Red Dog

(Notes edited by Alan Underwood and John Radcliffe)


Pall Mall Gazette, July 29 and 30, 1895, McClure’s Magazine, August 1895, with illustrations by W.A.G. Pape, Civil and Military Gazette, September 19, 20, 22, 26, 29 1895. Collected in The Second Jungle Book, 1895.

The story

Akela is very old and Mowgli hunts for him. The wolf pack has come together again under a new leader. A wounded lone wolf flings himself into the circle at the Council Rock, and warns that a pack of dholes (Red Dogs) is on his trail, attacking every animal in its path. Mowgli persuades the Seeonee wolves to stand and fight. He seeks advice from Kaa, the great old python, who says that to meet the dholes head on would simply mean defeat, but thinks back over the years to consider how they can be beaten. He takes Mowgli to a gorge of the Waingunga — the ‘Bee Rocks’ — which has long has been the home of millions of deadly black bees, planning to rouse the bees against the dholes. Mowgli relishes this dangerous strategy: there is nothing he likes better than ‘to pull the whiskers of death’.

Mowgli tracks back on the trail of the lone wolf until he find the dholes and taunts them from the safety of the trees so that they are delayed until twilight. Then he moves towards the gorge through the tree-tops, runs to it over broken ground, and plunges into the river, awaking the bees as he goes. They swarm up and attack the dholes, and those that are not killed are carried down the river and set upon by the wolf pack as they reach the shallows. There is a terrible battle in which Akela is fatally wounded, but all the remaining dholes are slaughtered. Before he dies Akela urges Mowgli to return to Man.

Critical comments

Frederick Knowles in his A Kipling Primer quotes Joel Chandler Harris on thia story:

‘A story that takes one’s breath away … The narrative is so powerful and original in its manner that hardly a hint can be given of its strength and quality.’

Cyril Falls sees this as the best of all the Mowgli stories:

There is something all Homeric in this description, with its sense of vague, stark fury and slaughter blended with precise incidents like that of the leader of the pack dragging forward a dhole for the yearlings, who would be outside the thickest of the fight, to despatch.

Mark Paffard (p. 94) notes that:

‘Red Dog’ returns to the theme of the aristocratic few standing out against the mob. One cannot miss the resemblance between the battle of the wolves against the red dogs and Kipling’s other great set-piece description of battle, the stand of the British square against the dervishes in The Light That Failed.

J M S Tompkins points out that:

… the language of the battle is wolf-metaphor. `The bone is cracked’, says Phaon, as the Dholes give back. There is no attempt to obscure the growling, biting, worrying pack, and the tale ends with the cold requiem of Chil the Kite as his hosts drop to their feast. But before that Won-Tolla has died on his slain enemy, and Mowgli has held up Akela to sing his death-song. It is carried through with astonishing conviction and intensity, and with an elevation that does not flag. The laws of life and death have their way with Mowgli’s brethren, and the child learns all this from the shelter of a fairy-tale.

And Philip Mason (p. 170) takes a similar view:

“Red Dog”, indeed, is superb. It has everything – every situation that has stirred the blood of imaginative youth since tales were first told. There is the threat of invasion by barbarian hordes – far more numerous than the Free People, pitiless in courage and tenacity, but despised and hated because, among other things, they had hair between their toes …There is the mustering of a whole people to fight in defence of homes and children; there is the wise old counsellor thinking back into the past; the brilliant exploit of one hero who `pulls the very whiskers of death’ and leads the enemy into a trap; the defence of a narrow place – Thermopylae, Horatius and the bridge, Alan Breck in the round house; there is the vengeance of Won-Tolla whose family have been killed by the Red Dogs; there is the death of the glorious old leader and Mowgli the victor left mourning on the battlefield. This tale too I could never read aloud to my children without everyone weeping.


©F A Underwood 2008 All rights reserved