"Of One Blood"
: The Influence Of Rudyard Kipling On The Works Of Robert Heinlein
No author, not even a writer of science fiction, writes in a vacuum. They
draw upon the works of others and add enough to make the story their own.
Robert Heinlein is no exception to this and he wove elements from many stories
into his own works.
In 1907, the year that Heinlein was born, Rudyard Kipling was awarded the
Nobel Prize for Literature, honoring his “remarkable talent for narration.”
It is not surprising that Heinlein, himself a master at the art of story
telling, should have admired Kipling and his style of writing. Given Heinlein’s
penchant for literary allusions within his own work it is therefore equally
unsurprising to see a strong and steady flow of Kipling references throughout
Kipling was born in India in 1865 but spent most of his early life in Britain.
He returned to India to work for seven years in a newspaper, writing stories
as well as reporting. He then went back to Britain and his career as an author
began to flourish. He spent four years in Vermont after his marriage to an
American but returned to Britain, where he stayed until his death in 1936.
While he lived he was given many honors; the Nobel Prize he accepted and
honorary degrees from seven prestigious universities but he refused to become
Poet Laureate due to his bitterness over the death of his young son in World
Kipling’s work is not as well known today as it deserves. His poetry
is considered to be sentimental and sometimes even racist and his books have
been overshadowed by the inaccurate film and cartoon versions of The Jungle
Book. It is worth remembering that in his day he was a famous literary
personality, known world wide for his stories and verse.
Perhaps the most striking proof of his influence was the astonishing reaction
to his poem, “The White Man’s Burden." It was published in 1899, at the time
of the war between the United States and the Philippine Islands and created
a storm of protest from the anti imperialists in the American press and Congress.
The poem seemed to be advocating a wholesale “civilization” of the “savage”
nations of the world by the superior white nations; Britain and America.
Unsurprisingly this viewpoint was not universally popular, especially in
America but the fact that a poem could have this impact is indicative of
the regard in which Kipling was held.
Heinlein seems to be an essentially modern author: little of his work has
dated and he is still widely read and well regarded. It is worth noting though
that he was 28 when Kipling died. This means that his formative years overlapped
the last three decades of Kipling’s life. He would have grown up reading
Kipling’s books, not as classics, but as part of a contemporary library.
Heinlein then had the chance to act almost as a translator for Kipling, taking
his themes and giving them an appeal to modern readers using his own distinctive
style. This may have been made easier by the fact that Kipling wrote many
fantasies and several short stories that can be classed as science fiction.
The best known is probably “With The Night Mail; A Story of 2000 A.D.”
This is not to say that Heinlein lacked originality of invention, simply
that when he chose to, he drew upon those authors with which he was most
familiar. This form of borrowing has been used by authors throughout the
centuries, with varying degrees of success. Heinlein seems to have mastered
The influence of Kipling is shown in the use of small incidents from
Kipling’s books or an adaptation of his poetic style and twice as a basis
for a book; namely, “Citizen of the Galaxy” and “Stranger In A Strange Land."
In at least 11 of his books or stories, written from 1941 to 1985, there
is a specific Kipling reference and many other stories concern scouting which,
thanks to the “Jungle Books”, is firmly linked to Kipling.
In “Time Enough For Love” Lazarus Long has the “Just So Stories” in book
form and refers to them as being books from his childhood. In “Farnham’s
Freehold," Hugh Farnham stores both the “Just So Stories” and the “Collected
Kipling Verse” in his bomb shelter. It may be inferred from this that Kipling’s
work was well known to Heinlein as a child and that he remained a favorite
of the adult Heinlein.
It is perhaps ironic that one of the hazings Heinlein endured in the Navy
was to memorize a Kipling poem, “The Mary Gloster." This poem tells of an
old, embittered man on his death bed. He is bribing his worthless son to
bury him at sea, at the same place his wife was buried, many years before.
The many sea stories and poems that Kipling wrote would have been stirring
reading for the young Heinlein who, many decades later, was also to be buried
The poetry of Kipling, with its sheer readability and swing, its deceptive
simplicity and its mesmerizing rhythm must have appealed to Heinlein. His
earlier books and short stories sometimes included poetry or songs. They
are not all Kiplingesque but the works of Rhysling in “The Green Hills Of
Earth," have a haunting familiarity to readers of Kipling’s poetry.
