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~He does make exceedingly good cakes~
The old picture post card joke that allegedly (well according to Wikipedia) holds the record for selling the most copies at over 6 million carries the following oft-quoted lines:
Bookish Man - "Do you like Kipling?"
Not so clever woman - "I don't know...I've never kippled"
I'm ashamed to say I use that one often though more often than not substituting Kettering for Kipling which is only funny (and then not very) if you've ever been to Kettering.
~A shameful admission~
For someone who loves India and has an interest nearing on obsession with the days of the Raj and the fight for Independence, I could be expected to have an opinion on Rudyard Kipling. Perhaps I do, but it's one until now based on ignorance because I'd never read any of his books - the odd poem in school, but never an actual book.
Similarly it would seem fair to assume that anyone who has a black cat called Bagheera and a big grey cat called Baloo, must be a fan of the Kipling's most famous book, the Jungle Book. Sadly I have to confess that despite choosing the two best buddies of Kipling's 'man cub' - the panther and the bear - as names for my kitty-boys, I'd never actually got round to reading the Jungle Book. Even more shamefully I would admit that I can merrily sing all the words to 'The Bear Necessities' and 'I wanna be like you-hoo-hoo'. I am a victim of knowledge by Disneyfication.
~Free Reads for Kindle Owners~
When I bought my Kindle, like most people I went crazy downloading free books that were old classics long out of copyright. The Jungle Book was one of the first and I suspect that many others have downloaded it and ignored it like I have. It's in the top 50 of Amazon's free downloads list.
It sat on my kindle until I popped it open on a plane and read it. I am not sure what I expected because it's been a very long time since I saw the film and I didn't remember much of the plot. It's classified as a children's book but the old fashioned language and the rather violent themes are ones that I found hard to imagine appealing to younger children and indeed I was pretty surprised at quite how archaic it seemed.
~The boy raised by wolves~
Roughly half of The Jungle Book is the story of Mowgli, the man cub, who is found in the forest and brought up by wolves. What is it with boys and wolves? It's all rather Romulus and Remus, isn't it? Mowgli's place in the wolf pack is 'bought' by Bagheera the panther who pays for it with the carcass of a bull. His chief defender and educator is the old bear, Baloo. Baloo teaches Mowgli the ways of the 'jungle people' - all the animals who live in the jungle - giving him the languages he needs to communicate with each species except for the naughty monkeys who fall outside the laws of the jungle. We follow Mowgli as he grows up, keeps away from his arch enemy Shere Khan the lame tiger (who wants to eat him) and we join his friends as they attempt to rescue him from a monkey abduction.
Everyone tells Mowgli that one day he must return to the world of man and be with his own kind but he believes he's a wolf, not a man, and so we can be sure that nothing will go smoothly when he tries to fit in with the local villagers.
Disney did a wonderful job of turning Kipling's dark and violent story into a jolly children's cartoon with lots of singing and fun. In the book things are far from gentle - there's a lot of fighting, animals wanting to kill their own kind and other animals, Akala the wolf-pack leader being threatened with death and the pack turning against each other. Mowgli and Shere Khan are destined to move towards a final countdown in which only one can survive. We want Mowgli to survive and thrive but this is the story of an outsider, someone who doesn't fit with his adopted species or his biological species. I certainly didn't expect to feel so moved by this small boy raised amongst wolves.
~Dost thou struggle with the tongue?~
The language will be a barrier to many as it doesn't sit easily on the 21st century tongue or in the modern ear - we're just not used to phrases like "thou goest to thy mother...lamer than ever thou camest into the world". It's all thou and thy and complicated old-fashioned sentence construction. I don't doubt that Kipling was making a point by giving these voices to the animals but they sound very clunky to the modern reader. I also think it must have been a conscious decision to use this style because it's not present in all of the stories. Rikki Tikki Tavi's story is told in a more conventional 'straight' English for example.
