Friday, April 22, 2011

Book 10- "The Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling

Apologies for my absence to my loyal readers-- Owen's illness has (*hopefully*) been resolved by having tubes put in his ears, but immediately after that I had to prepare for a trip to VA and Addison's 4th birthday party, so though I started reading this weeks ago, I only finished it yesterday.

Because I grew up with Disney, I assumed "The Jungle Book" was a story about a boy who grew up in the jungle, raised by singing animals. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Mowgli is only the main character in half of the short stories in this book (I didn't even know it was a book of short stories!!). Of the other stories, only one of them was familiar to me-- "Rikki-tikki-tavi."

The first three stories in the book, "Mowgli's Brothers," "Kaa's Hunting," and "Tiger! Tiger!" revolve around Mowgli. Mowgli is found wandering the jungle by a pack of wolves, who adopt him as one of their own cubs. Shere Khan, local lazy tiger, considered the boy his dinner and demanded his return; the wolves left the matter up to the wolf pack, who decide that the boy can be raised as a wolf. Shere Khan vows to kill Mowgli someday, and Mowgli's new wolf-mom vows that someday Mowgli will kill Khan (Seriously? Disney definitely left all the murder-y subtext out of the movie.) Throughout the three stories, Mowgli learns the laws of the jungle from Baloo the bear (although with significantly less "bear necessities" singing) and Bagheera the panther, is saved from monkeys by Kaa the snake, and is sent to live with humans. He is sent to live with humans because the new generation of the wolf pack have decided to reject the teenaged Mowgli, and the humans, though they accept him for awhile, eventually kick him out because they believe he is evil. He still manages to kill Shere Khan at long last, and returns to live in the jungle, although still as an outcast from the wolf pack.

After these 3 stories is "The White Seal," a story about a (you guessed it) white seal who is not content with his ancestral practice of beating the snot out of each other for beach "space" while a whole bunch of the young seals are herded off and slaughtered by men. The men are afraid of the white seal (Kotick) and do not want to kill him; however, he follows them and witnesses the slaughter and skinning of his friends, and vows to find a place without men where the seals can live peacefully. He embarks on his journey and eventually finds a place, but then has to convince all of the stubborn seals who actually like fighting over beach space and don't care about the massacres to follow him to the new beach. How does he do this? By beating the snot out of each and every one of the adult seals until they agree to follow him. Not sure why Disney didn't jump at this story.

Next is "Rikki Tikki Tavi," about a mongoose who takes up living with a colonial English family in the middle of nowhere. He saves the young boy in the family from a snake, which angers the cobras that live outside the house... they decide to kill the family to drive Rikki-Tikki away (seems like kind of a drastic measure to me.) Rikki fights the male cobra in the middle of the night, keeping him at bay until the man of the house gets his gun and shoots the cobra. This (obviously) angers the cobra's widow, who is then determined to kill everyone. Rikki smashes all of her eggs but one, and uses the one remaining egg as leverage to get her away from the family... his diversion works, but she escapes with the egg down into her hole. Rikki goes right down with her and after a few minutes, emerges and declares that she is gone and won't be coming back. No details are given as to what happened in the snake hole, but my guess isn't that he reasoned with her and convinced her to find a new place to live.

So far we've had a man raised by wolves, a bear, a panther, monkeys, several snakes, seals, and a mongoose... next we finally have elephants! "Toomai of the Elephants" is about a boy whose father is an elephant handler of sorts. Toomai wants to be an elephant handler/hunter himself, but is told that he can't be an elephant handler until he sees the elephants dance (which is the sarcastic-jerkface way of telling him "never".) One night, Toomai's elephant escapes from his pen, and allows Toomai to ride on his back as he goes miles and miles out into the jungle. Toomai realizes after awhile that hundreds of elephants have all gathered and are stomping around, "dancing." Toomai is basically too terrified for his life to pay much attention, but when he returns home and tells his story to all the adults, a ceremony is held in his honor and he is called "Toomai of the Elephants," and is told that he will have control/brotherhood with all the elephants in the jungle from that day on.

The last story is called "Her Majesty's Servants." Bored me to tears, so not much to report. Basically, a soldier overhears a conversation between a whole bunch of animals.

Overall, I thought the book was interesting. I was glad that it was broken into short stories, because I'm not sure how I'd have stayed as interested in novel-length versions of any of these stories by themselves. I can see why the children's versions of these stories are so different from this book-- almost every single story has some kind of murder/slaughter, which isn't exactly kid-friendly. My only complaint is that a lot of the stories lacked a little depth-- particularly the "White Seal" story. It just felt a little too narrative to me... I'm not sure how to describe it. I liked the stories about Mowgli the best, and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi... the others were just kind of "OK."

1 comment:

Sharon said...

This is not a book I'll borrow, although I was intrigued at your mention of the cobra's "widow."