If the structure of “Jet Song” is compared with that of Kipling’s
“The Juggler’s Song” there is a strong similarity. Heinlein wrote;
“When the field is clear, the report all seen,
When the lock sighs shut, when the lights wink green,
When the check-off’s done, when it’s time to pray,
When the captain nods, when she blasts away-
Hear the jets!” (1)
This is clearly based on these lines;
“When the drums begin to beat down the street,
When the poles are fetched and guyed,
When the tight-rope’s stretched and tied,
When the dance girls make salaam,
When the snake - bag wakes alarm....” (2)
The sentiments of the poem, “The Green Hills Of Earth” with its longing to
return home are a duplicate, on a larger scale, of those expressed in Kipling’s
poem “Sussex.” It finishes with the lines,
“God gives all men all earth to love,
But, since man’s heart is small,
Ordains for each one spot shall prove
Beloved over all.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground - in a fair ground -
Yea, Sussex by the sea!” (3)
Rhysling had similar thoughts;
“We’ve tried each spinning space mote
And reckoned its true worth:
Take us back again to the homes of men
On the cool, green hills of Earth.
We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.” (4)
The poetry of Kipling was as important as his stories in the extent to which
it impinged on Heinlein’s own books.
“Tramp Royale” is a non fiction book, published some time
after Heinlein’s death but written after a world trip in 1953/54 with his
wife. Virginia Heinlein is called ‘Ticky” throughout this book; a reference
to the brave mongoose Rikki Tikki Tavi of the Jungle Book perhaps! In the
introduction to the book Mrs Heinlein mentions that the title is from a Kipling
poem, “Sestina of the Tramp Royale.” She admits that the verses are
not Kipling’s best, due to the rigid form a sestina takes but she says that,
“The poem might have been influential in the writing of this book.” (5)
The poem expounds the philosophy of a man with a restless outlook on life,
who keeps moving, changing jobs, seeing the world. It ends with words that
Heinlein may well have agreed with;
“It’s like a book, I think, this bloomin’ world,
Which you can read and care for just so long,
But presently you feel that you will die
Unless you get the page you’re readin’ done,
An’ turn another - likely not so good;
But what you’re after is to turn ‘em all.
Gawd bless this world! Whatever she ‘ath done -
Excep’ when awful long - I’ve found it good.
So write, before I die, “‘E liked it all!”” (6)
Kipling wrote many poems and stories about army life. He was intensely patriotic
but he never truly recovered from the death of his young son in World War
One. Heinlein used two of Kipling’s army poems in his own tale of a
young recruit, “Starship Troopers.”
The lines he quotes from “The ‘Eathen” gives a fair description of any military
training at any time and Rico would have empathized with them;
“The young recruit is silly - ‘e thinks of suicide.
‘E’s lost ‘is gutter - devil; ‘e ‘asn’t got ‘is pride;
But day by day they kicks ‘im, which ‘elps ‘im on a bit,
Till ‘e finds ‘isself one mornin’ with a full an’ proper kit.
Getting clear o’ dirtiness, gettin’ done with mess,
Gettin’ shut o’ doing things rather - more - or -less.” (7)
The other reference is to the poem, “Danny Deever." The band plays this as
Dillinger, a deserter who killed a small girl, is prepared for his hanging.
The poem is also about a soldier who is hanged, in this case for killing
a comrade as he slept.
In “Tunnel In The Sky," Rod Walker is told by his teacher, Deacon Matson,
that he is not ready to take the solo survival test. He is, “too romantic”
and “way too emotional, too sentimental to be a real survivor type.” Matson
finishes his warning by telling Rod that,
“I’m sure you can devise a water filter with your bare hands and know which
side of the tree the moss grows on. But I’m not sure that you can beware
of the Truce of the Bear.” (8)
This reference puzzled Rod and is never explained; perhaps Heinlein thought
that his readers would know what he meant. He was, of course, referring to
Kipling’s poem of the same name. “The Truce Of The Bear” describes
the mutilation of a man who takes a bear’s apparent surrender and human like
pleading at face value. Lowering the rifle as the bear sways from side to
side, supplicating and seemingly praying, the man pays the price for trust;
“Nearer he tottered and nearer, with paws like hands that pray -
From brow to jaw that steel - shod paw, it ripped my face away!”
The maimed hunter warns that,
“When he shows as seeking quarter, with paws like hands in prayer,
That is the time of peril - the time of the Truce of the Bear!” (9)
Rod’s own bear comes in the form of Jock McGowan, a domineering bully who
strikes quickly when Rod is still trying to be diplomatic. With the help
of his friends Rod is the victor. He still has lessons to learn but he survived
his encounter with, “Adam - zad, the Bear that looks like a Man.”
The Jungle Books formed a framework for the early Scouting movement and became
associated with the ideals and behavior expected of a Scout. Heinlein’s juveniles
often featured boys who were Scouts or who seemed to fit the Scouting ideal
in their ingenuity, bravery and sense of adventure. In “Farmer In The Sky”
the Scouting theme runs throughout the book, taken seriously by the adults
and forming a link between the original and incoming colonists at a time
of tension. In “Grumbles From The Grave” Heinlein remarks in a letter to
his agent, Lurton Blassingame, that a trip to the South Pole could provide
material for a story called “Polar Scout.” He proposed that it, together
with two other Scouting stories could form his next juvenile book.
