Thursday, April 21, 2016

Book Review of The Jungle Book

Did you know the Jungle Book is not one story? It's 7 stories! (And poems) AND half the stories have nothing to do with Mowgli or any other characters in Disney movies.

The Jungle Book has 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads right now and 1600 reviews, so obviously a lot of people have read and enjoyed the stories. I was looking at some of the reviews on Goodreads, and there were a few people who were really upset when they realized that over half the stories have nothing to do with Mowlgi.  I mean, it is what it is.  The book was around for over 70 years before the first animated film version came around

The book is at a 6th grade reading level, so even though it's a "children's book" The Jungle Book isn’t really for grade school children.  Middle school, probably around 12 and up would be a good age for it.

Here's where the Mowlgi stories take place in Seoni, India:

The first three stories in the book are the stories with Mowgli in them.  They are in order of appearance:  Mowgli's Brothers, Caa’s Hunting, and Tiger! Tiger! 

Mowgli's Brothers

If you only read one story from The Jungle Book, the first story, Mowgli's Brothers is probably the one for you. The story has the feeling like it’s always existed, like a fable or a myth. It’s the story of how Mowlgi came to be raised by wolves and grow up it the jungle.  The plot flows nicey, and Kipling does a great job of creating a Jungle that feels like a completely fleshed out world filled with living characters and a community. One symbol to keep in mind while reading this story is the potentially bad side of democracy.  The Seonee Wold Pack are pointedly called “The Free People”.

Kaa’s Hunting the second story, but it actually goes back in time from when the first story ended.  Caa’s Hunting takes place during Mowgli’s jungle education training from Baloo and Bagheera. I really enjoyed Caa’s character in the books, he is very different in the book than in the movies.  In the book Baloo and Bagheera actually go to Caa for help after Mowlgi is kidnapped by the monkeys and look to Caa to help them rescue Mowlgi. Bagheera and Caa also have a humorous rivalry in this story that I enjoyed reading. 

Tiger, Tiger!

The third story, “Tiger, Tiger!” is personally my favorite Mowlgi story in the Jungle Book.  In Tiger Tiger Mowlgi goes to the man village to try to live there. I really enjoyed seeing how Mowlgi’s interactions with other people turned out.  Mowlgi doesn’t really grasp or respect the hierarchies in the culture. In the books Mowlgi is called “Mowlgi the Frog” by his wolf family.  I think he’s called a frog because frogs live in two worlds, water and land.  And Mowlig lives in two worlds, human society and the jungle. I really liked how Mowlgi’s relationship with his human mother and his wolf family both progress in this story.
Tiger Tiger is also the story where Mowlgi faces his arch nemesis Shere Khan. I won’t tell you how it ends. 

The White Seal

This story is underrated.  This is the first non-Mowlgi story in the Jungle Book.  I was actually super confused once I got to this story because I thought all the stories in the Jungle Book took place in India.  This story actually takes place primarily on an island off the coast of Alaska.  There’s nothing Jungle-y about it. That aside, I enjoyed this story.  
The white seal, Kotic, is an anomaly meant to lead his people. I love the fable/myth vibes from this story as well. I also really liked Kotic’s humorous interactions with the sea cows.  I thought that was really funny.
Humans are definitely not portrayed in a positive light in this story. One of the humans becomes convinced that Kotic is the reincarnated ghost of a seal who’s come back to haunt him, which was pretty funny too.  


Okay, this is my favorite story in the whole series. I would also recommend this story for young readers moreso than any of the other stories in the Jungle Book Collection. The story is about a mongoose named Rikki-Tikki-Tavi who is washed away from his family in a flood. A British family living in India find Rikki in a ditch and decide to revive him. Rikki likes the plush bungalow life and decides to stick aroundIn the family's garden Rikki meets his arch nemeses Nag and Nagiana (black cobras). Bouts of mortal combat ensure. 

Toomai of the Elephants

This story is markedly different from the others, because it’s the only story where the animals don’t talk. Actually it’s really inconsistent from story to story whether the people can talk to animals or not, but this is the only story where the animals don’t talk at all .
This is a story about a boy named Little Toomai, whose father is the driver,of the elephant Kala Nag, which means black snake. Kipling describes Kala Nag as “the best-loved and the best-looked-after elephant in the service of the Government of India.”
I appreciated the strain on the relationship between Little Toomai and his father, Big Toomai.  Little Toomai was respectful and obedient, but he had different goals for his life than what his father had planned for him, and I give Little Toomai props for being courageous enough to pursue them.  
I also appreciated the bravery and courage that little Toomai shows through this story.  I love when children's authors create heroic children. Toomai was really endearing, as was his relationship the with his elephant Kala Nag. Here's an original 1894 version illustration of Toomai and the Elephants. I think Rudyard Kipling's father drew it:

Her Majesty's Servants

TBT I did not personally enjoy this story.  It’s really low on plot.  80% of the story is one long conversation between pack animals at a government camp in India. The conversation is being overheard by an unnamed human narrator. The narrator is a very minor character in the story, like a fly on the wall. The world of the pack-animals, with the human narrator hearing everything, lacks the allure of the jungle. The story is memorable only for the finale, which bring the story’s theme of obedience and government to a head. The jist is that without obedience you can’t have an empire. If you were not fan of the British Empire, you won’t appreciate the ending of this story.

Bonus Material

I wanted to touch on the culture and historical period The Jungle Book was written in.  It was written during the British Raj, which refers to the period of British rule in India from 1858 and 1947. It lasted until 1947, when British India was split into two sovereign states: India and Pakistan.  There is one point in the story Toomai of the Elephants, where Toomai, a young Indian boy, is amazed that a white man took notice of him.  I do think it would be good to talk especially to younger readers, about how Toomai's perception of white men relates to colonialism and the society Toomai would have grown up in.

A final thought about the author, Rudyard Kipling. He was born in India to British parents, and he was sent to boarding school in England at the age of 6. While he was in England, he lived with foster parents who were abusive. Kipling ran away to London (as a 7 year old) to try to escape his foster family and find relatives. His mother learned about the situation and came all the way from India to make sure he was placed in a better situation. I bring this up because in The Jungle Book, Baloo beats Mowlgi when he can't remember what he's been taught. The abuse only comes up in "Caa's Hunting," but is as follows:

"Is there anything in the jungle too little to be killed? No. That is why I teach him these things, and that is why I hit him, very softly, when he forgets." [said Balloo]
"Softly! What dost thou know of softness, old Iron-feet?" Bagheera grunted. "His face is all bruised today by thy-- softness. Ugh."
"Better he should be bruised from head to foot by me who love him than that he should come to harm through ignorance," Baloo answered very earnestly. "I am now teaching him the Master Words of the Jungle that shall protect him with the birds and the Snake People, and all that hunt on four feet, except his own pack. He can now claim protection, if he will only remember the words, from all in the jungle. Is not that worth a little beating?"

Being hit by adults was part of Rudyard Kipling's childhood, and he included it stories for children.  Impress upon younger readers that being hit as a child was the author's experience, but that doesn't mean it is normal or okay.  What Baloo described as "bruised from head to foot" does not sound like an occasional spanking. 

Sorry to end on such a downer... I know GOOD NEWS, The Jungle Book is public domain.  You can read it FOR FREE here: 

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