[July 30 2008]
Finished in November 1892 before any of the other Mowgli stories except “In the Rukh” (Many Inventions May 1893); published in St. Nicholas Magazine January 1894 and collected in The Jungle Book in the same year.
A small naked child, about a year old, pursued by Shere Khan, a man-eating tiger, strays by night into the cave of a family of wolves. He pushes his way among the cubs to feed from Mother Wolf. Touched by his fearlessness, she protects him from the enraged tiger, and adopts him as one of her own, calling him 'Mowgli, the Frog'. As a new 'cub' he is accepted into the wolf pack by Akela, the leader of the pack, despite the protests of Shere Khan. He is spoken for by Baloo, the bear, and by Bagheera, the black panther, who gives the pack a bull for him. The two great creatures then become his teachers in the ways and Law of the Jungle.
The second part of the story occurs 'ten or eleven years later', although the ages of Mowgli and some of the animals by then cause difficulties if the tale is taken too literally. Akela is too old to exert his authority, and is in danger of being killed by the younger wolves. Mowgli too is threatened by many of the wolves, and by Shere Khan. Bagheera tells him that he must save Akela by bringing back fire, that all animals fear, from a village close by. He does so, brandishing a flaming branch at the Council Rock, and facing down Shere Khan and the rebellious pack. Now all know that he is a man, and not a wolf. He must leave the jungle and join the world of men, though his brother wolves will always be his brothers.
In August 1892, after Rudyard's marriage to Caroline Balestier, the Kiplings settled on the outskirts of the little New England town of Brattleboro in Vermont in the north-eastern United States, where Caroline came from. Until their new house was built the following year, they lived in a small stone-built cottage on a farm. As he wrote in Something of Myself (p. 113):
My workroom on the Bliss Cottage was seven feet by eight, and from December to April the snow lay level with the window-sill. It chanced that I had written a tale about Indian Forestry work which included a boy who had been brought up by wolves. In the stillness and suspense of the winter of '92 some memories of the Masonic Lions of my childhood's magazine, and a phrase in Haggard's Nada the Lily, combined with the echo of this tale. After blocking out the main idea in my head, the pen took charge, and I watched it begin to write stories about Mowgli and animals, which later grew into the Jungle Books.So the details of the shadows in the moonlight in "The Spring Running", of the summer heat burning up the jungle in "How Fear Came", or the monkeys swinging through the trees in "Mowgli's Brothers", came from Kipling's imagination, in a very different setting. He had, in fact, never been to the 'Seeonee hills'. But that workroom would have had a great many books, and his reading on the subject was clearly extensive, including Beast and Man in India by his father Lockwood , published the previous year, Thirteen Years among the Wild Beasts of India by G P Sanderson (1878), An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children in their Dens by W H Sleeman (1888), and three books by R A Sterndale, "Seonee, or Camp Life on the Satpura Range (1877), Mammalia of India and Ceylon (1884, later revised by Frank Finn 1929), and Denizens of the Jungle (1886).
Critics, biographers and students of literature have commented extensively on the Mowgli stories. The extracts which follow are only the tip of a massive iceberg.
