TBT: Rudyard Kipling’s “The Mother Hive”

This week I’ve been highlighting some of my Spring Break reading recommendations (Part I, Part II, and Part III).  I’ve been reading quite a bit in the horror genre, as I love weird tales and ghost stories.

In that spirit, I thought I’d use this week’s TBT as another Spring Break recommendation—the chilling tale of a progressivist wax-moth infiltrating an unsuspecting hive of busy, but declining, bees.  I stumbled upon it while teaching my History of Conservative Thought class last summer, and immediately was taken with this macabre, yet hopeful, tale (which you can read in full here).

Literary short stories offer us many opportunities for exploring the human condition—even with bees.  One reason, perhaps, for our general social and cultural decline is that we usurped the literary canon—which sought to expose students of English literature to the best representative works—with the wax-moths of identity politics and watered-down standards.

Even my brightest students struggle to write grammatically, much less to write well.  And some of the canonical works I read in high school are conspicuously absent from the curriculum (although, of course, some of the greats still remain).  Summer reading has more or less become “read whatever you want” (a not entirely ignoble idea), rather than “read these excellent, challenging works” (why not some combination of the two?).

But I digress.  I’m treading into waters that are not, as history and music teacher, my own.  Nevertheless, I would encourage readers to seek out the best of what has been said or done, if for no other reason than to keep the wax-moths at bay.

With that, here is July 2019’s “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.

6 thoughts on “TBT: Rudyard Kipling’s “The Mother Hive”

  1. Seems to me that the answer to Kipling is – Kipling

    God of our fathers, known of old—
    Lord of our far-flung battle-line—
    Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
    Dominion over palm and pine—
    Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
    Lest we forget, lest we forget!

    The tumult and the shouting dies—
    The captains and the kings depart—
    Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
    An humble and a contrite heart.
    Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
    Lest we forget, lest we forget!

    Far-call’d our navies melt away—
    On dune and headland sinks the fire—
    Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
    Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
    Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
    Lest we forget, lest we forget!

    If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
    Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
    Such boasting as the Gentiles use
    Or lesser breeds without the Law—
    Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
    Lest we forget, lest we forget!

    For heathen heart that puts her trust
    In reeking tube and iron shard—
    All valiant dust that builds on dust,
    And guarding calls not Thee to guard—
    For frantic boast and foolish word,
    Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Seriously. I read one of this ghost stories last night, “At the End of the Passage.” It was an odd story, but what struck me was the _detail_ about the roughshod men who managed India. Really interesting, true-to-life details about the burdens of empire, and the sacrifices those men made to improve the subcontinent. Fascinating stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, he was born and grew up there, which probably has something to do about it. He tended to soak up culture wherever he was. He was somewhat anti-American til he lived for a time in Vermont, then he started seeing us as not very different.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. […] “TBT: Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mother Hive’” & “Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mother Hive’” (Original Post) – This post is more of an “honorable mention,” as I wrote about it last summer.  But when you blog everyday, as I do, you’re not going to pass up the chance to reblog every Thursday (seriously, it saves a ton of time).  Regardless, this tale definitely fits the theme:  an insidious wax-moth begins filling the heads of vulnerable young bees with sweet, silky lies, much like a public school English teacher.  Soon, the once-proud high is on the verge of collapse, with mutated and invalid “Oddities” born in greater numbers.  It’s a shocking allegory—or Aesopian fable—that ends in flames, with a cautiously optimistic coda. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s