Category Archives: Kipling

The Jungle Book, Itself

I have not yet figured out how to fit readings of selections from the Jungle Book itself into our schedule. Fortunately there are going to be two DIFFERENT presentations on it by Maddy and Jenée.

The first Jungle Book, which gives us our course title, predates Heart of Darkness by only eight years. I think it is worth reminding everyone of the triad JUNGLE BOOK – HEART OF DARKNESS – TARZAN: happy and sad representations of African and Indian jungle for British and American children and adults, all written when British colonialism in these areas was still strong, that share a number of characteristics and concerns. Here are some notes about Kipling’s original Jungle Book.

+ Although he wrote about India all his life, Kipling only lived there until he was five years old, and for five years in the 1880’s. The Jungle Book was written in Vermont.

+ When Kipling arrived in England at six, he had a terrible time and missed India a great deal. Civilization is cruel and the primitive tropics are kind. He received the Nobel Prize for literature; Henry James thought he was a genius; George Orwell called him a “prophet of imperialism.” In this regard he has a famous poem, The White Man’s Burden, and/but his literary output is varied and worth study.

+ The Jungle Book is composed of fables designed to teach moral lessons (why in the jungle – why is this a good setting for that?). It includes songs and poems.

+ The main human character is Mowgli the “man-cub,” a human child abandoned in the forest and raised by wolves.

+ It became a motivational book for the Cub Scouts [check out scouting which is not entirely innocent or neutral: militarism, “mastering” the wilderness, teaching kids to “be good” in a certain way…].

+ The entire Jungle Book can be read online. Here is the table of contents, with hyperlinks to each chapter. And here is an outline of all the chapters, from Wikipedia:

  • 3. Kaa’s Hunting: This story takes place before Mowgli fights Shere Khan. When Mowgli is abducted by monkeys, Baloo and Bagheera set out to rescue him with the aid of Chil the Kite and Kaa the python. Maxims of Baloo.
  • 5. Tiger! Tiger!: Mowgli returns to the human village and is adopted by Messua and her husband who believe him to be their long-lost son Nathoo. But he has trouble adjusting to human life, and Shere Khan still wants to kill him. The story’s title is taken from the poem “The Tyger” by William Blake.
  • 7. The White Seal: Kotick, a rare white-furred seal, searches for a new home for his people, where they will not be hunted by humans [N.B. this has been read as a Zionist allegory].
  • 9. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi: Rikki-Tikki the mongoose defends a human family living in India against a pair of cobras. This story has also been published as a short book.
  • 11. Toomai of the Elephants: Toomai, a ten-year old boy who helps to tend working elephants, is told that he will never be a full-fledged elephant-handler until he has seen the elephants dance. This story has also been published as a short book.
  • 13. Her Majesty’s Servants (originally titled “Servants of the Queen”): On the night before a military parade a British soldier eavesdrops on a conversation between the camp animals.
1 Comment

Posted by on February 17, 2008 in Kipling