Polar Scout was never written but the other two stories appeared in book
form as part of “Expanded Universe” (“Nothing Ever Happens On The Moon”)
and Requiem (“Tenderfoot In Space.”)
Another other use of the Scouting theme is found in the novella, “Lost Legacy."
Here, Scouting camps are used a way of training young children to use the
powers of the mind that have been forgotten over the centuries.
An interesting point, possibly pure coincidence, is that both authors wrote
short stories called “They." Kipling’s tale is a gentle, melancholy ghost
story with a hint of the mystical. Heinlein’s is a strange fantasy about
a man who at first seems delusional but is, in fact, some kind of prisoner
of strange beings. Raising far more questions than it answers, this is one
of Heinlein’s most unusual short stories.
One of the most moving pieces Heinlein wrote was his short speech, “This
I Believe”, which is in “Grumbles From The Grave.” In it he pays tribute
to the average, decent people who make up most of the human race. One small
Kipling reference found its way into this speech,
“I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case
and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes will endure.
Will endurelonger than his home planet - will spread out to the stars and
beyond , carrying with him his honesty and his insatiable curiosity, his
unlimited courage and his noble essential decency.
This I believe with all my heart.”
Heinlein was an Elephant’s Child himself, with his own brand of “‘satiable
curtiosity” as Kipling phrased it in his Just So stories. That he used this
phrase in his speech may have been unthinking but it is further evidence
of his familiarity with Kipling’s work.
A final example of the small ways in which Heinlein utilized elements of
Kipling’s work can be seen in “Space Cadet." Heinlein described the
Venerian Little People and their customs in some detail. One such custom
was that eating was to be done in private; anything else was indecent.
This idea is one that could have originated with the eponymous hero of Kipling’s
“Kim.". When he first went to school he contemplated poisoning a bullying
school master with opium but realized that,
“As they all ate at one table in public (this was particularly revolting
to Kim, who preferred to turn his back on the world at meals), the stroke
might be dangerous.” (10)
Heinlein was to make far greater use of “Kim” than this nine years later
when he wrote “Citizen Of The Galaxy," generally regarded as one of his best
It tells the story of an orphan boy whose life is molded by a soldier turned
spy. Through his influence Thorby eventually returns to his family
back on Earth and discovers the truth behind the death of his parents.
In “Kim” Kipling also wrote about an orphan who makes a journey of discovery,
influenced in part by a Holy Man; a Lama from Tibet.
Briefly, the story of “Kim” is that of an orphan whose father was a British
soldier. He is brought up by an Indian woman after his father dies and takes
to the streets in Hindu clothing, running errands for a horse trader, Mahbub
Ali. This man is actually an agent of the British Secret Service. One day
Kim meets a bewildered holy man, a Lama searching for a river of religious
significance. He decides to be his chela or disciple and they leave on their
search. Kim agrees to deliver a message for Mahbub on the way and in so doing
he meets up with his father’s old regiment. He is sent to a school to be
educated but he has caught the eye of Colonel Creighton, supposedly in the
Ethnological Survey but actually in the secret service too. Kim spends his
holidays training to be a spy with the help of a jeweler called Lurgan and
Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, both agents. The book ends with Kim successfully
completing his first mission; to steal some documents from Russian spies
and the Lama finding his river and spiritual enlightenment.
To anyone familiar with both stories it seems as if Heinlein picked up Kim,
gave him a rich family and sent him hurtling through time and space to arrive
(slightly disheveled but still recognizable) on Jubbulpore under the name
Jubbulpore was a former colony of Earth, much as India was a colony
of Britain. The name of the planet is an amalgamation of several towns that
Kim visits; possibly Saharunpore and Jullunder. The society on Jubbulpore
is organized with a caste system, similar to that prevalent in India. Thorby
spends his formative years on the streets of a city that Kim would have felt
at home in immediately. He may even have been able to converse with Thorby
a little as Sargonese, the language of Jubbulpore, is part Sanskrit, part
In both stories the boys, Thorby and Kim, have lost their parents at an early
age and spent some years drifting. The books begin as they come under the
influence of the men who will take the place of their natural fathers and
redefine their lives. In the case of Thorby it is Baslim, for Kim it is a
role that is filled by two men; the Lama and Colonel Creighton. In a sense
this is appropriate because Kim is two people; Irish by birth and Indian
by upbringing. He therefore has two mentors, who can empathize with each
side of his character.
Colonel Creighton can perhaps be considered as Baslim before he received
his disabling injuries and the Lama to be Baslim the Cripple.
