I often get asked about what influences my work as a writer. Inspired by the amazing website Kindertrauma–which is right up my alley–I’m compiling all of my childhood (and some adult) terrors.
Back in the 1970s, every Easter–usually on Good Friday–one of the major networks (I wanna say CBS, but it could’ve been ABC) would air Chuck Jones’ cartoon special Rikki Tikki Tavi, based on one of Kipling’s Jungle Book tales about a mongoose and his fights to the death.
Despite the fact that I looked forward to this every year–it might have had something to do with the fact that my young mind associated it with the Easter Bunny’s visit–there were things in it that were so terrifying they’d haunt my waking (yes, waking) hours.
- The opening credits show us a violent, terrifying storm deep among the frightening, mysterious remnants of the abandoned temples of a lost civilization. This was like a train wreck I couldn’t stop watching.
- The narration by Orson Welles. His voice was chilling enough, but there is some kind of reverb or something put on it that gave it a slight echo, rendering it almost ghostly. I sounds like a dead person talking from beyond the grave. This really bothered me.
- The first time we meet the cobras, Nag and Nagaina, they are presented as looming shadows speaking in sinister whispers (which are performed by Welles as part of the narration). Heart-stopping.
- There is also another snake the color of sand, so he’s presented against the sandy background as almost spectral. Yipes.
I was not alone in my terror. Kindertrauma (if you’ve not heard of this website, you owe it to yourself to check it out–I have managed to rediscover horrors that had become nameless over the years) has Rikki Tikki Tavi featured here.
Still, there were a couple of positive things I never forgot. I always remembered the line “A full meal makes a slow mongoose,” and I swear to God that’s what’s kept me for never being overstuffed at a meal, even one as big as Thanksgiving. It’s also where I learned all about mongooses and their relationship with snakes, and probably where I got such a fascination for all things overgrown and abandoned (one of the sources for that, anyway–I also know I was fascinated with the abandoned temples in Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book).
As far as this has influenced my writing, when I was in high school, I wrote a story (two versions of it, actually, a couple of years apart) set in a village in India with the terrible title of “Slithering Serpents” (the stories are probably equally terrible). It was Rikki Tikki Tavi that made me start reading about India, and that’s how I learned about the subject matter that inspired the stories.
God knows why I’m doing this, but you can read both versions of the story by opening the PDF below. Special thanks to my friend Rob Mayette, who found the only existing printed copy of the one that was published in The Piper — our high school literary magazine (which I’d forgotten even existed) in his basement during a move.
If you’d like to cleanse your palette after reading those pieces of crap with Rikki Tikki Tavi, you can get it here.