~A little more care on the layout would help a lot~
There's another half of the book still to go when Mowgli's story reaches its end and the shorter stories in the collection take over. The problem is that the e-book is very poorly laid out and you'll need to really be paying attention to realise that you've just finished one story and started another. One moment I was merrily egging Mowgli on in his show-down battle and skipping over the annoying 'songs' which were almost unreadable due to the dodgy layout then suddenly I was wondering where the story of a seal on the ice-flow fitted into the Indian jungle. Similarly the transition into the story of Rikki Tikki Tavi the mongoose (which I HAD read at school) popped up without any warning and then along came a story of a boy who wanted to be a mahout (elephant handler). It was extraordinarily confusing.
The stories that follow Mowgli's main event are cute, endearing and rather charming - if you can work out where they start and finish. Please please please - some chapters would make a world of difference. But let's be honest, you'll buy (or rather not buy because you can download for free) because you want to know about Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera rather than to read the stories that follow, though they are rather lovely.
The info that I found on my kindle about the book informed me that it had been converted from book to kindle format by a group of volunteers. At times it reads like those volunteers might have been the infinite number of monkeys locked in a room trying none too successfully to recreate the works of Shakespeare. I'm guessing it may have been one of the earlier books to be converted because there's a big problem with a lack of chapters, a lack of spacing and layout and a general sense that the whole lot has just been shoved into one big block of text. I mentioned the songs and poems that intersperse the Jungle Book - these would probably be really fun if they'd been laid out on the page better. Instead you find yourself wondering if they are prose or poetry.
I can't grumble too much after paying the grand sum of not one single penny for my copy but I am now inspired to go out and buy it in book form, just to read again and get the more authentic experience of the stories as they were written and originally presented.
The Jungle Books:
So, I'm sure we all remember the lovable characters we came across in disney's Jungle Book, protective Bagheera, kind-hearted and wacky Baloo, and little Mowgli in his red underwear. How surprised was I when I read the novel by Rudyard Kipling a couple of years ago, and found it to be quite different than disney's child-friendly version. Kipling's world, though with many of the same characters and more, is darker and much more gruesome. It was and is still classed as a children's book, but I suppose we must expect it to be different as it was set in a very different era. In fact a lot of nineteenth century children's literature contains violent content which would be deemed unsuitable for the children of today.
The Jungle Books are a collection of stories, mostly focusing on animals, many focus on Mowgli's different adventures. But there are also other stories that focus on different characters all together. The stories serve mainly as fables, stories with a message or a moral at the end.
The gruesome and sometimes sinister moments in the story, actually makes it more exciting. They represent moments of triumph and courage, for example when Mowgli skins the tiger, it is very vivid and graphic, but at the same time heroic. So while it may be a little bit scary, it is also a moment that boys can look upto and say 'I want to be that courageous'. Mowgli is the boy that all boys will aspire to be like, and he is also that wild child inside every boy, and maybe girl. But mostly I think the Mowgli stories are aimed at boys, it is something for boys to enjoy. But that's not say there isn't something for girls as well, there are moments of sadness, emotions that may tug on girl's heart. One example is the story in which Seals are lured into a den type place by humans and are slaughtered. Again it is graphic, but in this place it is not the villain that is slain, it is the innocent. To me it spoke as a warning to children out there, that there are cruelties in the world and it is something they have to face, the good do not always triumph. It also shows that there is an animalistic nature in humans that they do hunt and they kill sometimes for food, sometimes for sport. Maybe it is sometimes good to open up a little bit of this cruel world to the eyes of children, just so that they're aware and prepared, this is something that is lacking in the disney film, which as fun as it may be, strips away the truth of the stories. Kipling tells these stories through characters that are memorable for children, that are exciting for children, and that children can look upto or look out for.
There are millions of themes in these stories, but one that I found interesting was this theme of hierarchy. Firstly in the animal kingdom, seen in the chapter 'Kaa's Hunting', during which Baloo tells Mowgli that to be with the monkey people is a 'great shame'. Another example is in the chapter 'How Fear Came' where Hathi the elephant is labelled as 'the master of the jungle.' These are things which we can relate to, in the human world as well in real life, there are hierarchies, lower-class, middle-class, upper-class.