It would be incorrect to assume that the Lama, being essentially a man of
peace has nothing in common with Baslim. In “Citizen," it is Thorby’s grandparents
who espouse the Ghandi like tactics of peaceful resistance. They appear foolish,
unable to accept or even consider Thorby’s first hand knowledge of the slavery
on Jubbulpore. Thorby reflects that if it were necessary,
“Pop cut ‘em down like grass to rescue a load of slaves.” (11)
The philosophy that it is never justified to take a human life would have
been treated with scorn by Baslim. The Lama, who bears a scar on his face
from a fight in his youth, is not a believer in violence but he can be stern.
When he is struck by a Russian spy and his sacred drawing of the Wheel of
Life is torn, he comes close to allowing the spies to be shot. In some ways
his revenge is crueler; he firmly believes that they have now condemned themselves
to a terrible fate. He tells Kim,
“Anger on anger! Evil on evil! There will be no killing. Let the priest -
beaters go in bondage to their own acts. Just and sure is the Wheel, swerving
not a hair! They will be born many times - in torment.” (12)
Hi first reaction as the sacred picture is torn is to attack,
“The lama rose at the insult; his hand went to the heavy iron pencase that
is the priest’s weapon.” (13)
He conquers this urge because to him giving into the anger and hatred is
more damaging that the attack upon himself. The spies hurt his body but to
kill them would harm his spirit.
Thorby, as a small frightened slave was fortunate to have been bought by
Colonel Richard Baslim. He is the first and strongest influence on Thorby,
giving him an education and providing for his future. Baslim has both the
same rank as Colonel Creighton and a similar job; Exotic Corps as compared
to the Secret Service. This is combined with the ability to influence Thorby
in a spiritual or emotional way, as the Lama does with Kim. Thorby often
“hears” Baslim’s voice, advising him on the correct path to follow. The book
ends with the words,
“Good night, son,” the old beggar whispered. “Good dreams...and good luck!”
It is significant that Thorby’s natural father is called Creighton Bradley
Rudbek; Heinlein must have had Colonel Creighton in mind when he chose the
Kimball O’Hara left his small son with three documents showing that
he was the son of a Mason and a soldier. He also told his son a story which,
garbled through repetition by the Indian woman who cared for Kim, became;
“And some day,” she said, confusedly remembering O’Hara’s prophecies, “there
will come for you a great Red Bull on a green field, and the Colonel riding
on his tall horse, yes, and “- dropping into English- “nine hundred devils.”
By sheer chance, Kim interprets this correctly (he sees a flag with the regimental
device of a red bull on a green background) and meets up with his father’s
old regiment, the Mavericks, whose officers remember his father, a former
sergeant. In this way he improves his situation and is educated with a view
to becoming a Secret Service agent. In the same manner, Thorby inherits wealth
and position through the legacy of his dead parents and is helped by people
to achieve this in memory of his other father, Baslim.
Kim and Thorby are both trained as spies and educated. One element of their
training is to improve their memory. Baslim teaches Thorby the techniques
of Dr Samuel Renshaw, enabling him to memorize pages at a glance. Kim learns
the Jewel Game from Lurgan; studying a tray full of objects for a minute
and then being ordered to describe them with great accuracy and detail after
the tray has been covered up.
Kim is told that in case of difficulty he is to say to his attackers that
he is the “Son of the Charm” and it might save him. This is echoed by Thorby
when he passes on a message to a confederate of Baslim’s by including the
words “I am the son of Baslim the Cripple’ in his begging spiel.
Another interesting link is that Lurgan attempts to hypnotize Kim, something
that he normally has no problems doing, but Kim resists. Thorby is also hypnotized
by Baslim in an attempt to soften the memories of his past abuse but Baslim
succeeds where Lurgan failed.
In both stories there is a letter from a father figure to act as a passport
to a higher level. In Thorby’s case it is the letter he memorizes and recites
to Captain Krausa, with Kim it is the letter from the Lama to Father Victor,
offering to pay for Kim’s education at the catholic school of St. Xavier.
Both letters are similar in tone and content. Baslim writes that,
“My son is the only thing of value of which I die possessed; I entrust him
to your care. I ask that you succour and admonish him as if you were I.”
The Lama calls Kim the “apple of his eye” and begs that he be given a good
education, for which he will pay. (17)
Kim’s first few days with the regiment are similar to Thorby’s first few
days after joining “Sisu." Both are ignored and, in Kim’s case, badly treated,
because they are different. Thorby’s situation improves when he is adopted
and Kim’s when he joins the wider field of the Catholic school. There he
is fairly popular and does well at his lessons.Thorby too succeeds in each
new environment, proving equal to most challenges.
Whilst on board the “Sisu” Thorby meets Margaret Mader, an anthropologist
studying the Families. She is usually assumed to be a reference to the real
life anthropologist Margaret Mead but it is interesting that Colonel
Creighton and Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, the Babu are both involved in the
Ethnological Survey. They are studying the customs and beliefs of the Indian
population in much the same way as she is studying the Free Traders. Both
men have one ambition; to become Fellows of the Royal Society and to that
end they send the Society detailed descriptions of the Indian customs.
