Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Jungle Books - Rudyard Kipling

Everyone has heard of the Jungle Book. If you don’t know who Baloo, Bhageera, and Mowgli are then I do not know what fucking planet you have been living on. Although the Jungle Books were written in two parts, 1895 and 1895 respectively by Rudyard Kipling, it was not until the cartoon was released by Disney back in the 80’s that his works gained mainstream commercial notoriety. Having only seen the cartoon one might assume that it reflects accurately what Kipling put down on paper, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. The cartoon is just a teeny tiny excerpt from a collection of magnificent short stories that compile The Jungle Books.

The Jungle Books consist of exactly 15 tales, each concluded by a short song or poem. More accurately I would refer to them as ballads about each of the stories. Kind of like the songs you could imagine tribes to make up after an epic adventure to pass down their legends from one generation to the next. Firstly I should praise Kipling’s narrative. He is another talented author who can easily draw any reader, old or young, into his carefully knitted web of words. The writing is simple enough to allow a smooth flow of reading but yet takes your mind to such depths where you are left contemplating deeper issues than you could imagine this book to propose. The content of these stories is nothing short of genius!

Rudyard Kipling was born in India but moved to England shortly after that. He only returned to India as a journalist when he was 17 and stayed on till the age of 24, but it is obvious that his time spent in India left a significant impact on his being. It was almost 10 years later while settled in Brattleboro, Vermont that Kipling penned The Jungle Books. In most cases each story uniquely approaches situations from the point of view of the animals. And not from a childish perspective of an animal with simplistic human thoughts, but of an animal who IS an animal, conscious of being an animal, and aware of the ways of man. And in some cases hazardously ignorant. Through his stories it is evident that Kipling was revolted by human beings in general, our natural lack of compassion for animals and respect for the planet we live on. This is most clearly demonstrated in his story “Letting the Jungle In” where Mowgli takes revenge on the village that drove him out and tormented the Mother who adopted and nurtured him. Here Kipling does not shy away from the threat that real wild animals pose to human beings. Nor does he avoid painting gruesome scenes where men and women are speared by the tusks of elephants.

Some of the stories do demonstrate a kinship between man and beast as in “Rickki-Tikki-Tavi” the playful mongoose who goes against vicious garden cobras to save a young boy who befriended him, or as in “Toomai of the Elaphants” where a young elephant caretaker is given a glimpse into the secret rituals of his wards. In each of his stories Rudyard Kipling has managed to witness a situation animals are in and create a story within it. His imagination is astounding. And in his time when he could not turn on the TV to witness animal behavior on the Discover or National Geographic channel, I can only imagine how long he spent looking at animals, studying their movements, and making up these wild tales in his head. Overall The Jungle Books was a splendid read and definitely I would flip though and read excerpts from again and again. It is exactly what I look for in an adventure novel that packs a punch and leaves you with more than enough think about. And as an author I think Rudyard Kipling is definitely worth discovering.

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