The language is also superb, taking the example of hierarchy, there is a point where Kipling sets out this hierarchal image, 'up-stream...stood Hathi, the wild elephants, with his sons...Below him a little were the vanguard of the deer; below these, again, the pig and the wild buffalo; and on the opposite bank, where the tall trees came down to the water's edge, was the place set apart for the Eaters of Flesh - the tiger, the wolves, the panther, the bear, and the others.' And this continues throughout the stories, Kipling sets out both literal and metaphorical imagery that could be of interest to adults.
Another interesting topic for both adults and children is learning about a different culture. The stories are primarily set in India, and at one point Kipling mentions the Hindu Caste System, which again ties into the hierarchy theme. He shows that both the human world and the animal world have social hierarchies. Making this similarity between the humans and animals suggests that he believes humans are just like animals. I'm sure we've all felt what we'd term 'animalistic' at times or seen 'animalistic behaviour' displayed. Kipling shows that no matter what the time period, this tie in with humans and animals is always there, and it is something that is still relevant even today.
For those who enjoy interpreting gender stereotypes in different time periods, this book is full of it, and is something of interest to me. That the woman is supposed to simply be a mother and wife while the man goes out to hunt. In particular this is shown in the story entitled Quiquern where it says 'the women-folk make the skins into clothing, and occasionally help in trapping small game; but the bulk of the food...must be found by the men.' For those of us critics or reviewers out there, this is definitely a big topic for discussion in this book. This is something that I really enjoyed about the stories, that there is so much to discuss and so much to challenge, if that's what you're into, this is a book for you.
As a children's book, in today's world, I think this is perhaps not a book that children would enjoy reading, rather they would enjoy being read to from it. The stories are short, each making up one chapter of the book, you could maybe read half a story a day to the kids, and some explanations of what is going on may be required depending on the age group that you are reading to. The edition that I have is the unabridged version, and there are moments where I felt it was too much for even me to grasp, I had to split it up into more than one session to read the whole book. Therefore I think if you are going to read this to very young children you may be better off with an abridged version, perhaps with pictures that would keep them entertained. But otherwise, I think the unabridged version would be suitable for 8 or 9 year olds and above. If you are going to read the unabridged version to your kids it might be useful for you to read all the stories yourself first, and then pick what you feel is relevant or is something that you think is ok to read to your kids.
Overall a good book, but can take a while to get through it.
As a child, if anyone had asked me I would have associated The Jungle Book, with the Disney film of the same name. It was not until I actually read the book, that I realised just how different it was to the film. In fact, The Jungle Book is not just one story, but a collection of short stories and poems, all of which focus on the animal world.
My copy of The Jungle Book, is a hardback edition published by The Children's Golden Library and features a picture of Mowgli in the jungle. This is not a long book, and is in fact only 159 pages long, and therefore ideal for a shorter read, especially with the fact that each story can be read in less than half an hour.
The story that everyone remembers is the one that the Disney film focussed on, which is that of Mowgli, the man cub and his battle against Shere-Khan the lame and vicious man-eating tiger. And indeed this is the story the book starts with, but if you are thinking it's going to be like the film, think again. The actual story is much darker, and tells the story of Mowgli from an inquisitive toddler, rescued from Shere-Khan by the wolves and adopted by Raksha, the mother wolf to his coming of age during a final fight with the tiger.
As his story progresses, we meet many characters that are familiar from watching the film, but they are slightly different in the book, for example Kaa is not an evil snake, but actually helps rescue Mowgli. Baloo is Mowgli's teacher, but not the lazy irresponsible bear from the film, but rather he teaches all wolf cubs the rules of hunting within the jungle, and is pleased that he can teach more to Mowgli than he has been able to with the other wolf cubs.
The second story is that of the White Seal, Kotick and his search for a breeding ground where the seals can breed in peace without the threat of the seal hunters who are after their fur. This was a charming story, and I really enjoyed reading it, even though their was some horrifying imagery.
Next we are told the story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the brave little mongoose and his life and death battle with Nag and Nagina the cobras. Then we have the story of Kala Nag, the elephant and his master's brave son, Little Toomi as they attend the elephant dance. The final story is that of the various animals employed by the British Army.
There are many poems and songs interspersed between the stories, which can be read on their own, but actually enhance the actual stories. I found that the although the poems were best read aloud, there were some words that I found difficult to pronounce (again I just did my best).
