“The reason the beasts give among themselves is that Man is the weakest and most defenceless of all living things.”
Originally published in 1894, The Jungle Book is a collection of seven fables, written by English author Rudyard Kipling. Using animals to give moral lessons, The Jungle Book tells the stories of a 10-year-old elephant handler, a British soldier, a heroic mongoose, a rare white-furred seal, and, most famously, of Mowgli, an orphaned human boy living amongst the animals in the remote jungle of India. With three of the seven fables set around Mowgli, we follow him on his journey of self-discovery, guided by his animal guardians, as he must evade the threatening tiger, Shere Khan.
The following post is a review of the book only. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.
We all think we know Kipling’s story thanks to Disney, but The Jungle Book is actually a collection of fables, and only three out of seven of them relate to Mowgli.
These three chapters are titled “Mowgli’s Brothers”, which introduces us to Mowgli as he is being raised by Baloo the bear and Bagheera the black panther, as Mowgli faces his first confrontation with Shere Khan, “Kaa’s Hunting”, in which Mowgli is abducted by monkeys and meets Kaa the python, and “Tiger! Tiger!” (with its title based on the excellent William Blake poem), which sees Mowgli enter the human village and eventually return to the village to face Shere Khan for one last time.
Much of these stories about Mowgli and his friends sound familiar but, in fact, a lot happens differently in the book compared to two popular film adaptations, which I go into more here, but there’s a lot more to appreciate in terms of imagination and adventure.
The other fables are titled “The White Seal”, which centres on a rare white-furred northern fur seal in search for a new home where he will not be hunted by humans, “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”, which follows a heroic mongoose who defends a human family living against a pair of cobras, “Toomai of the Elephants”, which follows a ten-year-old boy who helps to tend working elephants, and “Her Majesty’s Servants”, which follows a British soldier who eavesdrops on a conversation between the camp animals.
The Jungle Book isn’t the story I thought it was going to be with the addition of these other characters’ fables, which left me quite frustrated at first. Many of us will pick up the book wanting to read only about Mowgli, so it’s worth knowing going in that he’s only a small part of the book.
Each of the stories are also followed by a piece of verse, but whilst all of the fables give memorable moral lessons, the book is very dated and incredibly difficult to relate to in this day and age, and you do need to be prepared for a more in-depth story than the Disneyfied version.
For that reason, I wouldn’t particularly say that this is a children’s book because older readers will get much more out of it. It may not be the simple fairy tale you were imagining, but Kipling is an incredibly insightful writer, nonetheless.
The Jungle Book was adapted into a film in 2016, which you can read my Book vs. Film Review for here, and watch the trailer for below:
Ah, colonialism and casual racism, just what the world needs. I’ll pass, thanks.
I remember reading this a long time ago and being surprised at how blatant the imagery is.
Not a pleasant book, the subtext isn’t exactly subtle, is it? Kipling wasn’t really a very nice man.
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