Monday, August 4, 2008

THE JUNGLE BOOKS by Rudyard Kipling

The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895) are collections of children's stories and related poems by Rudyard Kipling, the Briton who was born in and loved India, and who wrote these stories while living in Vermont. The stories are written as fables, and teach some moral lessons. They are probably Kipling's best-known works.

Many of the stories in both volumes feature Mowgli, the child raised by wolves who becomes master of the jungle (the first three stories in The Jungle Book are very obviously the inspiration for the 1967 animated Disney film). Most of the other stories are also set in India, although "The White Seal" in The Jungle Book and "Quiquern" (which is about Inuits) in The Second Jungle Book are exceptions. In nearly all instances, Kipling anthropomorphizes the animals; they speak, and are always prominent characters.

Kipling does a good job of writing in the fable style, although he doesn't always keep things moving at a good pace, and so some stories are more engaging than others.

There is a subtle racism throughout both volumes. Kipling was a staunch imperialist (he wrote the poem "The White Man's Burden" – this phrase has been used by imperialists since to justify imperialism as noble), and when humans feature in these stories, English whites are often presented as culturally and intellectually superior to the native Indians. This racism is still relevant, as it indicates a popular attitude of the day.

Ultimately, the Jungle Books are well worth reading. They have, perhaps deservedly so, achieved a prominent place in the pantheon of children's literature.