Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Jungle Book

Rudyard Kipling amazed me once again with his fables. After Just So Stories last April, now he amused me with the even better one: The Jungle Book. The main story of it is of Mowgli, a little boy who is adopted by a pair of wolves after his parents died. When Mowgli first appears before the wolves’ cave, Shere Khan—the Bengal tiger—is haunting him to make him his dinner. Father Wolf saves him, and brings him to the wolf pack conference. He is at first rejected by the forum, until Bagheera—the black panther—guarantees him. Bagheera then becomes Mowgli’s best friend, along with Baloo—the bear—who teaches him the law of the jungle.

Shere Khan is angry of losing Mowgli; he wants to kill him but could not do that as long as Akela becomes the leader. Right after Akela is dethroned by his people, they repel Mowgli who is not a wolf like them—thanks to Shere Khan’s provocation too—and Mowgly doesn’t have any choices than leaving the jungle to live with his own kind. So now Mowgli must live by his own while Shere Khan keeps haunting him. At the end, Mowgli must have a fight with Shere Khan; what will he do? And will he survive it?

Thanks to the Disney version of Mowgli, I used to imagine The Jungle Book as childish as what we see on TV. But I was surprised and amazed at the same time, finding that the original story is much deeper than that. What Kipling portrayed in The Jungle Book is what we find in our own world. How difficult it is for us to accept others who are different from us, who have not the same origin or culture. We used to be suspicious of them, that we could not see a villain with wicked plan among us, because he is ‘one of us’; just like the wolves who blindly trust Shere Khan more than Mowgli.

The fight of Mowgli and Shere Khan is both thrilling and emotional. It is in difficult times that love and friendship would be purified. I was touched by Bagheera’s and Baloo’s love to their little friend, and their respect to old Akela. Kipling also highlighted how men praise freedom, but at the same time they could not live without a leader. The law of the jungle is something we should adopt in our society too; look how the entire animals work together to help Mowgli, although he is not their own kind. Humanity surmounts differences. The goods fight together against the bad, each contributes his talent.

Apart from Mowgli’s adventure, this book also contains three great fables. There is Kotick—the white seal—who persistently searches a new saver home for his people after he saw his friends being slaughtered by men. It portrays our society too; we often refuse to see the injustice among us, just because it ‘has been like that for a long time’. Most of us accept that as faith, and we surrender our dignity and life in the hand of more powerful authorities. When there is finally someone brave enough like Kotick, who is willingly to take risks for our salvation; instead of helping him, we laugh at him as a foolish dreamer. That makes us an easy victim of colonialism and oppression.

The second one is about a young mongoose called Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, who is carried away by flood—separated from his parents—to a bungalow, where he is finally adopted by a human family as a pet. From his new friends in the garden—a tailorbird and a mouse—he gets acquainted with a pair of huge cobra: Nag and Nagaina (they reminded me of Voldemort’s Nagini! :D). The cobras plan to kill the humans for taking the garden which they have been previously dominated. Rikki-Tikki is angry when he overhears their brutal plan, so he builds a strategy to fight both cobras. The attack scenes are quite horrible; I was shivered imagining how the family must have been terribly terrified while a huge cobra suddenly showed up while they were dining. You would not know whether you should run away or keep still; well…normally you wouldn’t escape that brutal attack, if you don’t have a protector. Rikki-Tikki is an example of real hero; even though he is a stranger, he fights bravely to save the family and the inhabitants of the garden, simply because it is wrong to kill the innocent who is weaker; and so it is his duty to protect them.

The third story is my most favorite: the story of Little Toomai, the son of an elephant hunter. His father drives Kala Nag—an old elephant, the cleverer and most senior among the others. One day the boss, Peterson Sahib, is amazed by Little Toomai, and professes that one day he might become a good elephant hunter. When Little Toomai asks his permission to enter the stockade (which is normally too dangerous for a little boy), he promises that he can do that only after witnessing an ‘elephant dance’, which in their culture means ‘never’. It is believed that numbers of elephants sometimes dance in a clearing. Nobody has ever seen it, but some flattened grounds are the proof.

One night Kala Nag seems to ‘hear the call’ from the native elephants. He slips out of his pickets, and picks Little Toomai on his back as the boy is excited to go with him. Kala Nag walks towards a clearing up in a hill where many other elephants are gathering too, while Little Toomai is watching silently from the elephant’s back. There he witnesses the elephants stamping their feet up and down, making the ground tremble; that is the elephant dance, a dance no other human being have ever seen.

I like the story mostly because of the mystical air surrounds the elephant dance. Kipling writes wonderfully Kala Nag’s journey in the dark and foggy night when the jungle seems to be alive, and especially when the elephants start moving, ‘talking’, and finally dancing for two hours, making the ground a dance floor. The sensation is really amazing!

And finally I closed the last page of The Jungle Book totally entertained and amused. Bravo to you, Mr. Kipling, for making my end of year reading so enjoyable, intense, and interesting. Without any doubt, I grant five whole stars for The Jungle Book. Really, I have never thought that I would love a children book (which I have never read as a child) this much!


*I read the translation edition from Atria (part of Serambi Publishing group)*

*This book is counted as:*


  1. Can you believe that I've never read this? I have an India challenge in November, so I will put this on my list. Thanks for the great review, Fanda!

    1. Haha...I believe you, as I myself have never read this until this week.
      Good luck with the challenge, I'm sure you'll like it :)

  2. I've always been slightly wary of this one, but you've really changed my mind - I'm actually going to go start it now! :)

    1. I've also been reluctant to touch this because others seem don't like it (and prefer Just So Stories). Fortunately I was willing to try. It's paid off in the end. Hope you find it good too.

  3. Wonderful review! I'm planning to read the Jungle Book this year and after reading your review, I want to read it sooner than later.


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