Margaret explains the customs of the Families to a bewildered Thorby, in
much the same way as Baloo teaches Mowgli the Law of the Jungle in the “Jungle
Books.” Heinlein cleverly draws in yet another Kipling reference, making
his Families, with their intricate and unbending rules a counter part to
the jungle animals, especially the wolves. Their Law has,
“Arranged for almost every kind of accident that may befall the Jungle People,
till now its code is as perfect as time and custom can make it.” (18)
Baloo tells an impatient Mowgli that the Law is,
“Like the Giant Creeper, because it dropped across every one’s back and no
one could escape.” (19)
Thorby finds that this is the case for him; that he has exchanged one form
of slavery for a less obvious version. Margaret tells him that,
“You are told what to do ninety per cent of the time. You are so bound by
rules that much of what you say is not free speech but required ritual; you
could go through a day and not utter a phrase not found in the Laws of Sisu.”
It seems that Heinlein is making the point that whilst animals may need a
rigid framework to guide their actions, humans should be responsible for
themselves. There is never any danger that Thorby will remain amongst the
Families; his destiny, as Baslim would have wished, is to be free of all
but self imposed restraints.
Heinlein introduces another Kipling story in his description of the
Gathering of the Free Traders, which is akin to a scene in “Captains
Courageous." Thorby sees,
“Mile after mile of ships, more than eight hundred bulky Free traders arranged
in concentric ranks around a circus four miles across.” (21)
In “Captains Courageous” Kipling describes the “town” of fishing ships, all
gathered together to exchange news and gossip and to trade,
“Three fleets of anchored schooners - one to the north, one to the westward,
and one to the south. There must have been nearly a hundred of them, of every
possible make and build, with, far away, a square - rigged Frenchman, all
bowing and curtseying one to the other.” (22)
Both Thorby and Kim go through sudden and dramatic changes. Thorby’s transitions
from Jubbulpore to “Sisu," from “Sisu” to the Hegemonic ship and finally
to Earth are all done at break neck speed, giving him little time to reflect.
Kim’s major change occurs within hours of being recognized at the army camp.
He is whisked into a barracks school, then sent on to St. Xavier’s. He remarks
to himself that,
“I go from one place to another as it might be a kick - ball. It is my Kismet.
No man can escape his Kismet.” (23)
This could be the theme of both books; that the two boys are inevitably moving
towards their destinies and that even insuperable obstacles cannot prevent
this from happening. How likely is Thorby’s return to earth or Kim chancing
across that particular regiment? As Father Victor says,
“He must believe that the boy’s coming here - to his own regiment - in search
of his Red Bull is in the nature of a miracle. Consider the chances against
it, Bennett. This one boy in all India, and our regiment of all others on
the line o’ march for him to meet with! It’s predestined on the face of it.”
There is a strong similarity in the workings of the Secret Service and the
Exotic Corps. This is shown in part by two descriptions of their financial
dealings. Colonel Brisby, captain of the “Hydra," desperately trying to account
for Thorby’s presence on his ship muses,
“‘X’ Corps agents didn’t have red tape; one of ‘em finds it necessary to
spend money, he just did so, ten credits or ten million. That was how to
operate - pick your men, then trust them. No regular reports, no forms, no
nothing - just do what needs to be done.” (25)
These are very like the conditions Colonel Creighton is accustomed to;
“One advantage of the Secret Service is that it has no worrying audit. The
service is ludicrously starved, of course, but the funds are administered
by a few men who do not call for vouchers or present itemized accounts.”
In each story the boys are helped by various women. In Kim’s case the two
main female characters are an old lady (never named) who travels, partially
veiled, in a palanquin (a covered litter) and a woman of Shamlegh. The old
lady meets with Kim and the Lama as they travel and is so impressed by the
lama’s holiness and powers of healing that she asks him to be her personal
priest. She is wealthy and a strong willed lady. He refuses but uses her
house as a place of refuge. After Kim’s mission involving two Russian spies,
he recuperates at her house when he is physically and mentally exhausted
from caring for the Lama who was injured during the mission.
This is similar to Thorby’s helper on Jubbulpore; Mother Shaum. She too lets
him stay with her, feeds and clothes him and, in a sedan chair and veiled
she helps him get on board the “Sisu."
The Woman of Shamlegh is someone who was once loved by an Englishman, who
later deserted her. She is a strong and commanding presence and like several
other women in the book, makes overtures to Kim. Less innocent than Thorby,
who is a rather unwitting partner in several romances with Mata, Loeen and
Leda he is still young enough to remain untouched by any feelings of love.
