No one probably hasn’t heard about the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and the name Mowgli. However, not many of them would be familiar with a mongoose (who has nothing to do with Mowgli and friends), whose story still partially composing the book. This unpopular character, nevertheless, has a message to tell, which is just as deep as that of other famous characters in the Jungle Book.

This story is called Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, where a young mongoose named Rikki-tikki-tavi gets washed up by a flood and arrives at a house of a British family, who helps him revitalize and be active again. Soon he discovers that two Cobras, Nag and Nagaina, are ruling the garden of the house and now even planning to kill the family to become king and queen of the entire place. Also, he finds out that a small, virulent serpent named Karait is hiding for prey. Rikki-tikki, who was already loving the family, goes into life-threatening fights with the snakes and kills them all at last. Then, he continues to execute his duty as a mongoose, fiercely guarding the house until snakes no longer dared to come in.

Through this simple story of a mongoose fighting snakes in the garden, Kipling could show that solitary challenges and struggles are often fearful, but they will eventually bring your growth if you don’t give up. From the beginning of the story, the author emphasizes that Rikki-tikki was an only actual fighter: “Darzee, the Tailorbird, helped him, and Chuchundra… gave him advice, but Rikki-tikki did the real fighting” (Kipling 1). It is directly stated that the battle lies ahead of him is a lonely fight; whether to win or lose is entirely up to him. Indeed, the other characters in the story seem to have no intention to fight against the snakes firsthand. If he didn’t come to the house, there would be no other animals left in the garden to stop the snake couple. Even though he gets some minor help from others, Rikki-tikki is ultimately going through a ‘solitary challenge’. And since he is a young mongoose who lacks experience, this may well have made him frightened. However, never does he give up trying to get rid of the enemies. These attitudes are both well shown from his soliloquy and thoughts when he raids Nag: “’If I don’t break his back at the first jump… he can still fight. And if he fights–O Rikki!’… As he held he closed his jaws tighter and tighter, for he made sure he would be banged to death, and, for the honor of his family, he preferred to be found with his teeth locked” (5). Rikki-tikki knows that he is yet vulnerable, and Nag could kill him without much difficulty if he gives a sincere attack. In other words, he knows that the battle could take his life-and very few of the creatures on Earth would be gallant in front of death. Nevertheless, this young mongoose keeps on fighting, regardless of the fear of being killed. Even though he is scared, he is willing to die for the family’s safety after Nag’s death. However, he contrives to survive, maybe due to his bravery, and at the rear end of the story, his challenges and efforts finally come to fruition. He kills Nagaina at last and purifies the garden of snakes, successfully securing the family: “as she plunged into the rat-hole where she and Nag used to live, his little white teeth were clenched on her tail, and he went down with her–and very few mongooses, however wise and old they may be, care to follow a cobra into its hole… the grass quivered again, and Rikki-tikki, covered with dirt, dragged himself out of the hole… ‘It is all over,’ he said. ‘The widow will never come out again’” (7-8). Incidentally, this also could be a testament to his growth. In the early phase of the story, Rikki-tikki had a shortage of knowledge and skill in hunting snakes and barely managed to survive from the waves of threat. However, as he encounters and fights them one by one, he continuously learns and improves. For instance, before ambushing Nag, he recollects a memory of being attacked by Karait for not suppressing him quickly, to carefully determining the spot to bite. Therefore, in the end, he could triumph from the fight in a snake’s nest, which is considered very hard and perilous even for elder mongooses. In addition to this, signals of his huge growth are hidden here and there in the story afterward. For example, in the last paragraph of the story, Kipling stresses that “[Rikki-tikki] kept that garden as a mongoose should keep it, with tooth and jump and spring and bite, till never a cobra dared show its head inside the walls” (9). This shows the loyalty of him sincerely guarding the house for his family, but simultaneously implies that he has now become a furious warrior, keeping the snakes out of the way. All of his achievements couldn’t be if it weren’t for the previous two battles with the snakes he had held, risking his life.

For mongooses, snakes, birds, humans… all animals, growth is often achieved by experiences of challenges. Even if it is frightening and exhausting, don’t give up. Keep on trying and trying. Regardless of the consequences, you may be unknowingly taking one more step to being mature. And, in the distant future, it might have become a valuable experience you could appreciate because, as Friedrich Nietzsche says, whatever does not destroy you makes you stronger.


A link to an old-fashioned animation of the story

A link to original text