Writing in 1940 of the first Mowgli story, "In the Rukh" in Many Inventions (1893), Edward Shanks writes:
... from this tentative beginning Kipling characteristically went on to something that is much greater. Mowgli ceases to be only a fascinating exhibit in the great anthropological museum that (from one point of view) India is. He becomes a myth, like Brer Rabbit or the Centaur or Reynard the Fox. As I have said before, Kipling has the myth-making genius. It is rare in modern literature but it is a sign of greatness whenever it occurs ...Charles Carrington, Kipling's first authorised biographer, reports (p. 208):
We have his word for it ... that the impulse was derived from a scene in Haggard's Zulu romance, Nada the Lily, where, in a riot of supernatural fantasy, Umslopogaas is presented as running with a pack of wolves (though there are no true wolves in Zululand). This was but the beginning of a train of thought, and much more is necessary to account for the origins of the new, powerful, and lasting myth which Rudyard was to elaborate in the first and second Jungle Books, the best-sellers among his works.Philip Mason, in a later study, writes (p. 171):
It is the essence of the Mowgli myth that here concerns us - a hero who has no parents of his own, but loving foster-parents instead, who grows up strong and beautiful, but a stranger among beings of a lower order who cast him out because he is different. His own natural kind too repel him with stones. He has revenged himself on Shere Khan and now he revenges himself on the villagers by destroying their fields and houses; he goes back to the jungle and lives there again - but now he is the Master of the Jungle...Angus Wilson (p.122) another distinguished biographer and critic, writes:
For many people Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, Kaa and Co. are the Jungle Books - a kind of Greyfriars. But the merits of the individual Mowgli stories vary very much. Only a few, and perhaps only parts of these, show Kipling at his very top form.Marghanita Laski (p. 124) stresses that the purpose of The Jungle Books is not to bring comprehension of animals:
It is to set up some simplified archetypes of humans, made more comprehensible and more - or less - attractive by being typified as animals. The lessons are hammered home: respect the family, the teachers, the overlords, and despise the talkers who never get anything done. It is no surprise that Kipling's friend Robert Baden-Powell based the junior Boy Scouts, the Wolf Cubs, on The Jungle Books, or that Kipling greatly admired the Scout and Guide movements.Sandra Kemp notes (p. 12) that Mowgli is caught between dual 'realities:
'As Mang the Bat flies between the beasts and birds so fly I between the village and the Jungle.' But there is more to this duality. If both village and jungle are subject to a highly codified 'Law', they also incorporate irreducibly lawless energies. It is a lawlessness which Daniel Karlin sees embodied in the 'feckless play' of the Bandar-log: 'inventing or appropriating a series of identities ... They live from day to day, without law, without memory; they embody, if you like, that part of our nature whose floating, irresponsible and self-absorbed energy is at odds with the principle of ordered and controlled design, a threat to the ordered discourse of the jungle' .Mark Paffard, in Kipling's Indian Fiction, 1989, (p. 91) notes that:
The jungle that Kipling creates for Mowgli is a curious amalgam. It is a place to be explored with the relish of childhood, and yet an evocation of a stereotypical 'India' of dark luxuriance and hidden danger ... we can observe, clinging to the lessons that are absorbed, the dark and treacherous side of 'India' that is only finally dispensed with in Kim.And Zohrah T Sullivan in Kipling the Night Walker (p. 1) (quoted by Harold Bloom in Rudyard Kipling: Modern Critical Views, 1987) also notes the similarities between Mowgli and Kim:
Kim and Mowgli are both divided between their desire to be loved and their need to control and be feared: 'all the jungle was his friend, and just a little afraid of him'. Yet Mowgli will leave the jungle sobbing for the loss of his only family and only home in which he is the acknowledged master. When he leaves the jungle, however, Mowgli enters the service of the British government as a forest-guard. So too will Kim leave his much loved Lahore street life for the British Secret Service.Meanwhile Harry Ricketts comments (pp. 206-7) that what is most striking about Mowgli's story from a biographical point of view is watching Kipling once more rewriting aspects of his own childhood:
The pattern of abandonment was repeated no fewer than three times: twice in 'Mowgli's Brothers', which opened with him losing his human parents and closed with him being cast out by the wolf-pack; and again at the end of `Tiger! Tiger!', when he was rejected by the village. Mowgli became, in effect, a super-orphan. But while the abandonment motif was magnified, so too were the emotional compensations. Kipling provided Mowgli at each successive abandonment with a queue of would-be foster-parents, falling over each other to look after him: Father and Mother Wolf, Akela the Lone Wolf, Baloo the Bear, Bagheera the Black Panther and Kaa the Python. Not only were all these wild animals eager to care for Mowgli, but they competed with each other for his affection and acknowledged his power over them, a situation that has appealed to generations of child readers.
©F A Underwood and John Radcliffe 2008 All rights reserved