The role of the snake Kaa in Rudyard Kipling’s "The Jungle Books" and in three film adaptations

Term Paper, 2019
12 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Kaa in Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Books"
2.1 Kaa, the hunter
2.3 Kaa in "The Second Jungle Book"

3. Comparison to three film adaptations
3.1 Disneyl967-theclumsy,alwayshungrybackstabber
3.2 Disney2016-thestory-telling,dangerousseductress
3.3 Netflix 2018 - the omniscient, friendly and violent female narrator

4. Conclusion

5. Workscited

1. Introduction

Humanised animals in literature are usually found in children's and in political stories. Often, these two topics overlap so that the children's books also contain a lot of political statements and criticism. Anthropomorphism is a device which is used by many authors to discuss societal and political problems, while maintaining an emotional distance to the personal or painful story:

"The intellectual and emotional distance that the animals' role-playing allows children and their mentoring adults grants space in which to become reflective and critical concerning life problems and life choices." (Burke, Carolyn L. and Copenhaver, Joby G., "Animals as people in Children's Literature", 212)

One excellent example of the linkage between a children's story, a personal fate and a highly political statement is found in "Alfred J. Kwak", written by Herman van Veen. In this story a duck, whose parents died in a car accident, begins fighting for the rights of other animals that do not have enough water to live. In the end, the duck must fight against a crow that looks and acts like Adolf Hitler.

Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Books" also send political messages, although not quite as blatantly as in van Veen's stories about the duck. Kipling paints the picture of a society in the jungle that has rules, outsiders and leaders, just as in the human world.

In this paper I will describe how the role of the snake Kaa changes and develops from its original role in Kipling's books to the way the snake is portrayed in three different film adaptations. In general, Kaa has more of a side part - in one adaptation the snake only appears once. However, provided with a great variety of characteristics and sometimes also mystic qualities, the snake becomes a very important part in the developing storyline. The fact that Kaa never plays the same role in any of the film adaptations, which in turn also differ from Kipling's original stories about Mowgli, makes this character especially fascinating. It is interesting to take a closer look at how the snake is developed and under which circumstances it meets the so called "Man-cub". Kipling introduces Kaa as a male, a mighty resident of the jungle who is friends with Bagheera and Baloo. In the Disney adaptations Kaa is more of a maverick, searching for food and trying to earn Mowgli's trust in orderto eat him. In one Disney version Kaa is male, and in the laterversion the snake is female. In the Warner film, the snake becomes more than just an inhabitant of the jungle. I will have a detailed look at the four different ways in which Kaa is described, the snake's various characteristics and also consider the role of the snake in other contexts.

In over hundred years of re-telling Kipling's "The Jungle Books", the snake Kaa develops from Mowgli's smartest friend to his enemy to an omniscient prophetic saver of the jungle and is the most important side role in all analysed versions of "TheJungle Books".

2. Kaa in Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Books"

2.1 Kaa, the hunter

Kaa appears for the first time, when Mowgli is in danger. We get to know that the monkeys, who have taken Mowgli, only fear Kaa. The Rock-python is something ofan evil legend among the monkey folk of "Bandar-log":

"Generations of monkeys had been scared into good behaviour by the stories their elders told them of Kaa, the night-thief, (...). Kaa was everything that the monkeys feared in the jungle". (Kipling 1894: 41)

Based on this knowledge, it's clear that Kaa is the best weapon against the monkeys and that Bagheera and Baloo, Mowgli's friends, could not have chosen anyone better to free him. Kaa is described as 30 feet long, which is incredibly long for a Rock-python. This enormous length makes him very dangerous, as he kills by squeezing his prey with his body.

In the beginning however, it did not seem to be a good time to ask the Rock-python to fight against the monkeys. He is described as "rather deaf" (Kipling 1894: 31) and, after having changed his skin, being "a little blind". (Kipling 1894: 31) Kipling describes the condition of a python after shedding its skin correctly; for a couple of days they have a greyish-white lubricant under their skin. As they shed the skin on the eyes as well, they have this liquid on their eyes and their vision is restricted during this process. I think it is interesting that this fact appears in "The Jungle Books", because Kipling does not mention a lot of special physical characteristics of the animals. He explains a lot about the behaviour of a wolf pack for example, but rarely presents true biological facts.

Despite being partially blind, one aspect of the snake's condition does increase the likelihood of forming a partnership with Kaa: the snake is hungry. Pythons only eat every 10 to 14 days and the bigger they get, the more food they need: "I am as empty as a dried well."(Kipling 1894:32)

In the conversation about the monkeys that follows, we learn about one of Kaa's character flaws when Kipling describes him as being proud. Pride can be viewed as a weakness because if someone's ego is harmed, it can turn into anger and lead to irrational or emotional decisions.

