Author tries out a new voice in latest novel WEST COUNTY -- Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon


December 24, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Pamela Jekel has made a name for herself charting new territory.

From the little-known world of a woman pirate captain to the waters and lore of the Columbia River, she has looked at the past from a fresh perspective in her historical novels.

But being a scholar of the English language and its literature, Ms. Jekel, a Dayton resident, needed to go beyond retracing the footsteps of settlers through backwoods and backwaters.

In body, her journey took her to the jungles of India. In mind, it put her in touch with one of the best-known storytellers in the mother tongue.

That journey ended in September with the publication of "The Third Jungle Book," a sequel to the fabled first two by Rudyard Kipling.

"The object was to disappear as a writer, and to take on Kipling's voice and tone," says Jekel, 44.

Part of that involved traveling to India, riding an elephant and experiencing first-hand the environment in which Kipling created Mowgli, the jungle boy raised by a wolf pack.

"The Jungle Book" ends before Mowgli comes of age, but Ms. Jekel completes his ascent into manhood and fatherhood.

She includes old familiar characters such as Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Black Panther, but adds new characters. Gargadan, a militaristic rhino, Hama, the king cobra, and Badur, the vampire bat with a sense of humor.

The book also preserves the "Law of the Jungle," which continues to teach respect for all life, animal and human.

But Kipling, like many authors of his day, was not exactly politically correct by today's standards.

"Many of his attitudes were typical for his time; i.e., he was a racist," and tended to look at running life for darker peoples as "the white man's burden."

"Those were the most difficult things to translate," she says. "I tried to soften it and avoid it as much as possible."

It was especially difficult with the development of one of the central characters, a tribe of men called the Gonds. In Kipling's brief reference to them, "the wolves are contemptuous of these small, black, inept hunters."

While Ms. Jekel never expected to be the success she is today, she always hoped to make writing her profession.

"I always did write. Poetry -- maudlin, semi-drippy poetry to various escaped males," Ms. Jekel says.

Although she worked on her high school newspaper and literary journal, she still had trouble with her image.

"I was your basic California cliche; I was a valley girl before I knew what a valley girl was," she remembers. "You're supposed to be an airhead, so I got a Ph.D so nobody could say I was an airhead."

She says her parents believe she got the degree just so people would have to address her as "Dr. Jekel."

After receiving her degree in 1981 from the University of Virginia, she quickly found a niche writing historical, or "multi-generational" novels.

"I have this sense that there have been huge events in history about which only the man's perspective has been explored."

So all of her successful novels, from "Seastar," a 1983 best-seller about pirate queen Anne Bonny, to "Bayou," a 1991 novel about the

Mississippi Delta, have tried to look at history through the eyes of women.

Ms. Jekel is now mulling using that perspective to write about the experience of the infamous "Trail of Tears," that followed the Cherokee people's forced exile from their Appalachian homeland.

Her previous departure from historical novel-writing also didn't use the women's perspective or her usual third-person voice.

"The Last of the California Girls," published in 1989, is told first-person from a man's perspective, but deals with the subject of men's perceptions of women.

Ms. Jekel says her next book will be another multi-generational novel, tentatively titled, "Cape Feare," about life in the Carolinas and will be published in January 1994 by Zebra Books of New York.

After that, she plans to take several months off, during which she will spend many an hour playing with her 15-month-old daughter, Leah, and hiking along the Triadelphia Reservoir near her home.

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