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The Upside of Empire: Rudyard Kipling

I was reading in National Geographic about the domestication of dogs and they cited a bit from “The Cat that Walked by Himself” from the Just-so Stories.

When Wild Dog reached the mouth of the Cave he lifted up the dried horse-skin with his nose and sniffed the beautiful smell of the roast mutton, and the Woman, looking at the blade-bone, heard him, and laughed, and said, ‘Here comes the first. Wild Thing out of the Wild Woods, what do you want?’

Wild Dog said, ‘O my Enemy and Wife of my Enemy, what is this that smells so good in the Wild Woods?’

Then the Woman picked up a roasted mutton-bone and threw it to Wild Dog, and said, ‘Wild Thing out of the Wild Woods, taste and try.’ Wild Dog gnawed the bone, and it was more delicious than anything he had ever tasted, and he said, ‘O my Enemy and Wife of my Enemy, give me another.’

The Woman said, ‘Wild Thing out of the Wild Woods, help my Man to hunt through the day and guard this Cave at night, and I will give you as many roast bones as you need.’

And so was Wild Dog ensnared by the craftiness of the Woman. Invariably the Woman manages to domesticate a number of other hosts before giving birth to Baby, but the format of the stories follows this great pattern of.

Animal X is lured by some bait prepared by the Woman

Animal X heads off and is followed by Wild Cat

Animal X trades freedom for comfort

Wild Cat scoffs.

I love the repetition aspect of this story - and I suspect that it’s part of the reason this story is so popular with youth - they pick up on this repetition element, but the subtle change between Wild Dog / Wild Horse / Wild Cow provide the variation that makes the familiar unfamiliar in a familiar way. Repetition and variation: the same rules guide a robin’s song and works well in a children’s story.

I recently saw the “Tarbaby” sequence fromSong of the South“ and the "Say Howdy” sequence follows a similar construct.

Brer Rabbit wait for the tarbaby to say “Fine, how are you” but the tarbaby, he don’t say nothin', and Brer Fox he lay low.

Within the next 2 minutes there are 6 repetitions of the “Tarbaby, he don’t say nothin' and brer Fox, he lay low” cadence.

Ultimately this repetition gets the better of Brer Rabbit “Until he’s so stuck-up he can scarce move his eyeballs”.

{ Hey Disney - release “Song of the South”! Put whatever politically correct caveats and sensitivity training trailer or DVD extra on but RELEASE THIS MOVIE! }