29 May 2013

Kipling’s Law

The Telegraph just ran a story headlined “Rudyard Kipling letter admits plagiarising parts of the Law of the Jungle”. That’s simply untrue.

The actual news hook is that an 1895 letter in which Kipling discusses his inspiration for The Jungle Book is up for auction. In that letter Kipling was replying to someone who evidently wanted to know the source of the novel’s “Law of the Jungle.”

Kipling had to tell his correspondent that he had made most of it up for the purpose of the story. In other words, he hadn’t plagiarised it. He said only, “a little of it is bodily taken from (Southern) Esquimaux rules for the division of spoils,” and politely acknowledged that he might have been inspired by other sources he “at present cannot remember.”

Given, however, that the “Law of the Jungle” is written in the voice of a wolf pack, I heartily doubt anyone could find sources that Kipling directly cribbed from.

Now this is the Law of the Jungle—as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back—
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

Wash daily from nose-tip to tail-tip; drink deeply, but never too deep;
And remember the night is for hunting, and forget not the day is for sleep.
The Jackal may follow the Tiger, but, Cub, when thy whiskers are grown,
Remember the Wolf is a Hunter—go forth and get food of thine own. . . .
Read the rest here.

It should go without saying, but there’s no plagiarism in writing an original story or poem that explores the ramifications of an ethical rule long in the public domain. The Telegraph’s characterization of what Kipling did and admitted is either sensationalist or a sign that its editors no longer understand the fair use and exchange of ideas.

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