People and animals don’t mix. There are obviously many exceptions to this, and cooperation between the two has helped both groups survive at various times over the years, but there are fundamental differences that inevitably lead to conflict. One of these is eloquently stated by Agent Smith in the film The Matrix when he claims “you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment; but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread…” This describes a major conflict people have with the forces of nature, and how we are always working to adapt the environment to suit our needs, rather than the other way around.
The plainest exception is, of course, man’s best friend. Dogs help people hunt, cross the street, protect our homes, even find those buried alive, and countless other things people need help with. This, however, is after thousands of years of selectively breeding their predecessors for compatibility with humans. This brings us to the illustrious and noble wolf, an animal long revered for its intelligence and prowess. Wolves exemplify the idea that, advanced as we are, there is always something to be learned from nature. Bridging the gap between these worlds is an ever more challenging task, as human society constantly diverges from the balance in which these creatures exist. One type of hero capable of this is the feral child, typically lost or abandoned as an infant and raised among animals. Their human body and wild upbringing allow them to communicate with both groups as an equal, something others fail at. Two famous, fictional feral children are Mowgli from The Jungle Book, and San from Princess Mononoke, both raised by wise and noble wolf families, both with a connection to the human world that surpasses their animal friends, and both of whom have trouble fitting into their adopted homes.
Mowgli is constantly at odds with the troublesome tiger Shere Khan, who breaks the law of the jungle by hunting humans and cattle, actions that will surely have negative repercussions for all the animals of the jungle. San and her wolf family are already at war with the humans of near-by Iron Town over their efforts to expand their mining operations deeper into the forest and eliminate the animals insistent on protecting their homes. In each case the heroes are striving to preserve the balance for the good of all life in the forest, whether it be disrupted by man or unruly tiger.
While helpful, having ties to both worlds can cause these characters difficulties, highlighting the challenge of coexistence between people and animals. Mowgli is able to frighten Shere Khan into submission with his mastery over fire, but decides to leave the pack after learning that many of the other wolves have grown to mistrust him as he approaches adulthood. While he is defended by the old leader of the pack, who states “He has eaten our food. He has slept with us. He has driven game for us. He has broken no word of the Law of the Jungle,” many others hold their position shouting “A man! What has a man to do with us? Let him go to his own place.”
San is devoted to ridding her home of the threat posed by the villagers, but is constantly, and to her shame and outrage, reminded of her human side by Ashitaka, a traveler struggling to find a way for the humans and the forest to live in peace. When the humans and animals are nearing a great battle, Ashitaka argues with San’s wolf mother Moro saying, “You must let her go! She’s not a wolf, she’s human!” Moro acknowledges San’s conflicted identity, stating “I raised her as my own. Now my poor, ugly, beautiful daughter is neither human nor wolf.” San must struggle to come to terms with this, overcome her deep loathing of humans, and work with Ashitaka to stop a catastrophe threatening both the forest and Iron Town.
It becomes clear that both stories carry a message of the importance of knowing where you belong, as well as the dangers of humans trying to impose their will on the balance of nature. Mowgli’s mentor Bagheera shares his tale of escaping captivity to find his true home in the jungle, just as Mowgli must venture from the jungle to find his place among humans, and eventually the people of Iron Town realize that their greed and transgressions into the forest were the cause of untold destruction. The town matriarch Lady Eboshi acknowledges this with her summation “We’re going to start all over again. This time we’ll build a better town,” showing us that sometimes it takes a child raised by wolves to help us understand our role as humans.
Kipling, Rudyard. The Jungle Book. “Mowgli’s Brother.” Simon & Schuster, 1894
Matrix, The. Dir. Wachowski Brothers, The. Warner Bros. 1999. DVD.
Moore, Inga. 1992
Princess Mononoke. Dir. Hayao Miyazaki. Toho, 1997. Digital avi.
Image credit <http://www.princess-mononoke.com/frameset5.htm> © 1999 by Miramax Films. © Copyright 1999 Online “Engage” Edition by OBS. All rights reserved.