The Jungle Book | Study Guide

Rudyard Kipling

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The Jungle Book | 10 Things You Didn't Know


British writer Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book is a collection of stories and poems, many about Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves. The tales, aimed at young readers, were published between 1893 and 1894 in St. Nicholas and other magazines and were collected and published in book form in 1894. Prior to The Jungle Book, Kipling had published numerous volumes of short stories and poetry. Much of his writing, including The Jungle Book, was based on the time he spent in India from 1882 to 1889.

The volume contains seven stories and seven verses related to the stories. Three of the seven tales are about Mowgli. All of the stories include animal characters and, like fables, teach moral lessons. More than that, though, the stories are adventures, and they have been beloved by readers for more than a century.

1. Kipling wrote The Jungle Book for his daughter—who died tragically.

Kipling had two daughters, Josephine and Elsie. Josephine died tragically at age six of pneumonia. In 2010 an original edition of The Jungle Book was discovered at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, where Elsie had lived. The book contained an inscription: "This book belongs to Josephine Kipling for whom it was written by her father. Tisbury, May 94." Experts assert that the writing is Kipling's. Five years after the inscription was written, Josephine died.

Tragically, Kipling experienced the loss of another child when his son John died while serving in World War I. Oddly, Kipling didn't mention either child's death in his autobiography Something of Myself (1937).

2. Critics have often accused The Jungle Book of racism.

Kipling's works reflected the imperialist attitudes of Britain, at that point the most powerful empire in the world. Many Britons believed the vast wealth and land holdings of the empire not only reflected their innate racial and cultural superiority but also gave them a responsibility to maintain and defend the empire from forces both outside and inside its colonies.

Kipling coined the term white man's burden, which described both the positive effects and the costs of colonialism. His support of the Boer Wars (1899–1902), fought between Britain colonists and Dutch settlers over control of the Boer republic of South Africa, added to the charges of racial insensitivity. In the two wars tens of thousands of Boers and native Africans died, many in concentration camps. For many years the author's prejudices turned critics against his work, but more recently they have reembraced his writing for its "real and lasting pleasure."

3. Kipling was the first English writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907, making him the first English-language writer to win the prize and the first winner from the British Isles. The prize was awarded to him "in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author." He was the youngest writer, at age 41, to win the prize; the next youngest was Albert Camus, author of The Stranger (1942) and The Plague (1947), at 44.

4. The character Mowgli may have been based on real children who lived with wolves.

In The Jungle Book the character Mowgli is raised by a wolf pack. Though there is no proof, critics have posited that the inspiration for the character came from a number of stories about feral children. In 1851 Sir Henry Sleeman, a British soldier in India, published a pamphlet in England called "An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children in Their Dens, by an Indian Official." The pamphlet describes several incidences of "wolf-boys" found by officials in India. In one such incident:

A trooper ... was passing along the bank of the river ... when he saw a large female wolf leave her den, followed by three whelps and a little boy. The boy went on all fours, and seemed to be on the best possible terms with the old dam and the three whelps, and the mother seemed to guard all four with equal care: they all went down to the river and drank, without perceiving the trooper.

Sleeman added, "Wolves are numerous in the neighbourhood of Sultanpoor, and, indeed, all along the banks of the Goomtree river, among the ravines that intersect them; and a great many children are carried off by them from towns, villages and camps." It's possible Kipling was aware of these stories and incorporated them into his book.

5. Kipling never visited the place in India where he set The Jungle Book.

Kipling was born in 1865 in India, where his father taught. His parents sent him back to England at age six for school; he returned to India in 1882, spending the next seven years there. However, he never visited the area of the country, Seoni (which he called "Seonee"), where The Jungle Book is set. Critics believe the original setting may have been Rajputana, 400 miles from Seoni and an area with which Kipling was familiar. However, it is likely Kipling used reference books for information on the Seoni hills, choosing to set his stories in an unfamiliar place. In fact, he wrote the book while living in Vermont.

6. Kipling said he stole some of the ideas for the stories in The Jungle Book.

In 1895 Kipling wrote a letter to an unknown recipient who had asked for information about where the author got his ideas about the "Law of the Jungle," the rules for survival the character Baloo imparts to Mowgli. In the letter Kipling wrote, "In fact, it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen."

7. The Jungle Book is used as a motivational text for Cub Scouts.

In 1899 a British officer named Robert Baden-Powell wrote a handbook for his soldiers called Aid to Scouting, and in 1907 that booklet sparked the Boy Scout movement. The movement caught on quickly and moved to the United States in 1910.

Back in England, Baden-Powell started a group modeled on The Jungle Book for boys who were too young to be Boy Scouts. Called the Wolf Cubs, the organization became the Cub Scouts. Terms such as den (a group of Cub Scouts) and Akela (a Cub Scout leader) originated in Kipling's book.

8. Kipling's father helped illustrate the original versions of some of the stories in The Jungle Book.

John Kipling, Rudyard's father, was an artist and museum curator. As the curator of the Lahore Museum (then in India, now in Pakistan), he focused on Indian crafts and art and imparted a love of Indian art to his son. He illustrated the early stories that made up The Jungle Book, and the younger Kipling included his father as a character in his novel Kim. In this story of an Irish orphan on the streets of Lahore, Kipling based the character called "the Keeper of the Images," who was in charge of the Lahore Museum, or the Wonder House as locals called it, on his father.

9. The vultures in the 1967 Disney adaptation of The Jungle Book were based on the Beatles.

In the Disney film of The Jungle Book, the characters included four vultures with moplike feathers that mimicked the haircuts of the Beatles. They also had Liverpool accents similar to the Beatles'. Richard Sherman composed a song for the vultures called "That's What Friends are For," and he wanted the Beatles to sing it in the movie. He stated:

We thought it would be great to have the Beatles do it. And we wrote a quartet for them to do it. We attempted even to [write the song] in a rock style. And with the Beatles, John was running the show at the time, and he said [dismissively] "I don't wanna do an animated film."

The song was redone as a barbershop quartet tune.

10. The 1967 Disney adaptation of The Jungle Book was the last film Walt Disney himself supervised.

Walt Disney died in 1966 during production of The Jungle Book, just before it was released. It was Disney's 19th animated feature film and the last film Disney himself worked on. His influence was strongly felt in the finished product: when the first version of the screenplay came to him, he rejected it as too dark, and the studio had to start almost from scratch. They used the original screenplay's animal characters, but the movie itself was much lighter and happier.

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