One of my favorite cartoons when I was young was the 1974 Chuck Jones animated version of “Rikki Tikki Tavi,” narrated by Orson Wells. The classic video can now be accessed in a public archive HERE.
This might seem a bit odd, since I was born exactly a decade after this production was released and had many newer choices like He-Man, GI Joe, and Ninja Turtles to choose from. There’s something magically heroic about the story of a little rodent fighting of frightening snakes and saving a gentle family. Of course, you could read a bunch of post-colonial stuff into Kipling’s work, but if you treat your entertainment too seriously you’ll never be happy.
Now before you call foul for me discussing this sort of story on my fantasy/sci-fi blog, remember, its a story about talking animals. If that is not fantasy, I don’t know what is.
Recently I showed the cartoon to a group of Korean fifth and sixth graders in one of my English classes. I wasn’t sure how they would react. When they first saw the animation they laughed and mocked the outdated look. But eventually, they were drawn in, just as I had been when I was young. This was the case, even without Korean subtitles and with the students’ limited English. There’s truly something enchanting about the old show.
After this most recent viewing, I decided to read the actual story. (The work is in the public domain and I will post a link to the full text below.) I was surprised at how closely the cartoon followed the original text. It was a very faithful rendition.
Here’s an ARTICLE suggesting the story to be the “best short story of all time.”
The story is not without its problems, at least for modern readers. The POV jumps from time to time without sufficient warrant. Also, being a story about animals, there is often little motivation offered for why the characters do what they do. Why is Chuchundra always scared, for example? At the time it was written, writing was not as tight of an art as it is now. Author’s have learned and developed a great deal over the past century. One of the things that stands out to me now is how fast Rikki goes into fight and kill mode. Killing is easy for him and this is never questioned. Of course, its natural for a mongoose, but strange in comparison to modern stories that are perhaps more prudish than the wanton violence and prejudice of the past.
I had another though while I was reading the original story: Why hasn’t this story been retold? Has it, and have I just missed it? Many fairy tales have been reproduced and reinterpreted hundreds of times. Speaking of fairy tales, I have written a novella draft for a re-imagining of the old Hans Christian Andersen story “the Nightingale,” changing the Chinese myth into a traditional medieval fantasy story.
That got me thinking, why not try my hand at Rikki Tikki Tavi? I’m thinking to extend this one out to a novella as well, and likely going to do a first-person perspective. It’ll probably be Rikki’s POV, but maybe I could do Darzee or even Chuchundra. There is so much detail in the story already, but so much that is left unsaid. There’s so much that happens off stage–Rikki growing up and learning from his mother, Rikki getting swept up in the storm, the origin of the British family and the politics surrounding their estate, Darzee’s family’s encounters with the cobras. There are even characters mentioned that never really appear, such as Chua and the Coppersmith. I really want to dig into these characters and see where they take me.
What do you think, dear readers? Do you think a novella starring Rikki the Valiant would be a fun idea?
Originally, I was going to post the full text here, but I came across a website that has great illustrations with their text.
The story can be found HERE.