The Spring Running

(Notes edited by Alan Underwood and John Radcliffe)


This story was first published in the Pall Mall Gazette on September 25 1895, with the verse heading as collected, in Cosmopolitan in October 1895, with illustrations by W H Drake, and in the Civil and Military Gazette on September 27,28,30, and October 4,5,7 1895, with the title “Mowgli leaves the Jungle Forever”. It is collected in The Second Jungle Book, 1895. There are a number of minor textual variations between the British and American editions.

The Story

The coming of Spring, with new growth and new smells, and ‘the purring of the warm, happy world’, excites all the jungle people, but this year, when Mowgli has reached his full strength, he is inexplicably miserable. He decides to ‘make a running’ to the Marshes of the North. His four brother wolves do not respond to his call, so he goes alone, sometimes running through the heart of the jungle, sometimes swinging high along the tree roads, out to the marshes where the wild buffaloes wallow. He seems to have left his unhappiness behind, but then it comes back, worse than ever, and he fears that he is dying. He finds himself near a hut on the edge of a village, beyond the marshes, and meets Messua, who had mothered him when – cast out of the wolf pack – he lived for a time with men.

Gray Brother has overcome his Spring excitement, and tracks Mowgli to Messua’s hut. But when he and Mowgli return to their own jungle, Mowgli now understands that he must return again to Man, since he is a man, not a wolf. There are tearful farewells with Baloo, and Kaa, and Bagheera, and he departs with his four brother wolves, to follow new trails.

Critical comments

Cyril Falls recalls (p. 54):

I remember that when as a boy I read The Jungle Books, I felt a passionate protest rise in me when Mowgli quitted the beasts he loved and returned to men.

William Dillingham also notes the sombre mood of this story:

The happiest time in Mowgli’s life, Kipling reveals in “Red Dog”, was that period immediately following the letting in of the jungle on the settlement of human beings who had been cruel to the boy … the happy Mowgli of the early part of “Red Dog” contrasts with the somewhat tortured Mowgli of “The Spring Running”.

Mark Paffard suggests that this story: ‘probes more deeply the experience of the white man who may feel excluded from the life around him. This is strikingly – and classically, in terms of the white man’s latent response to India – expressed in an ‘aside’ in “The Spring Running”:

A girl in a white cloth came down some path that led from the outskirts of the village. Gray Brother dropped out of sight at once, and Mowgli backed noiselessly into a field of high-springing crops. He could almost have touched her with his hand when the warm, green stalks closed before his face and he disappeared like a ghost. The girl screamed, for she thought she had seen a spirit, and then she gave a deep sigh. Mowgli parted the stalks with his hands and watched her till she was out of sight.

Paffard comments that:

This is quite a startling passage to find in what is, after all, a late-Victorian collection of stories for children. It serves to underline the depth of Kipling’s preoccupation with feelings and problems that we have seen him explore under the aegis of his soldier stories. The net result of Mowgli’s astonishing strength and beauty is that he nas no natural home or community. The sahib in India suffers the loneliness of a god among mere mortals.

J M S Tompkins writes of this story:

The last tale, `The Spring Running’, where Mowgli goes back to his human kindred, is written with a delicate mixture of humour and pathos … to convey the compulsion that is driving Mowgli, which neither he nor the child who reads about him understands, Kipling has to move indirectly. Mowgli wonders if he has eaten poison; his unhappiness covers him as water covers a log, and the tears that Raksha, his wolf-mother, has told him are the signs of manhood, come to his eyes, for ‘It is hard to cast the skin’, says Kaa. But he has seen the young girl walk through the crops, and he goes with the favour of the jungle and – such is the reconciling nature of the fairy-tale – with the company of his four-footed foster-brothers.

Angus Wilson suggests that:

…at the end of “The King’s Ankus”, he is not yet ready to leave his jungle Eden. Perhaps the sight of what gold does to men has even deferred his instinctive urge to grow towards manhood…

But at last it comes in “The Spring Running”, where Bagheera the leopard, seeing the boy in tears, says that he will soon leave the jungle for human life, for animals don’t know tears. This final story is a moving, if a little disjointed piece. Mowgli goes off to assume later his proper human duty under The Law as a member of the Forestry Service of the Indian Government of Her Majesty (told in “In the Rukh”, a story published earlier than the Jungle Books).

But, in fact, Mowgli, the wolf boy in the jungle, is surely only the shadowy if delightful precursor of Kim, the street arab, who knows all guiles yet remains in Eden innocence, a far more delightful hero, for, unlike Mowgli, his zest for life is not the product of bodily health and physical content only, but of an endless desire to see and know new things.



©F A Underwood and John Radcliffe 2008 All rights reserved