Please consider subscribing, to help pay our web hosting and keep us writing!
Plus, you get your name listed on our Editors' Corner page.
Mowgli, the "Man-cub" raised in the jungle, is perhaps best-known today through Walt Disney’s animated feature The Jungle Book, but that film, enjoyable as it is, does not begin to capture the magic of Rudyard Kipling’s original Mowgli stories. These tales first saw print in The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, and, though often referred to as "children’s" stories, were immensely popular with both children and adults when originally published and remained so for many years after Kipling’s death. Your editors have decided to serialize all eight of Kipling’s Mowgli tales from the Jungle Books over the course of this month, and introduce (or reintroduce) readers to Kipling’s fascinating jungle realm. They rank as some the author’s best and most involving stories, and depict a fantasy world fully as adventure-filled, believable, and well-rounded as J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.
Those reading the original Mowgli stories for the first time might be struck by the influence they had on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation of Tarzan, a connection that was noted by Kipling himself in his 1936 autobiography, Something of Myself:
"And, if it be in your power, bear serenely with imitators. My Jungle Books begat Zoos of them. But the genius of all the genii was one who wrote a series called Tarzan of the Apes. I read it, but regret I never saw it on the films, where it rages most successfully. He had "jazzed" the motif of the Jungle Books and, I imagine, had thoroughly enjoyed himself."
This comparison might seem absurd to those only familiar with the Disney movie, but upon a perusal of the Kipling stories Tarzan’s debt to Mowgli becomes evident. Kipling’s "man-cub" grew into a jungle lord every bit as resourceful and deadly as Burroughs’ Tarzan. The later stories, such as "Letting in the Jungle" and "Red Dog" show Mowgli dealing out grim jungle justice and orchestrating campaigns of jungle warfare in true Tarzan style. Of course, Burroughs’ character differed sharply from Kipling’s in one important respect: Tarzan’s early life among the animals of the jungle is lightly sketched in comparison to his later adventures among humans. While Mowgli interacts with the "Man-Pack" in several of the stories, Kipling placed greater emphasis on Mowgli’s life in the jungle, and on the imaginative animal society he created as a framework for that life.
Burroughs was not the only one influenced by Kipling. In 1916, the Boy Scouts’ British founder Lord Baden-Powell requested permission from Kipling to use the characters of the Jungle Books to create an organizational theme for the Scouts. The terms "pack" and "cub" scout, the honorific name of Akela (borrowed from Kipling’s wise wolf- pack leader), and the term "den-mother" (a version of Kipling’s "lair-mother") all owe their origins to the Jungle Books. These terms will be quite familiar to alumnus of the American Boy Scouts, who also used Baden-Powell’s titles and structures, though some of them might be unaware of the terms’ roots in Kipling’s work.
Lee Falk, the creator the comic strip The Phantom, is yet another debtor to Kipling’s Jungle Books. The Phantom is best-known today as an African jungle hero, but his earlier adventures were set in India. Falk borrowed more than location, though—Kipling’s monkeys, the "Bandar-log," lent the "Bandar" part of their name to the Phantom’s tribe of pygmy friends. Falk’s strip was peppered with "Old Jungle Sayings" very much in the vein of some of Kipling’s Jungle Book poetry and prose, and the Phantom’s pet wolf, the incomparable Devil, was highly reminiscent of Mowgli’s "Grey Brother" in the stories you are about to read.
In turn, Kipling drew on several sources in his creation of Mowgli. Stories of children raised by wolves dated back to the time of ancient Rome, but interest in feral children, particulary those in India, became heightened in the Victorian era, in part due to incidents related by British official W. H. Sleeman and his pamphlet, "An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children in their Dens." Though Kipling himself never recorded the fact, this pamphlet seems to have been one of his sources in the development of Mowgli. One inspiration for the more fanciful part of the stories was James Greenwood’s story "King Lion," published in 1864 in The Boy’s Own Magazine. This story, which Kipling read in his childhood, involved (as Kipling describes it in Something of Myself) "a lion-hunter who fell among lions who were all Freemasons, and with them entered into a confederacy against some wicked baboons." The books of the British naturalist Robert Armitage Sterndale also provided Kipling with plenty of information on Indian animal life, information that he worked brilliantly into the stories. While the society of Kipling’s jungle animals is obviously fictionalized, it never seems arbitrarily arranged in the way many fictitious "animal kingdoms" do; each animal character retains some of the recognizable traits and habits of its real-life counterpart, while Kipling’s Jungle Law seems like a code that could conceivably have arisen from the necessities of jungle life.
Kipling actually introduced Mowgli in 1893, in the story, "In the Rukh," from the book Many Inventions. "In the Rukh" was one of Kipling’s tales of Indian life, dealing with Gisborne, an English forestry official in India, and a mysterious young man called Mowgli, who enters Gisborne’s service as a forester, displays uncanny powers of dealing with the wilderness and ultimately proves to have been raised by a wolf pack, explaining his seemingly supernatural attributes. This story is sometimes grouped with the Jungle Book tales, but does not really belong with them; the animals that appear are not fully dramatized characters like the animals in Kipling’s later stories, and there are several inconsistencies between it and the "true" Mowgli tales. Kipling himself did not consider "In the Rukh" part of the Jungle Book "canon," humorously dismissing it as a "story for grown-ups" at the end of the later story "Mowgli’s Brothers."
Kipling returned to the Mowgli concept in The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, published in 1893 and 1895, respectively. The first title contains three Mowgli adventures, while the second features five. These eight tales follow Mowgli through his adoption into the Seonee Wolf Pack, his childhood in the jungle, his entrance into the "Man-Village" when the wolf pack casts him out, his eventual ejection from the village by the "Man-Pack," his return to the jungle and further adventures there, and his final return to the world of humans.
In their original publication, the Jungle Books contained other Kipling animal stories, including the classics "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" and "The White Seal," unrelated to the Mowgli tales. Kipling later compiled a collection of Mowgli stories only, rearranging the tales in a more chronological order in the process. In our presentation of the Mowgli stories, we are following this chronological sequence and not the stories’ original order of publication. We are also presenting the poems that Kipling wrote to accompany each tale; in his other writing Kipling frequently paired poems with his stories to amplify, comment on, or echo the themes of the prose, and he continued this practice when he wrote the Jungle Books.Dan Neyer
(Editor's Note: The texts for these stories has been restored from a number of sources, using as a base the text found at Project Gutenberg. In addition, the illustrations for each story came from a scanned copy of the Doubleday, Duran & Co. edition of The Two Jungle Books (1895), combined with additional illustrations found in the Century Co. editions of The Jungle Book (1890) and The Second Jungle Book (1895) found at The Internet Archive.