I first heard the name Kipling during a grade seven English class. Our teacher had to leave the room for a few minutes to deal with an unexpected situation (Adam Preston had just run outside and spewed over the balcony), so my schoolmates and I were left to talk amongst ourselves. Naturally the topic of discussion for us twelve-year-old boys was sex. Like most young men (and many older), we considered ourselves experts in the field despite our lack of experience. Chief expert among us was Matthew Neary, who explained to a small but rapt audience that morning the act of “kipling”. I won’t repeat his description here, but trust me—it was a doozy. Though I don’t believe “kipling” is an actual thing (or even physically possible), the name, for me, was imbedded with certain connotations that remain to this day. So I felt both disgusted and weirdly curious when I learned there was an author named Rudyard Kipling.
The Jungle Book is a collection of several short stories, unrelated except that they all involve animals in the Indian jungle. Perhaps the most well known, thanks to film adaptations, is the opening story. It follows a boy named Mowgli, who has been raised by wolves. While things are going well Mowgli is tolerated, but when the going gets tough some animals reject the man cub as a cursed intrusion into jungle life. He has powerful friends in Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear, but even they cannot protect him forever from Shere Khan, a tiger out for his blood. Mowgli must use his human wisdom and cunning to overcome Shere Khan before the tiger hunts him down.
Kipling here doesn’t use the big developments and plot twists common in fiction, but tells straightforward, realistic stories more like fables. But don’t let the simplicity fool you: his jungle—a secret, wild world into which rare humans may set foot—makes the stories enchanting. A healthy young imagination has enough room to run in The Jungle Book as it does in, say, Peter Pan.
A common theme throughout the book is acceptance. Humans accept animals into their families, animals accept humans into theirs, and it opens up unimagined possibilities for good. There is often benefit in embracing what is foreign to us, as in when we get to know people of different cultures, or try new things. On that note I suggested buying my sister’s boy a mongoose for his birthday. My sister said no (or profanity to that effect). I suppose not everything novel is wise.
The Jungle Book is adventurous and engrossing. Ignore the author’s perverse name and you’ll have a marvelous time. 7/10
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