Home TRAVEL BLOGS Boy meets world – Leisure News

Boy meets world – Leisure News

Boy meets world – Leisure News


Before picking up fanfiction, some readers are tempted to first revisit the original work. But since a reworked and retold tale is unlikely to match the power of the original, it may be better to come to Stephen Alter’s Feral Dreams: Mowgli & His Mothers without paying one’s respects to Kipling on the way in. Alter’s sullen young hero, found in the jungle and adopted by a missionary, is nothing like our Mowgli with “a brave heart and a courteous tongue”. Kipling’s vast wilderness surrounded the small villages and their ploughed lands, while the hero of this novel wanders a park infested with poachers in jeeps, and it is civilisation that is everywhere.

In a series of nested narratives, Alter tells us the story of Daniel Cranston, all except where he was born, who his parents were, and how he was abandoned in the jungle. In the first narrative, set in the US, a middle-aged Daniel visits his adopted mother Elizabeth, once a missionary in India, who, in the grip of dementia, no longer knows him. The second is her typed manuscript, her own jungle book, in which she once created a back story for Daniel. That fictional Mowgli, raised by elephants and befriended by langurs in the Hathi Talao forests, runs into wild dogs, dacoits and cobras. Elizabeth’s writing is forced, but, mercifully, doesn’t last forever.

Daniel’s history is next picked up in Elizabeth’s reports from the Calvary Mission Children’s Home in Shakkarganj, Uttar Pradesh, where the boy is brought in one day, feverish and naked, by men who found him in the jungle. Over months, he learns to keep his clothes on, eat cooked food and get on with the other orphans. Elizabeth becomes attached to him and adopts him. Though she later writes a Mowgli story for his entertainment, she is careful not to encourage ideas that the boy was raised by animals. Then Daniel begins to tell his own story. In all these voices, Alter recreates the forests and habitations from what is clearly a lifelong understanding, and the characters are drawn with emotion. But though we recognise the components of Daniel’s environment as accurate, we don’t quite feel his emotion.

As boy and man, Daniel remembers nothing of his life before the children’s home, and that gap is never explained. Alter thus keeps his hero facing forward. Daniel himself does not search for his origins and instead unties even the bond he has to Elizabeth. He refuses to examine the impact of abandonment on his psyche, and that refusal leaves his future as obscure as his past.


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