Updated: Dec 29, 2022
As you probably recall, I started a new monthly series that will highlight a new "classic" every month. This month's classic is The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. Again I am very loosely basing my idea of classic's on this "A classic is a novel that represents a genre or a writing style, or it can be a novel that makes a contribution to literature. There are all kinds of classics, from horror classics to romance classics, from novels that sold millions of copies to a novel that changed how a genre was written." Due to the widely different views on what a classic is, these books may be considered classics by me but your opinion may be different.
What is The Jungle Book?
The Jungle Book (1894) is a collection of stories by the English author Rudyard Kipling. Most of the characters are animals such as Shere Khan the tiger and Baloo the bear, though a principal character is the boy or "man-cub" Mowgli, who is raised in the jungle by wolves. The stories are set in a forest in India; one place mentioned repeatedly is "Seonee" (Seoni), in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. A major theme in the book is abandonment followed by fostering, as in the life of Mowgli, echoing Kipling's own childhood. The theme is echoed in the triumph of protagonists including Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and The White Seal over their enemies, as well as Mowgli's. Another important theme is of law and freedom; the stories are not about animal behaviour, still less about the Darwinian struggle for survival, but about human archetypes in animal form. They teach respect for authority, obedience, and knowing one's place in society with "the law of the jungle", but the stories also illustrate the freedom to move between different worlds, such as when Mowgli moves between the jungle and the village. Critics have also noted the essential wildness and lawless energies in the stories, reflecting the irresponsible side of human nature. The Jungle Book has remained popular, partly through its many adaptations for film and other media. Critics such as Swati Singh have noted that even critics wary of Kipling for his supposed imperialism have admired the power of his storytelling. The book has been influential in the scout movement, whose founder, Robert Baden-Powell, was a friend of Kipling's. Percy Grainger composed his Jungle Book Cycle around quotations from the book.
Plot Overview (Detailed)
The stories were first published in magazines in 1893–94. The original publications contain illustrations, some by the author's father, John Lockwood Kipling. Rudyard Kipling was born in India and spent the first six years of his childhood there. After about ten years in England, he went back to India and worked there for about six and a half years. These stories were written when Kipling lived in Naulakha, the home he built in Dummerston, Vermont, in the United States. There is evidence that Kipling wrote the collection of stories for his daughter Josephine, who died from pneumonia in 1899, aged 6; a first edition of the book with a handwritten note by the author to his young daughter was discovered at the National Trust's Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, England, in 2010. The tales in the book (as well as those in The Second Jungle Book, which followed in 1895 and includes five further stories about Mowgli) are fables, using animals in an anthropomorphic manner to teach moral lessons. The verses of "The Law of the Jungle", for example, lay down rules for the safety of individuals, families, and communities. Kipling put in them nearly everything he knew or "heard or dreamed about the Indian jungle". Other readers have interpreted the work as allegories of the politics and society of the time.
The stories in The Jungle Book were inspired in part by the ancient Indian fable texts such as the Panchatantra and the Jataka tales. For example, an older moral-filled mongoose and snake version of the "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" story by Kipling is found in Book 5 of Panchatantra. In a letter to the American author Edward Everett Hale, Kipling wrote,
The idea of beast-tales seems to me new in that it is a most ancient and long forgotten idea. The really fascinating tales are those that the Bodhisat tells of his previous incarnations ending always with the beautiful moral. Most of the native hunters in India today think pretty much along the lines of an animal's brain and I have "cribbed" freely from their tales. — Rudyard Kipling
In a letter written and signed by Kipling in or around 1895, states Alison Flood in The Guardian, Kipling confesses to borrowing ideas and stories in the Jungle Book: "I am afraid that all that code in its outlines has been manufactured to meet 'the necessities of the case': though a little of it is bodily taken from (Southern) Esquimaux rules for the division of spoils," Kipling wrote in the letter. "In fact, it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen." Kipling lived in India as a child, and most of the stories are evidently set there, though it is not entirely clear where. The Kipling Society notes that "Seonee" (Seoni, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh) is mentioned several times; that the "cold lairs" must be in the jungled hills of Chittorgarh; and that the first Mowgli story, "In the Rukh", is set in a forest reserve somewhere in North India, south of Simla. "Mowgli's Brothers" was positioned in the Aravalli hills of Rajasthan (northwestern India) in an early manuscript, later changed to Seonee, and Bagheera treks from "Oodeypore" (Udaipur), a journey of reasonable length to Aravalli but a long way from Seoni. Seoni has a tropical savanna climate, with a dry and a rainy season. This is drier than a monsoon climate and does not support tropical rainforest. Forested parks and reserves that claim to be associated with the stories include Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, and Pench National Park, near Seoni. However, Kipling never visited the area.