Bagheera uses the snake's pride in a very clever way by constantly repeating what the Bandar-log might have called Kaa during his last hunt: "Footless, yellow earth-worm", (Kipling 1894: 32) "'Worm - worm - earth-worm,' said Bagheera, 'as well as other things which I cannot now say for shame.'"(Kipling 1894: 33) Bagheera tells a lie and is successful. Kaa is willing to help, although he does not know Mowgli personally. His motivation is hungerand wounded pride.

It took quite an effort for Bagheera to ask the snake for help, as Kipling describes after the fight with the monkeys. (Kipling 1894: 45) Although they all live by the same laws and are referred to as friends, a panther, a bear and a snake are usually loners and do not seek for help from others. They make an exception for the Man-cub because they love Mowgli, as Baloo mentions to Kaa. (Kipling 1894: 33) This is extraordinary and shows Mowgli's special position in the jungle. He is neither a proper wolf nor a real man, yet many different animals feel responsible for him. Baloo acts as a kind of teacher, Bagheera as a mentor. They probably would not have asked a Rock python for help had they been in danger themselves.

Mowgli is not aware that he is in such danger. He demands food from his captors and figures out that he does not like the monkeys because they do not live by the Law of the Jungle that he learnt from Baloo.

In fact, Mowgli has been taught the Law of the Jungle in every animalistic "language". (Kipling 1894: 24) When he clashes with a bunch of snakes in a hole in the Cold Lairs, he is saved by his ability to give the "Snake's Call": "'We be of one blood, ye and I'" (Kipling 1894: 39). Immediately the snakes recognise that he knows the Law of the Jungle and they see him as a "Little Brother" and he is safe in that situation. The fact that he can speak in all the Jungle tongues helps him in many situations and in the end, makes him Master of the Jungle. (Kipling 1894: 235)

Bagheera and Baloo fight with the monkeys, but there are too many of them and they cannot help Mowgli because they are busy defending themselves. When Kaa enters the Cold Lairs, the tide turns immediately. Kipling describes the coldness and impressive power of the Rock python:

"Then Kaa came straight, quickly, and anxious to kill. (...) If you can imagine a (...) hammer weighing nearly half a ton driven by a cool, quiet mind living in the handle of it, you can rougly imagine what Kaa was like when he fought." (Kipling 1894: 41)

Usually Kaa only kills the monkeys that get in his way and does not hunt them on purpose (Kipling 1894: 34). When asked by his friends to help them out of a hopeless situation however, Kaa uses all his power to help Mowgli. In doing so he also has the opportunity to kill hundreds of monkeys and have a feast. With only one word he hypnotises all monkeys, makes them stop their movement and gets himself prepared for the very special "Dance of the Hunger of Kaa". (Kipling 1894: 44)

2.2 The duality of gender

Kipling describes a duality of gender. Being feared for violence and slaughtering hundreds of animals is more of a masculine signification, whereas dancing and beguiling someone with this is being seen as a feminine attitude: "His hypnotic dance, an aesthetic performance [is] linked with killing (...)" (Batra, Nandita and Messier, Vartan. Of Mice and Men: Animals in Human Culture, 223) "Dance as a weapon isn't usually part of the characterization ofa male killer in any (...) story." (Ibid, 224)

Mowgli grew up without a real father or mother. Maybe this is the reason why Kipling chose his role models and mentors to show a diversity of gender. Another reason could be that there is no feminine animal character in the Jungle Books aside from Raksha, the wolf­mother. Mowgli's other two best friends also show multiple facets of traditional gender behaviour and characteristics. Baloo, the big caring bear, calls himself "mother" of the wolf cubs. (Kipling 1894: 22) Bagheera is described as strong and powerful, but also having a "voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down." (Kipling 1894: 8) These characteristics are rather feminine and do not fit into the picture of a panther, which is rather a powerful, smart loner.

2.3 Kaa in "The Second Jungle Book"

Kaa's role as advisor and friend to Mowgli begins with the chapter "Kaa's Hunting" and continues in two more chapters of "The Second Jungle Book"; "The King's Ankus" and "Red Dog". These two chapters are not part of the three film adaptations analysed in this paper.


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The role of the snake Kaa in Rudyard Kipling’s "The Jungle Books" and in three film adaptations
Bielefeld University
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ISBN (Book)
Kaa, Jungle Books, Rudyard Kipling, Disney, Netflix, Films, Adaptation
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Anonymous, 2019, The role of the snake Kaa in Rudyard Kipling’s "The Jungle Books" and in three film adaptations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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