Study Guide

The Jungle Book Chapter 11

By Rudyard Kipling

Chapter 11

Toomai of the Elephants

  • This chapter begins with a short poem that suggests one day an elephant will get sick of his bondage (as in slavery, not as in Fifty Shades of Grey) and break free like Ariana Grande to revisit his family.
  • From there we jump into the story of Kala Nag, an elephant, even though his name means "Black Snake."
  • He works on a timber hauling crew, and we're told that "elephants are very strictly preserved by the Indian government" (11.2). By "preserved" they mean, hunted, captured, and trained to do work. Just to be clear.
  • Kala Nag's human driver is Big Toomai, and Big Toomai has a son named, what else, Little Toomai.
  • Big Toomai likes to think that Kala Nag fears nothing except him. Yes, that's just what the big elephant wants him to think.
  • Not that Kala Nag is dangerous, he just has no desire to hurt Big or Little Toomai.
  • Toomai often makes himself useful. Once, he scrambles down between the elephants and tosses a dropped rope up to the driver who lost it, then Kala Nag picks the boy up and puts him back in his seat atop his back.
  • You'd think Big Toomai would be happy his son is making himself useful, but he doesn't want him to be too useful.
  • If Little Toomai is too useful, the white hunter Petersen Sahib might take him away to hunt with his crew.
  • When Petersen Sahib shows up in camp, he wants to speak to the Toomais, Big and Little.
  • Big Toomai does his best to make his own son seem like a big loser, saying, "he is a very bad boy, and he will end in a jail" (11.30).
  • Petersen Sahib has his doubts, though, and he gives Little Toomai some money to spend on candy.
  • He says that Little Toomai may one day become a strong hunter, but until then "Keddahs are not good for children to play in" (11.30).
  • He tells him he can go into the Keddahs "when thou hast seen the elephants dance" (11.32), which is the elephant hunter's way of saying when pigs fly.
  • They continue their march to a nearby camp and chain the elephants up for the night.
  • Little Toomai uses his candy money to buy a little tom-tom, which is a drum. (You can't eat that, Little Toomai.)
  • He sings the elephants a lullaby, and they "began to lie down one after another" (11.49) Seems like a perfect time for some elephant tipping…
  • In the middle of the night, Kala Nag somehow breaks his bonds quietly and sneaks away into the jungle. Who knew an elephant could sneak?
  • Little Toomai sees this happen, and calls out "Kala Nag! Kala Nag! Take me with you, O Kala Nag!" (11.51)…
  • And the elephant does. He scoops up Little Toomai and puts him on his neck, and together, they slink away into the jungle.
  • Kala Nag reaches the edge of a valley and goes charging down the slope, Little Toomai clinging as hard as he can to his back.
  • At the bottom is a clearing that's been trampled flat.
  • There are some elephants there in the moonlight, "their shadows were inky-black" (11.59), like an iPod commercial.
  • Other elephants show up, even Petersen Sahib's elephant, and they all chat with each other like they're at some sort of elephant ice cream social, minus the ice cream.
  • Finally, an elephant trumpets loudly, and the elephant dance begins.
  • Elephants rise up on their hind legs, and then stamp their forelegs into the ground.
  • This lasts for two hours until morning breaks, and the only elephants left are Kala Nag, Pudmini (Petersen Sahib's mount), and one other.
  • Little Toomai tells Kala Nag that they should go to Petersen Sahib's camp, because it's closer.
  • At camp, Little Toomai tells them that he saw the elephant-dance.
  • Of course, the adults don't believe him, but Little Toomai says he can show them the clearing.
  • He leads the hunters there, and they're amazed to see something they've never seen before—and a kid took them there. Who knew kids knew anything? Huh.
  • They throw a party that night, celebrating Little Toomai's discovery. They rename him "Toomai of the Elephants" (11.80) and tell him he'll be going places someday. (Going places his elephant goes, of course.)
  • Even the elephants break out into a twenty-one gun, er, trunk salute for Toomai, "who had seen what never man had seen before" (11.82).

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