Monday, March 22, 2010

Redux #22 - "The Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling

After reading The Graveyard Book, I decided to be thorough and read The Jungle Book (1894) by Rudyard Kipling as well. It is a classic after all, and Gaiman recommended reading it at the end of his book. My knowledge of The Jungle Book comes from seeing the Disney animated film when I was little. I've also seen the live-action version of The Jungle Book, and I remember enough of that one to still appreciate the man who played Mowgli--and his muscles. Anyway, The Jungle Book consists of seven different short stories with some short poems thrown in. Three of the short stories center around Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves. The stories include: "Mowgli's Brothers," "Kaa's Hunting," "'Tiger, Tiger,'" "The White Seal," "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," "Toomai of the Elephants," and "Her Majesty's Servants."

On the whole, I liked the book. I love animals, and the stories were interesting. I'd have a hard time choosing a favorite between The Graveyard Book and The Jungle Book. I enjoyed the storytelling more in The Jungle Book. The characters and descriptions of the locations were described more vividly and with more detail, which I really appreciated. As I've said before, The Graveyard Book felt a little random to me. I felt that Gaiman intentionally left explanations out to keep us feeling unsure of his world, but I sometimes felt manipulated and frustrated.

The Jungle Book also supposedly has a moral in each of its stories. I noticed the continuous themes of courage, bravery, alienation, and learning from different cultures. However, I think I ended up disagreeing with much of what Kipling may have been trying to teach. SPOILERS Mowgli seemed rather arrogant in his dealings with the villagers. Sure, he grew up in the jungle and knew much more than them, but it still felt wrong...until the villagers threw him out. Then I felt sorry for him. My main concern during "The White Seal" was that the perfect island for the seals that the "sea cows" had been using was going to be overrun with the millions and millions of seals that the white seal was bringing over. I read in Wikipedia that "The White Seal" may have been about the burgeoning Zionist movement, so I guess if you look at it that way, the "sea cows" could be the Palestinians. But Kipling never mentions the effect the seals had on their new island or its other inhabitants. I admired the white seal's courage and determination, but I also didn't appreciate all the fighting the white seal used to get some of his compatriots to move to the new island. Is that what Kipling thought was necessary for Zionism?

I had similar problems with the other non-Mowgli stories. In "Toomai of the Elephants" all I wanted was for the elephants to go free, and I was very disappointed that they walked back to their captors after the dance. "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" was another story I was already familiar with from childhood, but reading the story I was annoyed that Kipling made the cobras so evil (that they would murder all the inhabitants in a house. This is the kind of thing that makes people terrified of harmless little garter snakes.), and I felt sorry for the snakes at the same time. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi kills Nagaina's husband, murders all of her children, and then chases and kills her as she runs for her life, pleading for mercy. I didn't think the snakes were really any worse than the mongoose. Finally, I got the impression that Kipling was reinforcing and approving of the order of the English military in "Her Majesty's Servants." But I found the discussion between all the animals with no understanding of what they were doing or why they were fighting or how their actions made any difference just sad. For me, it brought out the pointlessness and wastefulness of war. Interesting stories, though, and they made me think. I think I want to read the second book of stories sometime soon, especially to hear more about Mowgli.

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