The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book Study Guide

Published in 1894, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is a collection of short stories and poems. It is one of the best-known and beloved works of children’s literature; however, Kipling’s complex views on colonialism and race justifiably factor into the assessment of its value.

In this collection of stories, Kipling employs anthropomorphism, which is the attribution of human-like emotions, incentives, and traits to non-human entities. Through the various plotlines and characters, Kipling is able to convey a moral meaning at the end of every story. The most famous stories from The Jungle Book include the eight stories revolving around the adventures of Mowgli, an abandoned "man cub" who is raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. The other famous stories are "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," the story of a heroic mongoose who saves a human by killing a dangerous snake, and "Toomai of the Elephants," the tale of a young elephant-handler. As with much of Kipling's work, each of the stories is followed by a poem that serves as an epigram. As Kipling was British but born in India, his stories were greatly influenced by his years in the British colony. In The Jungle Book, he employs various names and phrases popularly used in the Indian subcontinent, such as “Bagheera” which is a Hindi/Urdu word that translates to black panther; Mowgli; Shere Khan; Akela; and Haathi among others.

Kipling wrote the stories in Naulakha, Kipling’s home in Vermont. In his autobiography Something of Myself (1937), he explained how the “pen took charge” in writing stories about Mowgli and the animals; he had already written of a boy brought up by wolves. The stories were published in magazines, some of them illustrated by Kipling’s father. He may have written some of them for his daughter Josephine, who died when she was 6 years old. He admitted to being inspired by others’ writing, explaining in a letter, "I am afraid that all that code in its outlines has been manufactured to meet 'the necessities of the case': though a little of it is bodily taken from (Southern) Esquimaux rules for the division of spoils... In fact, it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen.” The first Mowgli story was “In the Rukh,” though it is not usually included in editions of The Jungle Book.

There have been over 500 editions in 36 different languages. The extremely popular book has been adapted into various films, the most famous being Disney’s animated classic from 1967 and the most recent released in 2016. It has been adapted into comic books. The book's text has often been edited or adapted for younger readers, and there have been several comic book adaptations by Marvel Comics. Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (2008) was inspired by the book, and Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) concerned a child raised by Martians, not wolves.