It is possible to draw a link between the two Russian spies who are defeated
by Kim and Hurree, masquerading as their servant, and John Weemsby and Judge
Bruder, the two people trying to stop Thorby from gaining power over the
company. Each represents the first real enemy that the two have had to face
and in both cases they succeed though the struggle is costly. In “Kim” the
Lama is struck by a Russian and comes close to death and Kim has a breakdown
through the strain. In “Citizen," Thorby has to battle his own family and
Leda becomes estranged from her father.
Both stories end with the boys now men, at the start of their careers and
in the place that fate had apparently ordained for them. Their stories are
not complete but there seems no doubt that they will both accomplish whatever
they set out to do.
The two Jungle Books are amongst Kipling’s best known works, telling, in
part, the story of the “man cub” Mowgli. He was found as a baby in the jungle,
brought up by wolves and eventually returned to the human world to which
he belonged. One other and lesser known Mowgli story is called “In The Rukh.”
It shows him getting a job and settling down and is found in “Many Inventions."
It is not difficult to spot the parallels between Mowgli’s story and that
of Valentine Michael Smith in Heinlein’s novel, “Stranger In A Strange
Heinlein does not openly stress this link but he does make one or two allusions
to Kipling in his book. For instance, when Jill arrives at Jubal’s house,
she relaxes by reading Kipling’s “Just So Stories”- perhaps he felt that
having her read “The Jungle Book” would have been a little too obvious! Mike
also calls Jill “Little Brother” as a term of endearment; Baloo and Bagheera
use this name for Mowgli.
As children, Mowgli and Michael are normal humans but they are never given
a chance to realize this. Their unusual foster parents and the environment
in which they grow give them the opportunity to realize a potential that
may lie dormant in many people. Michael acquires powers of the mind including
telepathy, the ability to make objects disappear or levitate and control
over his body to an extraordinary extent. Mowgli is able to communicate with
animals, a strength that seems amazing to other humans and heightened senses.
That is not to say that every child in their position would have thrived;
in the Mowgli stories there are references to other children who grew up
in the wild but usually died early. Mike too was living in a society with
a high infant mortality rate. They are lucky, or perhaps destined to survive
and pass on their knowledge.
Mike’s Nest proves that what he has learned is accessible to others if they
have the requisite discipline and dedication. It is not an easy path to follow.
Mowgli’s skills are more based on his lifestyle, which is portrayed as natural
and healthy as compared to that of the villagers, living in their cramped,
smoky huts. He may well pass them on to his son but it seems unlikely that
they could be acquired by an adult.
Both consider themselves originally to be Martian and wolf rather than human.
This reinforces the idea that being human is not a simple accident of birth.
Kipling tells us that,
“Mowgli forgot it because he was only a boy - though he would have called
himself a wolf if he had been able to speak in any human tongue.” (27)
and Mike spends a good deal of time in trying to decide what makes a man
and if he qualifies. At one point Jubal corrects Mike when he refers to the
Martians as his people.
“Mike, you are not a Martian; you are a man.”
“Jubal...I think I grok that my people - “Martians” -- are man. Not shape.
Shape is not man. Man is grokking.” (28)
Jubal then gives the definition that man is the animal that laughs and it
is indeed in laughter that Mike finds his humanity. The discovery is a painful
one though - as Mowgli discovers, racing through the jungle, trying to outpace
his feelings of loneliness. He comes to realize that his mentors have been
correct and that,
“Man goes to man at the last.” (29)
Both have to learn almost everything about being human; each learns the language
quickly. Then they have to conform to custom. Mowgli arrives in the village
naked and oblivious to the constraints under which civilized man labors.
“First he had to wear a cloth round him, which annoyed him horribly; and
then he had to learn about money, which he did not in the least understand,
and about ploughing, of which he did not see the use.” (30)
Heinlein shows us Mike, equally happy naked and also unaware of the use of
money. Mowgli comes to realize the benefits of a pension when he marries
and Mike has a sudden grokking that,
“Money was an idea, as abstract as an Old One’s thoughts - money was a great
structured symbol for balancing and healing and growing closer.
Mike was dazzled with the magnificent beauty of money.” (31)
This is Heinlein at his most ironic!
