Friday, March 4, 2016

The Jungle Book

So I inadvertently read my first book of short stories this year.  I had no idea that The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling was a collection of short stories; I totally thought it was one novel about Mowgli's adventures, much like how the Disney movie presents it.  But no, there are several stories and poems about Mowgli, then it moves to tales of other animals (I was really confused when that happened too because the book went from talking about the jungle to talking about seals!)

Mowgli is a little boy from India who is raised by wolves.  He is accepted by the Free People (the wolves) when Baloo the bear and Bagheera the black panther vouch for him (Bagheera provides the wolves with a fresh kill of meat in exchange for Mowgli's acceptance as vouched for by him).  Shere Khan, the tiger, is not at all pleased with this; Mowgli's adopted wolf parents stopped him from killing the man cub, and now his acceptance with the rest of the Free People further stops him.  So Mowgli grows up with the wolves and under the guidance of Baloo and Bagheera.

The stories about Mowgli do have a bit of an arc - they end when Mowgli has killed Shere Khan.  Although there is one story involving monkeys where Shere Khan doesn't appear.  This is where Kaa is introduced though (and unlike in the Disney movie, Kaa helps everyone save Mowgli; he does not try to eat the man cub).

From there, there is a story about Kotick, the white seal.  Kotick sees some of his fellow seals being slaughtered by seal-hunters.  So he spends many years first looking for a safe place for his people to live without fear of man, and later trying to convince his people to come with him. (they didn't want to change their ways.  For the most part they ignored the fact that people would come and kill them off by the hundreds while they were nesting).  It was an interesting story once I got over the fact that Mowgli wasn't going to appear.

Next was the story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose.  I actually knew this story from when I was younger (we had a VHS version of the story which was almost exactly the same story as was written by Kipling).  Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is saved from drowning by an English family.  He then saves all of them from some snakes, most notably ridding the garden of the cobras Nag and Nagaina.

This was followed by Toomai of the Elephants, which was the story of a little boy who saw the elephants dance.  His family helped to catch wild elephants.  During this time he caught the attention of the English leader of the expedition, who told him he could join them when he saw the elephants dance (which was basically like saying "never").  But then that night his family's elephant breaks out of the picket and takes the boy with him (Little Toomai tells the elephant to bring him) to a clearing where many wild elephants (and a few other picketed elephants) join them.  They return to camp the next day where the boy regales everyone with his story (and trackers later verify is true because they find the clearing with many elephant tracks).

The last story was "Her Majesty's Servants."  This was a really weird one, where some animals of a camp are talking and some human overhears them (unknown to the animals, he can totally understand them all).  They talk about cowardice and how to fight, which is different for every animal.  Then at the end of it all they parade for a visiting Afghanistan Chief.  This was honestly my least favourite.

All of these were broken up by various poems and songs.  Some of them pertained to the different stories (like one gave the whole song that a mother sang to her child; only one part of it appeared in the actual story).

I remember hearing that Kipling had fallen out of favour because of the way he portrayed things (basically he's got a colonial narrative going through these stories showing how great Englishmen are).  I have to say, I was expecting it to be a lot worse than it was.  If you want to see a ridiculous colonial narrative, try reading Tarzan of the Apes.

So that, in a nutshell, was The Jungle Book.  There wasn't a lot of characterization happening because the actual book seemed rather didactic in tone (and for some reason older didactic literature seems to be all about the lessons and morals, rather than placing a moral into a well-crafted story).  I found it an interesting read to see what was done (and how the actual book differs from the story I was expecting thanks to Disney) but it wasn't an overly enjoyable read because of its purpose and tone. 

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