravanserais are peopled not with some massed and inscrutable Other; they are brim-full of friends, men and women with voices and stories of their own.
The other great solace is in the writing itself. There is style without pretentiousness, and simplicity that is neither bleak nor chiselled. It is comfort food that is somehow rich and refined at the same time, and I can read it again and again. Before the cold comfort of digital connectivity I always carried a copy of Kim on long backpacking trips as a potent charm against the horror of booklessness in remote places.
For all its comforting qualities Kim is not entirely without darkness. Towards the end of the book, buckling under the burdens of responsibility, the teenaged hero suffers one of the most convincingly drawn nervous breakdowns in English literature. But this is actually where you'll find the greatest solace of all, for in the world of Kim when a collapse comes there will always be a clean white room in a rambling farmhouse to rest in, a mighty matriarch with silver bangles and a sharp tongue to nurse you better, and friends ready to cross half a continent to check on your recovery.
And when that recovery comes – as it always does – there's the irresistible discovery that roads are simply meant to be walked upon, "houses to be lived in, cattle to be driven, fields to be tilled, and men and women to be talked to." There's no greater comfort than that.
As a special Christmas treat – and a thank you to all our listeners – we've teamed up with the British Library to select seasonal scenes from some of the world's greatest literature. Simon Callow and Juliet Stevenson read poetry, fiction and memoir which conjures up the festive season.
1. Wiliam Wordsworth, from The River Duddon
2. Laurie Lee, from Cider With Rosie
3. Thomas Hardy, The Oxen
4. John Donne, Nativity
5. Anthony Trollope, from Orley Farm
6. Rudyard Kipling, Christmas In India
7. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Dirge For The Year
8. Henry James, from English Hours
9. William Makepeace Thackeray, The Mahogany Tree
10. Alfred Tennyson, Ring Out, Wild Bells from In Memoriam
Download the full recording of A Literary Christmas from the British library online shop
A photographic highlight selected by the picture desk
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Cultural diversity is explored in an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's classic tale that ultimately descends into panto
The Jungle Book has been read in a number of ways: as an allegory of empire, a cuddly cartoon film or a motivational handbook for Cub Scouts. Yet the experiences of the forest foundling Mowgli were essentially those of the young Rudyard Kipling in reverse: ejected from an idyllic, Indian childhood, the writer was forced to adapt to a regimen of bullying, neglect and incomprehensible rules on the south coast of England. Since this bears little correlation with the experience of children today, adapter Rosanna Lowe and director Liam Steel have chosen to approach the story as a paradigm of cultural diversity.
Composer Niraj Chag introduces an ensemble that fuses Indian and western percussion with the outstanding Hindi vocalist Japjit Kaur, who drifts around the rope bridges and verdant creepers of Laura Hopkins's set presenting an ethereal, ululating commentary. The wolf pack conduct their business like a close-knit, slightly fractious East End clan; the counsel offered to Jacob James Beswick's impetuous Mowgli by Ann Ogbomo's ineffable Bagheera seems to contain the wisdom of a panther who has passed all her child psychology exams.
It works up to a point: you can understand why Mowgli should wish to escape Baloo's boring lectures on jungle law in order to hang out with a gaggle of amoral, Burberry-clad monkeys. But the concept loses its way and its integrity in the less engaging second half, in which Kipling's later story about the discovery of lost treasure receives such broad treatment that the audience begins to respond in pantomime mode. Given that Andrew French's imperious, stilt-walking tiger, Shere Khan, works hard in the early scenes to present a genuine sense of threat, it seems a shame to be ultimately thwarted by cries of "he's behind you".
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The recipe for Hemingway's favourite burger has been revealed this week – an appropriate time to check your literary taste. Find out how voracious a reader you are with our culinary quiz