Review: The Jungle Book

The Jungle BookThe Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like, I imagine, most Americans (or at least most Americans 40 and under – ie Millenials and Younger) my only exposure was to Disney’s The Jungle Book. I had no idea the original was a collection of short stories. I’d heard it was “Old School British Racist”TM. But I’m on a Project Gutenberg quest to read the classics that I never got to (school never assigned it). This was one of them. As I write this, I’m also reading Little Women for the first time. Overall, I liked The Jungle Book. Seems like it was meant to be an asiatic Aesop’s Fables. It’s cute and I’d probably share it with my kids. I didn’t really care for all the songs/poems, but it’s a neat bit of flavor. Yes, it does have some attitudes against Indians that are racist, but it doesn’t permeate the stories. I think, depending on your ability to read those things, it’s fine. And since it’s free on Project Gutenberg, it’s not like you’re enriching someone for these attitutes.

I had to cut a LOT from the per-story status updates, below is what I would have put for each story if I had no character limit.

Mowgli’s Brothers: Mowgli is able to walk, not Moses-like as in the Disney movie. And Shere Khan is a bit less clever and cool. Unlike Disney movie, the wolves specifically want to keep him so he will grow to a man and hunt Shere Khan because the tiger is such a menace (whose hunting risks bringing the ire of man to the jungle). Baloo is there at the beginning and he and Bagheera both speak for Mowgli. Baloo to teach (and he apparently teaches all the cubs) and Bagheera just to deny Shere Khan. Bagheera was born into a menagerie.

Hunting-Song of the Seeonee Pack: A poem. It’s meh.

Kaa’s Hunting: Jumps back in time to before the ending of Mowgli’s brothers. I wonder why Kipling did it this way rather than as a novella or novel. In a reversal from the Disney movie – Bagheera wants to spoil Mowgli and Baloo wants to be serious about his lessons. This short story contains the essense of the Kaa and King Louis sections in the Disney movie. Differences: Kaa is an ally to Baloo and Bagheera (mostly). Kaa IS able to hypnotize, but not from his eyes. There is no King Louis in this version. Instead it’s only the monkeys that kidnap him and they’re all constantly distracted. I actually liked this version of Kaa a lot more as it was a lot scarier in the resolution of the story.

Road-Song of the Bandar-Log: encapsulates what we’ve learned about the Bandar-Log so far.

“Tiger! Tiger!”: Mowgli joins a village. MAYBE is reunited with his parents. Or it may be another couple who lost their kid to Shere Khan. He does not fit in at first, naturally. And he bristles at made-up stories about the jungle. Looks like Disney stole Shere Khan’s death for killing Mufasa in The Lion King. Interestingly, although Kipling sure had no such intentions, the story functions as a relatively good metaphor of how hard it can be to have feet in two camps – such as bi/multi-racial kids.

Perhaps problematic line: “Herding in India is one of the laziest things in the world.”

Mowgli’s Song: A song about killing Shere Khan

The White Seal: A modern telling of this story most likely would have gone the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer route. This, being a MUCH older story, does not have the white seal suffering any consequences for being white. He’s proud and some seals ask him about it, but it’s never a thing. The story ends up being a tale about perseverence and not succombing to your fate. Overall, not a bad fable.

Lukannon: Seal song.

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi: I remember seeing a cartoon of this from some series that my parents used to rent from the library. I think it was some PBS or PBS-like series that animated kids’ short stories. I didn’t know it came from The Jungle Book. I didn’t remember the story involving humans; interesting. Basic, but fun adventure story in which Rikki-Tikki and the cobras wage war.

Darzee’s Chant: another poem/song.

Toomai of the Elephants: The first story told from the point of view of humans – we hear none of the animals speak. I thought it was a fun story full of adventure that would be fun for a child to imagine, although it did have a couple problamatic sentences here and there. I think I prefer the animial-centric stories in this collection.

Shiv and the Grasshopper: another song/poem.

Her Majesty’s Servants: This is a fun one that takes a hybrid approach. It’s about, and features, talking animals, but the main character is a human who happens to understand them. The fun comes from the fact that the different animals all play different parts in the military and eac thinks they are the most important part of the military. You could easily redo it with Army, Navy, Marines, and Airforce in place of the different animals. This one’s also got the most of the racist/imperialist ideas, but still nothing as bad as what I was expecting with the way people talk about this book. Interestingly, at least in the 1800s (or whenever it was written), Indians were considered “black” by the Brits.

Parade Song of the Animals: another song/poem

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Published by Eric Mesa

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