Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Jungle Books

The Jungle Books, by Rudyard Kipling
$4.95 at
ISBN: 1451529758
Mowgli is orphaned as a baby and raised by wolves in the dangerous jungles of India. Advocated by the wolves, he becomes a member of the animal society and our story joins him as a young boy. The first five short stories in this collection concern Mowgli with his animal friends and enemies. Protected by some, hunted by others in a world where he's virtually helpless against stronger, faster foes. Our hero's adventures all demonstrate morals, similar to Aesop's Fables but with a delicious, steamy British/Indian flavor.
The tension between Mowgli and his arch-rival, the tiger Shere Khan, is pretty powerful. Shere Khan wants the wolf-boy killed, because his presence could bring man into the jungle, which is bad news across the animal kingdom. He's a very cold-hearted villain, and the other animals hate him because of his uni-lateral, "I know what's best for everyone so I'll just do it" mentality.
Still, protecting a small boy from a vicious animal with claws and fangs is a daunting job. Loyalty is a heavy theme, but the fierce jungle action keeps it exciting and fun.
The rest of the book is a collection of short stories without Mowgli. My favorite, and a sort of universal classic is Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.
Rikki, if you're not familiar, is a mongoose who protects a British family living in India from a pair of cobras. This guy takes on two cobras together inside their den to protect a sweet little boy who's completely unaware his beloved pet's life is in danger. It's a touching story of loyalty and self-sacrifice that never fails to move the reader.
The Jungle Books were written in 1894. While British colonialism ravaged the people and natural beauty of India, Kipling offered images of a fascinating country worthy of respect. Kipling's sometimes flowery Victorian-era English takes some getting used to, but these are fast paced adventure stories so it's not hard to make the leap.
The Disney movie may have made this one familiar, but it can't match the original for charm. A+ work, Rudyard!

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