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The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (1894) (read in 2018)

Published by marco on

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

I was surprised to learn that the movie is based only on the first three of seven stories in this book. The first three are of a Mowgli who is considerably more adult than the films lead one to believe. He is a child at the very beginning, when he is, indeed, adopted by wolves. However, the story very quickly picks up from a point where he is more-or-less a man and is more than a match for most other creatures of the jungle or civilization.

The first story ends with Mowgli driving off Shere Khan (the tiger) with the “red flower”: fire. Akela (the lead wolf) stays in control of the pack. In the second part, he is kidnapped by the monkeys (the “Bandar-log”) and is rescued by Kaa (python), Baloo (bear) and Bagheera (black panther). The movie was relatively faithful here, as well, taking liberties only in inventing “King Louie”, king of the orangutans. The monkeys are not individualized and are not treated as co-equal jungle denizens by the other animals.

In the third part, Mowgli goes to live in the village with men. Shere Kahn continues to cause trouble and, with his acolytes, takes over the wolf pack. Mowgli is herding cows for the village. He hears from his animal friends that Shere Kahn is nearby and, that he just fed and will be slow and sleepy. Mowgli hatches a plan to drive his cattle through the canyon where Shere Kahn sleeps, trapping him and then trampling him. Akela and Gray brother wolf are instrumental in Shere Kahn’s demise. Despite his advanced age, Akela is restored as leader of the pack. Mowgli returns to the jungle,

The fourth story is of Kotick, a white-furred seal, son of the greatest fighter of all the seals. His father fights each year for a place for his family on the shores of an island shared with men. Men sneak into the rear lines and take many seals each year. Kotick does not understand why they return to that island. His father is powerful and is not in danger (other than the grievous wounds he suffers each year in defending his place). Kotick instead travels the world, growing powerful. Finally, he swims with seacows to discover a secluded cove/island, protected from the eyes of man. There is plenty of room for all—he returns to the original island to bring his tribe with him. They refuse, so he fights them all. His savagery and power awe everyone, including his father. Convinced, many of them go with him and discover that he was right all along. Men no longer plunder their tribe.

The fifth story is the also-famous one of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose who defended a family from cobras. The cobra couple Nag and Nagina plot to kill members of the family, but Rikki jumps in and kills Nag. Furious, Nagina swears revenge, but Rikki goes on the offensive, attacking her nest and destroying all but one egg. She takes the last egg back her nest, but Rikki plunges after her—although very few mongooses ever return from a cobra nest. The other animals in the yard wait with bated breath, until Rikki emerges victorious, bruised but not beaten. Nag and Nagina are dead and no eggs have survived.

The sixth story is of Toomai, the son of a mahout, master of the elephant Kala Nag. They are tasked with catching wild elephants. Toomai helps but is reprimanded for being in the elephant enclosure. The boss tells him he may only return once he has “seen elephants dance”. He thinks that he has banished the boy for good. Kala Nag takes the boy along on the next giant meeting of wild and domesticated elephants. On the night of the dance, they all break their chains and trample acres of forest. The boss cannot deny that they’d danced and that Toomai had seen it and welcomes him as a mahout.

The final story follows the conversations of the various animals employed by the British on a battle field in Afghanistan. The mules, camels, horses, bullocks and elephants detail their fears and tasks and how and why they serve. The animals that already serve the queen are there to convince the Afghan animals that they should obey, as well. I suppose there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.


“"The pity of the Monkey People!” Baloo snorted. “The stillness of the mountain stream! The cool of the summer sun!”
Page 28
“Little Toomai turned, rustling in the fodder, and watched the curve of his big back against half the stars in heaven, and while he watched he heard, so far away that it sounded no more than a pinhole of noise pricked through the stillness, the “hoot-toot” of a wild elephant.”
Page 121
“(“Two Tails” is camp slang for the elephant.)”
Page 139
“"You could put a whole regiment of Dicks on my back without making me feel any better. I know just enough to be uncomfortable, and not enough to go on in spite of it.“”
Page 142