Jubal clashes with Jill over her attempts to teach Mike the customs of
society. He believes that she is, in effect, spoiling his innocence. However,
he admits that,
“The boy does indeed have to learn human customs [.....] or our tribal
shamans will burn him for deviationism.” (32)
Mowgli discovers the truth of this when he goes to the human village for
the first time, exiled from the wolf pack. He is befriended by a woman who
believes he may be her son, carried off into the jungle by a tiger. When
Buldeo, the village hunter, sees evidence of Mowgli’s control over animals
he decides that he is a magician. He goes back to the village with,
“A tale of magic and enchantment and sorcery that made the priest look very
They turn Mowgli out of the village, stoning him and firing a gun at him;
a scene that is echoed at the end of “Stranger” when Mike faces an angry
mob, who batter him with stones then kill him with a shotgun. Later, Mowgli
learns that the villagers plan to torture and burn the couple who befriended
him. He rescues them easily with the help of his friends and then considers
revenge. Like Mike, he has the capability to destroy them completely but
he aware that murder is wrong at a basic level. He therefore destroys their
village but spares their lives. Mike too avoids wholesale discorporation;
he allows the Nest to be burned then targets the truly evil people in the
city and removes them from the field of play.
Both have to learn the responsibility that needs to accompany power.
Both realize the power that religion and superstition can have over the minds
of normally decent people. In “Stranger” the Fosterites whip up the frenzy
that results in Mike’s death; in “The Jungle Book” it is the hunter Buldeo.
Both are angry because they feel threatened by what Mike and Mowgli represent.
It is not only the humans who threaten Mowgli. When he learns that
most of the wolves had turned against him under the urging of his enemy Shere
Khan, he asks Bagheera why they fear him. The panther replies,
“The others they hate thee because their eyes cannot meet thine - because
thou art wise - because thou hast pulled out thorns from their feet - because
thou art a man.” (34)
In other words, despite the fact that Mowgli has helped them and never hurt
them, they are fearful and distrustful because he is not one of them. This
is the barrier that Mike has to break through on earth, hampered rather than
helped sometimes by his wealth and powers.
Physically both Mowgli and Mike are compared to “Greek gods” and their
good looks are remarked upon. When Gisborne, his future employer, meets Mowgli
for the first time in the story, “In The Rukh” he sees that,
“His face as he lifted it in the sunshine might have been that of an angel
strayed among the woods.” (35)
In view of the revelation that Mike is an angel this is quite ironic!
Some people find snakes repulsive, some tolerate or like them but few people
are trusting enough to leave their babies in the care of a boa constrictor.
Even Jubal is slightly surprised to see Abby and Fatima lying in beds formed
by the loops of the snake’s body. This image is actually a merging of two
images from Kipling’s stories; the first being Mowgli,
“Sitting in the circle of Kaa’s great coils [.....] Kaa had very courteously
packed himself under Mowgli’s broad, bare shoulders, so that the boy was
really resting in a living arm - chair.” (36)
and the second being that of Mowgli’s own baby son, watched over by his wolf
brothers at the end of “In The Rukh," to the astonishment of the European
Some of the customs that Mike has learned on Mars seem strange to his human
friends; cannibalism for instance. Kipling points out an important
truth when Mowgli remarks to Kaa, the python, that shedding one’s skin must
be strange. Kaa replies that,
“Since this is the custom of all my people, I do not find it strange.”
This is a lesson which Heinlein hammers home throughout “Stranger In A Strange
Land”; the fact that morals are learned not instinctive, tribal customs rather
than universal truths.
There is also an awareness that life has stages and that having completed
a stage, there is no turning back, a continual progression towards perfection
or simply maturity. Mike for instance knows when the time is ripe for him
to die and does not hesitate to leave the hotel to face a mob.. His talk
with Jubal makes him realize that he has not failed because he has only shown
the truth to a few people. In the same way, Mowgli knows that he must
leave his idyllic life in the jungle but he is understandably reluctant;
“I would not go; but I am drawn by both feet.” (38)
His mentors, as Jubal did for Mike, clarify his thoughts. Baloo tells him,
“When the honey is eaten we leave the empty hive.” (39)
and Kaa reinforces this,
“Having cast the skin, we may not creep into it afresh. It is the Law.”
What Kipling and Heinlein were doing was using the eyes of an innocent to
expose both the flaws of civilization and the benefits. Mike and Mowgli both
have to leave the places that taught them so much in order to grow still
further. Through their wondering eyes much that we accept without thinking
is shown to be pointless or even evil. Yet each finds friendship and love;
something that they could not have had if they had remained on Mars or in
the jungle. Heinlein made much more of this than Kipling did, using Stranger
to satirize and question many of the foundations of his society.
The final Kipling reference comes almost at the end of Heinlein’s career,
in his penultimate book “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls,” the title of which
echoes the Kipling story, “The Cat That Walked By Himself.”
The boys in Kipling’s “Stalky & Co.” are three memorable characters,
Beetle of course being Kipling himself. One of their subtle revenges on an
insulting teacher who declared their school house to be “stinky” was to hide
a dead cat under the floor boards of his house. The resulting smell proved
difficult to ignore - or identify and neatly turned the tables on the teacher,
thus satisfying their sense of justice.
