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NA303512 - KIPLING, R.: Jungle Books (The) (Abridged)
English 

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

THE JUNGLE BOOKS

 

Skillful and entertaining as Walt Disney’s cartoon version of The Jungle Book

is, it hardly does justice to the power and charm of Kipling’s original work. In 1892 the newly married Kiplings took a cottage in Vermont. In this honeymoon year Kipling did not write as much as usual, but he did produce a wolf-story called ‘Mowgli’s Brothers,’ and he then worked intermittently until 1895 on what were to be published (in two volumes) as ‘The Jungle Books’. Kipling confirmed in a letter that he had completed the task: ‘That ends up Mowgli and there is not going to be any more of him.’

 

Animal fantasies they may be, but the stories are rooted in the reality of India: the minutiae of village life, the struggle for survival in the jungle. In fact Kipling (who knew parts of India intimately) had to obtain detailed knowledge of the setting — the banks of the Waingunga River in the Seonee district — from friends of his, the Hills, who visited and photographed the region in 1888.

 

The Jungle Books are normally regarded as children’s literature, and of course they are marvelously successful as such — quite as successful as the Just So Stories which Kipling wrote a few years later, and which also took as their theme the character of animals. Both books reveal Kipling’s love of language as an almost musical medium, his deep affection for India, and his refusal to patronize or simplify for the sake of a young audience. In The Jungle Books, death and terror are real enough, but they are constantly mediated through an atmosphere of loyalty and protective affection: Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Black Panther are surrogate fathers, speaking for Mowgli the lost boy and, allowing him to be ‘entered with the others’ in the wolf-pack led by Akela. This point is unsentimentally made – for example, the wolf pack, which had allowed Mowgli to become a member, will turn and reject him when it seems preferable to appease Shere Khan the tiger.

 

Like Kim in the novel which bears his name, Mowgli is caught between different worlds, belonging fully to neither; he is charming, intelligent, humorous, but like Kim, ultimately aware of the bonds which keep a society or culture together: The Jungle Book is, in part, a study of what it is to be civilized. The Law of the Jungle — ‘Obey’ — may seem restrictive, but in fact the tales make clear that there is independence under and within that Law for the ‘Free People’: there are (for instance) obligations of respect to other breeds, to other territories, than one’s own, but there is also the need to take individual action, to fend for oneself. These are the lessons, which Mowgli will learn.

 

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay in 1865. Educated in England from 1871, he returned to India in 1882 and worked as a journalist, soon acquiring a reputation for cleverly crafted short stories and skillful verses. Hugely popular in his lifetime, he eventually settled at Bateman’s in Sussex and produced a vast body of work, including these much-loved children’s tales and his masterpiece of adult fiction, Kim (also available on Naxos AudioBooks).

 

Notes by Perry Keenlyside

 

 

Madhav Sharma

 

Madhav Sharma, who made his professional acting debut with the Shakespearean International Company touring such places

as India, Singapore, Malaysia, Sarawak, North Borneo and Hong Kong, works extensively on stage, screen and radio in the UK, where he now resides.

 

 


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