Despite the perfectly healthy and sane number of times I've taken my child for a walk through the deepest, darkest part of the woods, I've never even come close to losing him in there. But, as my psychiatrist loves to ask me, what if? What's the worst that could happen? To find out, I turned to the ever-growing number of books and movies featuring feral children that I've extensively collected while giggling over the past year, and I pored through them looking for common themes. The next time my shrink smugly asks about my woods/children practices, I'll be ready with an answer.
#5. Mowgli Learned Valuable Skills
Mowgli is probably the most famous example of a feral child brought to us from the good people at Literature. Although you're probably more familiar with him in his Disney incarnation, he originally appeared in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. There it's explained that as a baby Mowgli was lost by his parents during a tiger attack. Which, if nothing else, casts a pretty stark light on how trivial the challenges parents face these days are.
Most parenting blogs recommend the $1,600 stroller for the tiger-proof bars and aren't shy
about calling you a monster if you spring for anything less.
Mowgli was soon found by a pack of wolves, who in a pretty bold move for wolves, elected not to eat the snackin'-size human in front of them and instead raised him as their own. Learning their wolf ways, Mowgli became a skilled tracker and hunter. Ignoring their wolf ways, he also befriended a variety of other animals, including a bear and a panther.
Ryan McVay/Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Photodisc/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Two more animals not especially well known for their friendliness to young children.
So this all looks good so far. An infant abandoned in the jungle will be raised by friendly animals, learn their ways, and sing a whole mess of up-tempo songs. This doesn't even seem to have any lasting negative effects on the boy; he eventually returns to a human village and lives more or less happily among these non-wolves. Sure, he does wander back into the jungle more than most normal people, and he probably has a predilection for loincloths and killing things with his teeth, but those seem like pretty minor side effects.
So then. Score one for feral children.
Not that I'm keeping score for any particular reason.
#4. Romulus And Remus Built A Whole City
CellarDoor85 via Wikimedia Commons
The area around Rome has been occupied by humans for literally more than dozens of years, but when they eventually got around to inventing a Tourism Board, the people they put in charge of it realized their city needed a sexier backstory than "Former Caveman Squatting Site." Thus the story of Romulus and Remus, the legendary figures who founded Rome.
Does your city have an origin myth? Get brainstorming, Omaha.
Romulus and Remus were twin brothers whose mother was forced into becoming a Vestal Virgin by a sinister brother-in-law during the sort of palace intrigue that happened a lot back then. One day, while virgining around her temple, she attracted the attention of a God, who took the form of a massive phallus that mysteriously appeared in her temple. One thing led to another, and nine months later she gave birth to twins.
Because of her wicked brother-in-law, she was forced to abandon the twins, and for what must have seemed like a pretty good reason at the time, she chose to do this by hucking them in a river. They were only saved by a series of incredibly unlikely events, the most notable of which involved a mother wolf finding them and then allowing them to suckle at her wolf teats.
I'm not in any way exaggerating here.
Anyway, the pair were soon found by a shepherd, who did not allow them to suckle at his teats, but instead he raised them as his own children. They would eventually grow up into strong young men, discover their true identity, and beat the tar out of their wicked uncle. They then decided to found a town, because it's important to have a project to work on and, while deciding where to locate this new city, got into a huge fight with each other. Romulus killed Remus, then named the city after himself in a pretty ungracious move.
Even though "Eatitremus" does flow off the tongue pretty nicely.
So one lesson here is that, when founding a city, be careful with the rough-housing. But also note how in both of the first two entries of this listacular listravaganza, we've seen wolves take care of babies at least as well as, if not better than humans. It seems it might be reckless to not abandon your child in the woods one stormy summer night.
#3. Tarzan Became A Genius
The famous vine-swinging, ape-singing, turd-flinging jungle man, Tarzan is an iconic character who's been remade in a dozen different forms, probably most famously portrayed by Johnny Weissmuller in the 1930s. We'll stick with the original novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, where it's explained that, when he was a baby, Tarzan's parents were killed by a group of apes, who then adopted him and raised him as one of their own, out of guilt, presumably.
As in the previous examples, Tarzan takes swimmingly to this sudden change in parental arrangements and soon becomes an expert ape. Even as a boy he's incredibly strong and capable of climbing and leaping from trees like no normal man. (The vine-swinging is an invention of the movies; vines just don't work that way, because they're anchored at the bottom.) Still, even just leaping from tree to tree would require an impressive amount of agility and strength.
Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images
This boy would completely die if he even saw a tree in real life.
Interestingly, of all the characters here, Tarzan is the one who spent the most time around animals, and yet, in the books at least, he's also one of the most civilized.
In later adventures, Tarzan meets a girl, falls in love with her, and moves back to civilization, where he apparently gets along just fine. The books portray him as something of a genius, in fact, capable of learning new languages incredibly easily. But for all the ease with which he gets along in the world of trousers, he's always depicted as longing for the swinging, dangling freedom that only loincloths can provide.
It's his adventures back in civilization that end up highlighting the most important aspect of his character, the archetype we now call the "noble savage." All of his admirable qualities are implied to derive from him having stayed away from civilization most of his life. The culture and clamor and penicillin that we all love is implied to have a corrupting influence on us. Tarzan is a better man for managing to avoid it, and he even pities us for it.
So that's a downside. You wouldn't want to abandon a kid in the woods and have him show up on your doorstep years later, all haughty and noble. He stretches an arm out and an eagle lands on it, then just shakes its head at you. That'd be humiliating. So let's mark that down as a point for not leaving your child in a land where few men tread.