Heinlein’s version of this tells how Gwen, a dangerous person to insult,
revenges herself on the manager of the Golden Rule habitat. As she sits in
his office she notices the draft from a ventilation shaft by her leg, unsnaps
the cover, turns off the heat and rubs Limburger cheese over the heater.
Finally she tosses the rest of the cheese as far down the shaft as she can.
The results when the heat was turned on would have been as satisfactory as
those in “Stalky & Co” and without requiring the death of a cat; something
which Heinlein would never have contemplated!
On an Internet site about Rudyard Kipling, David Cody, Associate Professor
of English at Hartwick College, listed what he felt were Kipling’s influences.
They included one of Heinlein’s favourite writers, Mark Twain and probably
several others whom Heinlein would have enjoyed. He then explains the reason
why these sources are listed;
“In order to show the extent to which it can be demonstrated that a great
and original literary artist can nevertheless be saturated with literary
indebtednessess. As a rule, however, Kipling’s imagination transmuted his
sources so thoroughly, and he handled them so artfully, that we feel their
presence in his work only...when he wishes to invoke them deliberately to
add depth or meaning to his work.” (41)
If we substitute Heinlein’s name for Kipling’s I think this would still hold
true. Heinlein borrowed extensively from Kipling and indeed many other sources
but this is true of every author. The trick, which Heinlein mastered so well,
lies in choosing one’s sources wisely and having sufficient talent to make
the finished work greater than the sum of its parts.
Return to Home
BIBLIOGRAPHY GIVING PUBLISHING DATA OF THE ACTUAL TEXTS USED.
ROBERT A HEINLEIN :
6 X H 1971 PYRAMID BOOKS
FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD 1976 CORGI BOOKS
EXPANDED UNIVERSE 1982 ACE BOOKS
CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY 1978 PUFFIN BOOKS
THE GREEN HILLS OF EARTH 1977 PAN BOOKS
FARMER IN THE SKY 1978 PAN BOOKS
THE CAT WHO WALKS THROUGH WALLS 1986 NEW ENGLISH LIBRARY
ASSIGNMENT IN ETERNITY VOL. 2 1978 NEW ENGLISH LIBRARY
SPACE CADET 1980 NEW ENGLISH LIBRARY
STARSHIP TROOPERS 1979 NEW ENGLISH LIBRARY
GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE 1990 DEL REY
TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE 1979 NEW ENGLISH LIBRARY
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND (REVISED) 1991 NEW ENGLISH LIBRARY
REQUIEM 1992 TOR BOOKS
TRAMP ROYALE 1996 ACE BOOKS
TUNNEL IN THE SKY 1965 VICTOR GOLLANCZ LTD
RUDYARD KIPLING :
THE MOWGLI STORIES 1949 PAN BOOKS
STALKY & CO. 1965 MACMILLAN & CO LTD
KIM 1993 WORDSWORTH EDITIONS LIMITED
CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS 1995 WORDSWORTH EDITIONS LTD
TWENTY ONE TALES 1946 PURNELL AND SONS LIMITED
JUST SO STORIES 1971 MACMILLAN LONDON LTD
THE DEFINITIVE EDITION OF RUDYARD KIPLING’S VERSE 1989 HODDER
1. THE GREEN HILLS OF EARTH PAGE 136
2. THE DEFINITIVE EDITION OF RUDYARD KIPLING’S VERSE PAGE 664
3. IBID PAGE 213
4. THE GREEN HILLS OF EARTH PAGE 131
5. TRAMP ROYALE PREFACE
6. THE DEFINITIVE EDITION OF RUDYARD KIPLING’S VERSE PAGE 87
7. STARSHIP TROOPERS PAGE 86
8. TUNNEL IN THE SKY PAGE 12
9. THE DEFINITIVE EDITION OF RUDYARD KIPLING’S VERSE PAGE 274
10. KIM PAGE 91
11. CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY PAGE 222
12. KIM PAGE 210
13. IBID PAGE 208
14. CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY PAGE 263
15. KIM PAGE 2
16. CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY PAGE 66
17. KIM PAGE 90
18. THE MOWGLI STORIES PAGE 54
20. CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY PAGE 132
21. IBID PAGE 152
22. CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS PAGE 79
23. KIM PAGE 101
24. IBID PAGE 78
25. CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY PAGE 174
26. KIM PAGE 151
27. THE MOWGLI STORIES PAGE 17
28.STRANGER IN A SSTRANGE LAND PAGE 182
29. THE MOWGLI STORIES PAGE 183
30. IBID PAGE 75
31. STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND PAGE 292
32. IBID PAGE 137
33. THE MOWGLI STORIES PAGE 86
34. IBID PAGE 20
35. IBID PAGE 191
36. IBID PAGE 119
37. IBID PAGE 185
41. DAVID CODY “KIPLING’S SOURCES” landow.stg.brown.edu/victorian/kipling/rkresources.html