James came to know Bagheera from books borrowed from his home town library while in grade school. Baggy is still among his favorites
Hall of James Summary
Bagheera was a big cat who hung out with a bear and wolves. That alone makes him stand out.
Story The Jungle Book(s) 1894
Author Rudyard Kipling
Best among the Beast
Bagheera is my favorite animal among fictional literary characters. I being canine centric tend to favor dogkind. Raksha, a wolf from the same story, displayed fearlessness defending Mowgli her adopted man cub. She is the only one among the four legged characters to confront Shere Kahn, the tiger antagonist, dog-o a cat-o. (mano a mano doesn’t quite apply here)
Buck, the mongrel protagonist from “Call of the Wild”, (Jack London 1903) showed superior survival instinct. He thrived in his native balmy California home as a pampered pooch and conquered the arctic chilled Yukon as lead sled dog. Buck was not an anthropomorphic animal that acted like a person would. He did not talk like the Jungle Book’s characters. He didn’t wear clothes like Donald Duck with his ever present sailor garb. He was a real dog with real grit.
Bagheera stood out. He was that rarest of leopards. He didn’t have orange and black spots. Instead, he sported a fully black coat of fur. Appearance isn’t the only thing that sets him apart. Leopards spotted or not usually fear and hate people. To this day they still kill many people in India, the country in which this story’s jungle is located. However, Bagheera loved Mowgli a human child whom he took under his paw so as to guide him.
Rearing the Wild Child
The feral child raised by wild animals, namely wolves is a legend that spans across cultures and dates back to antiquity. Roman mythology presented this through the personas of Romulus and Remus. The brother babes were deserted by their parents in the wilderness but saved by kindly wolves. And, as fate would have it, one such brother would later build Rome.
Kipling’s Jungle Book(s), twist the lupus lore in another direction. Here, the wolves are the center of a carnivore camaraderie that includes Baloo, a bear and Bagheera, a panther. Wolves adopt Mowgli, the man cub, but they entrust Baloo and Bagheera to teach him the all-important laws of the jungle.
Ah, but if only it were that simple. The threat of Shere Kahn, the man killing, man hating tiger constantly looms over Mowgli’s otherwise idyllic child-cubhood. As a result, they must protect their hairless two legged protégé from the most feared predator in the jungle. Needless to say, Bagheera and Baloo had their paws full looking after Mowgli.
A Cat’s Tale of Two Books
I read two versions of the Jungle Book. I read the Disney version first but even then, during my childhood years, I preferred Kipling’s account. Disney’s take reversed the traits of certain characters from how Kipling had written them. I like Bagheera in both books but this review is based upon Kipling’s original big cat. Of course, Shere Kahn, a Bengal tiger (pictured) is a villain in any version.
Furry Family Affair
The Seonee wolves included Mowgli within their pack. The dominant pair raised him in their den. The other cubs in their litter were his siblings. The rest of wolfdom served as his extended canine clan. Bagheera and Baloo’s relationships with him were akin to a hybrid mix of teacher, friend of family and trusted authority figure.
They sponsored Mowgli’s infant initiation into the Seonee’s wolf led merger of meat eating mammals. The bear and big cat duo also joined forces to rescue him when he was cubnapped by the Bandor Log monkey people.
Baloo taught Mowgli most of his “law of the jungle” lessons. However, Bagheera took on the onus of preparing him to leave the jungle. This cat knew better than any that man cub would need to evolve into mankind.
Bagheera knew this because he spent his youth where he didn’t belong. He had previously been domesticated and cage bound. One day he decided he would no longer be in his words “man’s play thing.” And, thus escaped. He understood Mowgli’s mastery of the law of the jungle would enable him to survive but that he still wouldn’t belong.
To his dismay he realized the wundercub, who he affectionately referred to as "little brother", must go back to his own kind. He loved Mowgli enough to let go and allow man cub to become man.
© 2020 James C Moore