The book is arranged with a story in each chapter.
Mowgli's Brothers; A boy is raised by wolves in the Indian jungle with the help of Baloo the bear and Bagheera the black panther, who teach him the "Law of the Jungle". Some years later, the wolfpack and Mowgli are threatened by the tiger Shere Khan. Mowgli brings fire, driving off Shere Khan but showing that he is a man and must leave the jungle.
Kaa's Hunting; During the time Mowgli was with the wolf pack, he is abducted by the Bandar-log monkeys to the ruined city. Baloo and Bagheera set out to rescue him with Kaa the python. Kaa defeats the Bandar-log, frees Mowgli, and hypnotises the monkeys and the other animals with his dance. Mowgli rescues Baloo and Bagheera from the spell.
Tiger! Tiger!; Mowgli returns to the human village and is adopted by Messua and her husband, who believe him to be their long-lost son. Mowgli leads the village boys who herd the village's buffaloes. Shere Khan comes to hunt Mowgli, but he is warned by Gray Brother wolf, and with Akela they find Shere Khan asleep, and stampede the buffaloes to trample Shere Khan to death. Mowgli leaves the village, and goes back to hunt with the wolves until he becomes a man.
The White Seal; Kotick, a rare white-furred fur seal, sees seals being killed by islanders in the Bering Sea. He decides to find a safe home for his people, and after several years of searching as he comes of age, eventually finds a suitable place. He returns home and persuades the other seals to follow him.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi; An English family have just moved to a house in India. They find Rikki-Tikki-Tavi the mongoose flooded out of his burrow. A pair of large cobras, Nag and Nagaina, attempt unsuccessfully to kill him. He hears the cobras plotting to kill the father in the house, and attacks Nag in the bathroom. The sound of the fight attracts the father, who shoots Nag. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi destroys Nagaina's eggs and chases her into her "rat-hole" where he kills her too.
Toomai of the Elephants; Big Toomai rides Kala Nag the elephant to catch wild elephants in the hills. His son Little Toomai comes to help and risks his life throwing a rope up to one of the drivers. His father forbids him to enter the elephant enclosure again "until he has seen the elephants dance" (which no man ever did). One night he follows the elephants walking without drivers out of the camp, and is picked up by Kala Nag; he rides into the elephants' meeting place in the jungle, where they dance. On his return he says "I've seen the elephants dance" and falls asleep from tiredness. The drivers follow the elephants' tracks into the forest and find a newly cleared glade, showing that Little Toomai has told the truth. When they come back, he is hailed by both hunters and elephants, and the oldest and wisest hunter says that when Little Toomai grows up, he'll be called Toomai of the Elephants like his grandfather.
Her Majesty's Servants; On the night before a British military parade for the Amir of Afghanistan, the army's working animals—mule, camel, horse, bullock, elephant—discuss what they do in battle and how they feel about their work. It is explained to the Afghans that men and animals obey the orders carried down from the Queen.
What is the genre of this book?
The genre of this book is both fiction and children's fiction.
Was this book ever banned?
The book itself from what I can find has never been banned.
Why is it a classic?
This book is considered a classic because it tackles many themes within the book. It covers abandonment and fostering, as well as law and freedom. It is also considered a classic children's book because at least to me it is a easy to read book for children.