Sunday, April 13, 2014

J is for The Jungle Books and Just So Stories

When I look over the list of books that I most cherished and most frequently read from my childhood, The Jungle Books would finish second only to the Louisa May Alcott collection I discussed back on the letter E.
I was 6 when I was taken to see the animated Disney version, and not long after that I was given a copy of the actual Kipling stories.  The Disney film is cute, but it changes the nature of virtually all the characters except Shere Khan. It would surprise those who only know the movies, for example, that it is Baloo the Bear who is the responsible mentor to Mowgli, while Bagheera the black panther who encourages Mowgli to kick back and enjoy himself more. Kaa the snake isn't interested in dining on Mowgli, and indeed becomes a mentor to him (the monkeys on the other hand are a favorite delicacy.) Humans are not nearly as benign in the book either as they are in the movie.
In the book Mowgli is a baby when he is rescued by a family of wolves from the tiger Shere Khan, who is despised by the other animals because he hunts man, which is strictly forbidden by the Law of the Jungle that all the animals live by.  Bagheera the black panther buys Mowgli's way into the Pack for the price of a newly killed bull.  Mowgli is raised among the other wolves, who are led by Akela.  Several of the best stories revolve around Mowgli learning the laws and traditions of the jungle from Baloo and others,  including the story "How Fear Came" which tells jungle animals Creation and Fall myth.
At the end of the first book Mowgli defeats Shere Khan by use of fire, which terrifies all animals, but which he as a human can manage. Rejected by all of the wolves except his parents and Bagheera, he then goes off to become part of the man village. 
Thus far the story is similar if much deeper to what is in the book. 
But now the book takes a darker turn, as Mowgli is rejected by the man village and returns to the Jungle, this time as a lone hunter, respected by all the other animals who know that even when he isn't stronger than them he is far more cunning.  He has several more adventure, including one. "The King's Ankh" which deals most disdainfully with Man's love of jewels and gold.  But in the end Mowgli can't resist the call to be part of man and have a family and so he returns, this time of his own free will.
Kipling ends with what may be the saddest lines in literature "And that is the last of the Mowgli stories."
But it isn't the last of the Jungle Books, as Kipling intersperses a number of other animal related stories set in India the best known of which are The White Seal and Rikki Tikki Tavi.  There is also poetry at the beginning and end of most of the stories:
"“Now this is the Law of the Jungle -- as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”  
"Wood and water, wind and tree
Wisdom, strength and courtesy
Jungle Favour go with thee."
Trivia note: Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouting, modeled Cub Scouting on The Jungle Books. To this day Boys are organized into dens and packs and led by a leader who is Akela;
I can't let the letter "J" by without mentioning another Kipling classic, the Just-So Stories. Written for someone younger reader, they are a set of animal fables explaining why different creatures have various attributes.  Probably the best known is the Elephant's Child who is more inquisitive that Curious George, but my personal favorite is the Cat Who Walks by Himself.  Anyone who ever owned a cat would love the story.
There is a good, reasonably faithful film version of the Jungle Book, made in the 40's by England's Korda Brothers, distinguished by it beautiful cinematography, use of live animals, and a fine performance by Sabu as Mowgli.
As for the subsequent live action Disney film, the one known as 
Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book
I'd like to introduce you to Meg's Rule One of Film Titles
"Anytime the author's name is included in the title, it is probably farther from the author's original work than anything previously seen."
This was the film that caused me to create the rule. 
This post is part of the A-Z blogging challenge.
To learn more click on the link.


  1. I love the Jungle Book - the film more so than the stories, but I do like the Just So stories, and I remember that the white seal one was sad. Fascinating life though, Kipling :)

    1. He did have a fascinating life. I love his poetry too.