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How Vermont's brutally cold winters had a hand in Disney's "The Jungle Book"

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How Vermont's brutally cold winters had a hand in Disney's "The Jungle Book"

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Since Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment will be released the Diamond Edition of "The Jungle Book " next month (on February 11th, to be exact), I thought it might be fun to talk about the Rudyard Kipling book that this 1967 Walt Disney Production was based on.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now given that Kipling was born in India back in December of 1865 and then spent for the first six years of this life in that country (Not to mention that -- even before he turned 17 -- Rudyard had returned to India to then become the assistant editor of the Civil & Military Gazette. Kipling then stayed in-country for the next seven years, honing his craft as a writer while working at this small local newspaper and its sister publication, The Pioneer) ... Well, it's relatively safe to say that it was all of the time that he spent in India -- soaking up everything that he could learn about the country's history, folklore, flora & fauna -- which then gave Rudyard the raw material that he needed for 1894's "The Jungle Book " as well as its follow-up, 1895' s "The Second Jungle Book ."

So okay. We now know where Kipling got his "Jungle Book" source material. But would you care to guess where Rudyard actually wrote these two collections of short stories? No, not India. And not in England either. But -- rather -- right here in  New England. In Brattleboro, VT to be exact. Which is just 60 miles away from where I'm typing up today's JHM article.

Through be told, Kipling fell in love with the United States in 1889 while -- on assignment for The Pioneer -- he traveled from San Francisco to Boston and posted pieces from all points in-between. Rudyard made a point of visiting some of America's natural wonders (i.e., Yellowstone National Park, the Great Salt Lake and Niagara Falls) as well as meeting some of our national treasures (i.e., Kipling stopped off in Elmira, NY to visit with Mark Twain).

Some 18 years after Mark Twain & Rudyard Kipling first met, they were
both honored with Doctorates of Literature by Oxford University

In fact, Rudyard was so impressed with the United States that -- when the 'round-the-world honeymoon trip that Kipling had planned for his new bride Carrie hit a snag in Yokohama, Japan in the Spring of 1892 (due to some expected financial issues as well as the fact that Mrs. Kipling was startled to discover that, just a few months into their marriage, she was now pregnant with their first child) -- they made a bee-line for New England. Where a family member then offered the happy couple the chance to rent a farm-worker's house on her Brattleboro estate for a mere $10 a month.

By August of 1892, Rudyard & Carrie had moved into Bliss Cottage (That was what the Kiplings eventually came to call their first home in Brattleboro. Or "The Blizzard" when the weather got cold). And as Rudyard eventually revealed to family friends in a letter, he & Carrie's first child, Josephine, was born ...

" ... in three foot of snow on the night of 29 December 1892. Her Mother's birthday being the 31st and mine the 30th of the same month, we congratulated her on her sense of the fitness of thing."

Rudyard Kipling's daughter Josephine, who tragically
died of pneumonia at age six in 1899

Now you saw that line about the three feet of snow, right? Well, Kipling was determined to keep his family during their stay in Bliss Cottage. Which is why he eventually went out and ...

... bought, second or third hand, a huge hot-air stove which we installed in the cellar. We cut generous holes in our floor for its eight-inch tin pipes (why we were not burned in our beds each week of the winter I can never understand) and we were extraordinarily and self-centredly content.

Now some will tell you that -- in spite of keeping that hot-air stove running in Bliss Cottage's basement 24/7 -- Rudyard never quite got used to the brutal cold winters that we have here in New England. And as the story goes, as Kipling sat in his seven-foot-by-eight writing room in that old draft farm-worker's house during the Winter of 1892 where ...

Getting snow right up to your window sills is pretty typical this time
of year in Vermont

... from December to April the snow lay level with its window-sill.

... he then looked back with great fondness on his time in India. Especially those brutally hot days that he once spent in Bombay. And he dreamed of warmer times in far-away places, Rudyard then recalled ... 

... that I had written a tale about Indian Forestry work which included a boy who had been brought up by wolves. In the stillness, and suspense, of the winter of '92 some memory of the Masonic Lions of my childhood's magazine, and a phrase in Haggard's Nada the Lily, combined with the echo of this tale. After blocking out the main idea in my head, the pen took charge, and I watched it begin to write stories about Mowgli and animals, which later grew into the two Jungle Books.

First editions of Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" (L) and "The Second
Jungle Book" (R)

So for those of you out there suffering right now through the sub-zero temperatures that seem to have most of the United States in its grip right now, please keep in mind that brutal cold can be good for something. By that I mean: If it hadn't been for Rudyard Kipling shivering in Brattleboro, VT back during the Winter of 1892 and then dreaming of warmer days in Bombay ... Well, it's quite likely that we wouldn't have the "Bare Necessities" today. Or -- for that matter -- the Blu-ray & DVD which will be hitting store shelves two weeks from tomorrow.

So never under-estimate how inspirational extremes of heat can be. Take -- for example -- how the current wind chill (which is supposed to bring the local temperature down to -15 later this evening) is inspiring me to throw another log in our wood stove.

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  • And of course Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote Tarzan in Oak Park, IL, a suburb of Chicago, where the winters are simlarly cold and snowy.

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