Rudyard Kipling’s “The Mother Hive”

To start yesterday’s History of Conservative Thought class, I had students skim through Rudyard Kipling’s 1908 short story “The Mother Hive.”  I stumbled upon the reading in our class text, Russell Kirk’s The Portable Conservative Reader.

It is a grim little fable that warns about the perils of progressivism infiltrating a proud but weakened nation.  In the story, a deadly wax-moth sneaks into a large but bedraggled beehive during a moment of confusion.  She quickly steals away to the cell of the youngest bees, who have yet to take their first flight.  There, she fills their impressionable heads with gentle words and promises of a glorious future, all while covertly laying her eggs.

One young bee, Melissa, who has just returned from her first flight, is suspicious of the beautiful stranger’s soothing words, but the wax-moth plays the victim and insists that she’s only spreading her “principles,” not the eggs of her hungry future children.

The infiltration of the young bees’ minds pays lethal dividends.  When an old guard asks the young bees to construct pillars of wax to protect the entrance to the hive, they complain about the work, saying that pillar-building is a form of provocation, and that if they just trust the wax-moths, the wax-moths will return the favor.  When they reluctantly begin to build the pillars, they refuse to use chew the hard wax, and insist only on the finest, softest wax—and even then they balk at completing their work!

Needless to say, disaster is quick in coming.  The wax-moth’s eggs hatch and begin to devour the precious honey stored in the hive.  As they burrow weird, cylindrical tubes—an innovation that takes eight times the wax as a hexagonal cell—they expose the bee pupae to deformations.  Increasing numbers of bees are born as “Oddities”—missing legs, blind, unable to fly, half-breeds, etc.

As the number of lame bees are born, the dwindling number of “sound bees” must shoulder greater amounts of work to feed themselves, the aging Queen, the Oddities, and the wax-moth and her brood.  Sound bees work themselves to exhaustion as the Oddities sing merry working songs, unable to complete any work of their own.  The Oddities insist there is plenty of honey, saying it comes from the Hive itself.  One Oddity claims that each bee need only work 7.5 minutes per day to feed everyone, but those calculations—not surprisingly—come out to be overly optimistic.

Ultimately, the beekeeper—the “Voice behind the Veil”—finds his old, neglected hive in ruin.  He and his son break apart the hive panel by panel, revealing how weakened the structure has become due to the wax-moths’ infiltration.  The lame Oddities fall to the grass after struggling to ride on the remaining healthy “sound bees.”  Melissa, her old friend, and a secretly-birthed Princess—the dying act of the old Queen—along with the other sound bees escape to a nearby oak tree, where they witness the destruction and burning of their old hive.

One of the wax-moth offspring flies up, explaining that the promised, glorious “New Day” that was promised was miscalculated.  The proud new Princess boldly proclaims that it was the wax-moths, catching the old hive in a moment of weakness, that destroyed them, but that the bees will rebuild.

I was surprised that I had not heard of this little fable before this morning, while idly flipping through Kirk’s reader.  The parallels between the wax-moth and the social justice, Cultural Marxist progressives of today are stunning, considering Kipling wrote this tale about English Liberals and socialists 111 years ago!

Note the wax-moths beeline (no pun intended) for the younglings.  Having never seen even the bending of flowers in the breeze, these impressionable youngsters are already theorizing about the nature of the world and reality.  At that tender moment, the insidious outsider fills their heads with tales of her own morality, all the while laying her hungry eggs.

The sound bees are slow to act.  They’re tired and worn out, as the hive has grown large, and there are many bees to feed.  When the old Queen calls for a “swarm” to leave the hive, no one heeds her royal decree—why should they leave their comfortable lives?

There are two points here:  good people, especially when overworked, are slow to act (and, indeed, can get careless—the wax-moth slipped in when the Guard bee fusses at Melissa due to his frayed nerves from an overly long watch at the hive’s gate).  They are willing to give others the benefit of the doubt, and to ignore their own nagging gut instincts that something is amiss.

The other point is that good times and plenty made the bees soft and comfortable.  They are loathe to leave their comfort, and have come to believe that nothing bad could ever befall them.  Indeed, the wax-moth convinces the young bees that wax-moths never infiltrate beehives, and that such a notion is a fear-mongering myth.

The young bees come to resent and shirk off their work, preferring instead to theorize and hold rallies.  One young bee gives an impassioned, contradictory speech about the greatness of the hive, while also condemning the manufacturers of it.  Even as he contradicts  himself, the other bees—wanting to appear “in the know” and cool—cheer lustily.  He doesn’t even know what he’s said, but he enjoys the applause and the cheap accolades his fiery rhetoric brings.

The Oddities become an increasing burden on the hive, but the good, healthy bees continue to feed them.  I don’t think Kipling is making some point about unhealthy or deformed people here being a drain on society.  I think he’s employing the Oddities as metaphors for people with unhealthy or unnatural habits or worldviews, the people that project their derangement onto the world around them and expect a handout.  While it wasn’t an issue when he wrote this story in 1908, I couldn’t help but think of the various transgender and “alternative” weirdos that attempt to normalize their mental disorders, while expecting society to bend over backwards to accommodate them.

As for Kipling, it seems he’s using the Oddities as a stand-in for shirkers, Communists, and other forms of social leeches.  Their deformities are the result of the unhealthy hive and the twisted influence of the wax-moth infestation.  Similarly, the social justice thugs of the modern West are the result of Cultural Marxist infiltration—they are the bad fruit sprung from poisonous seeds.

Reading this short story was disturbing, but also a reminder that we must be ever vigilant to remain truly free.  That freedom only comes from discipline and order.  Further, good people must be willing to acknowledge that evil exists around them, and must be willing to confront it.

If we don’t, we’ll be the ones on the ash heap of history.

11 thoughts on “Rudyard Kipling’s “The Mother Hive”

  1. […] “Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mother Hive’” – my History of Conservative Thought class read this chilling short story one morning as an icebreaker.  It’s about the insidious infiltration of a dangerous foreign element into a proud but aging beehive.  The infiltrator—a wax-moth—fills the heads of the young bees with abstract claims of a utopian society, all-the-while laying its eggs and creating great strains on the hive.  Fewer healthy bees are born, much less willing to work to support the colony, so more and more work is shouldered by a diminishing number of healthy workers.  It all ends in a fiery blaze, with hope for the future, as a young Princess and her loyal retinue escape to rebuild.  Written in 1908, the story sounds like it describes the modern West today—a terrifying warning that, I fear, we have not heeded. […]

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