---The Author and the writing Style---
Rudyard Kipling, was born in India in 1865, and although he was sent to England from the age of five, he returned to India in 1882, where he became a journalist and newspaper editor. While in India he wrote many stories set in his homeland including : The Just-So Stories, Kim and of course The Jungle Book.
The writing style in the book, is fairly simple, but the language is very old-fashioned. It would have been old-fashioned even when the book was written, with a lot of "thee's" and "thou's", but due to this it hasn't really aged. Some of the names are quite hard to pronounce (although a lot will be familiar from the film of the same name), and I basically just do my own approximation of how I think they should be said.
I love the way the Rudyard used the animal kingdom to show the different sorts of behaviour that he had observed in man and to promote the behaviours he found admirable. And the observations were very keen, there was the loyalty to the family and respect towards all the different species that was taught to Mowgli, and the contrasting irresponsible behaviour of the Bandar-log (monkeys). Then there's Kotick's unwillingness to accept his situation and his perseverance in trying to better not only his own life, but that of all the seals, or Rikki's bravery in facing the cobras.
Although the talented child might be able to read this, and if they can will be enthralled by the imagery, I really believe this is more suitable for adults and older teenagers who will be better able to appreciate the moral messages hidden within the stories.
---The Scouting Connection---
Lord Baden Powell based Cub Scouts on The Jungle Book (Cub Scouts are aged between 8 and 10), and gave the leaders names from the stories. The pack leader is known as Akela (for obvious reasons) and the assistant leaders take other names from the book. I, myself, took the name Kaa.
The ideal of cubs is too be as alike to brave, respectful and responsible Mowgli as possible, and never be like the irresponsible Bandar-log.
This is truly a classic book, filled to the brim with tales of animal life. I first read this when I became an Assistant Cub Scout leader, as I believed it would help me to understand a little more of the theology behind Baden-Powell's vision for the cubs. But it soon became a well-loved book, and although some of the language is "difficult", I find reading it an ultimately rewarding experience. There's not the same level of humour to the stories as there is in the "Just-so stories", but there is just as much of a moral message.
I personally love to read these stories aloud to my children, and find the language is perfect for this (especially the poems and songs), and it always brings a smile to my children's faces when Mummy can't manage to pronounce a word properly.
I am therefore recommending this book for confident readers, that will not be bothered that there are difficult words that they may not be able to pronounce, of say age 10 and above.
This book is available from Amazon in the paperback format for 1.50 (plus delivery), but you may be able to find it for even less if you hunt around, and it's definitely worth the money. I'm not sure how much my hardback copy cost as it was a gift, but I imagine it was less than 5 pound.
* As the book tells us Mowgli means frog and he was so-named by Raksha due to the fact he looked like one.
What a pity it is that children today have been led to believe that Jungle book is just a Disney film that went out of fashion a couple of years ago. How many of them know that it was originally a famous book. Kipling's books are always a treat to read. The Jungle Book story is nowhere near as full of incident and life as the children's cartoon film but the main characters are the same and it still has its moments.
Well, don't expect anything like the Disney film!! Although The Jungle Book was quite lively and Kipling had created brilliant characterisations of the animals, the language he used to describe events in the jungle with Mowgli, Baloo and the rest of the characters that we have grown to love from the film, appear quite dull and lifeless. I was read The Jungle Book as a child and it probably wasn't as magical as it should have been. Reading it later as an adult, I can see that it lacks life and is quite mundane, mainly because of the flamboyant language. I'm afraid that Disney made it come more alive for me!!
I think I may be the only person in the entire world who doesn't like the Jungle Book. Okay, so the kids versions of it are all well and good, but the book itself is a chore to read. The different chapters seem to be entirely unrelated. The book follows an illogical structure, and is very difficult to read. Not only is it drenched in references to Kipling's own time and society, but it is not easy to read in, for example, the way Dickens is, and quite frankly, I wasn't drawn into the story at all. Whilst the cartoon adaption is fun, easy going and follows a story, the book seems to do the complete opposite. Quite frankly, if I'd had the choice, I'd have stopped reading after the first two chapters, but I had to read it for a uni course, so I couldn't.