The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book Summary and Analysis of "Letting in the Jungle," "The Undertakers," and "The King's Ankus"


“Letting in the Jungle”

After Mowgli killed Shere Khan, he went back to his home-cave to sleep and tell Mother and Father Wolf the story of what he and his friends had done. He praises Akela and Gray Brother. He rues, however, how the townspeople threw stones at him. Mother Wolf says she would have only spared Messua, the woman who gave Mowgli milk. Father chides her gently not to bother Man, but Akela tells them that the village is humming and that a man with a gun is on Mowgli’s trail.

This news infuriates Mowgli and he wonders why Man cannot leave him alone. Suddenly Bagheera and Gray Brother pick up a smell and bound away. Mowgli is jealous of their ability, which is something he has not been able to master. Mowgli realizes it is Buldeo, but does not let his friends run off to kill him. Bagheera agrees that if one man is killed, more will follow. Gray Brother growls in discontent.

Mowgli forces the four wolves to look in his eyes and asks who is the leader of the five; they all admit he is. Bagheera quietly tells Baloo there is more than Jungle Law in the jungle now, and Baloo says nothing.

Mowgli and his brothers travel quickly to find Buldeo. Mowgli hears him grumbling about the trail and how tired he is, and translates for his brothers. They watch as Buldeo meets up with a few other men and tells them about how evil Mowgli is and how Messua and her husband are now tied up as prisoners for helping this Devil-child. The plan is to torture them to get them to admit that they were a witch and a wizard; then they will be burned to death. They would get to divide Messua’s husband's land and livestock, and if the English ever heard, Buldeo would simply tell them the couple died of snakebite.

The sun drops low. Buldeo decides to accompany the men. Mowgli tells his brothers what he heard, though the witch part confuses him. Mowgli tells his brothers and Bagheera to hem the men in and not let them get back to the village before dark. The animals yip and cry and howl and the men cluster in fright.

Mowgli takes off running for the village, his plan being to find Messua and her husband first and then think about the other villagers.

He finds them and is horrified by Messua’s wounds and that the villagers said she was the mother of a devil. The man simply wants to get away from the village. Mowgli hears something outside and rushes to see a crowd gathered around Buldeo. Annoyed, he heads back to the hut, but feels the gentle touch of Mother Wolf. She tells her son she wants to see the other woman who gave him milk. Mowgli tells her she can see, but to keep out of sight.

Back in the hut, Messua and her husband decide to seek out the English at Kanhiwara about thirty miles away. The husband digs up some money, grumbling about Mowgli. Mowgli tells them to hurry and not to heed the sounds of the animals; they will not be accosted. Messua believes he speaks the truth. Mowgli tells Mother Wolf to look after them.

When left with Bagheera, Mowgli become disturbed at the panther’s wild enthusiasm and bloodlust. Finally, the animal calms down, and apologizes for the sounds and smells of the night air. Mowgli tells Bagheera to take over with the villagers, and the panther slinks into the hut to wait for the mob that will break it open. When the mob bursts in, they see the panther with his gleaming black fur and sharp teeth yawning languidly. They can see down his throat and are filled with terror. They rush away back to their own huts, and it is clear the village will not stir until daylight.

Bagheera tells Mowgli that it is time to leave and he should come to hunt with Baloo and himself. Mowgli says he will forget the Man-Pack soon enough, but right now he needs to know where Hathi feeds. He instructs Bagheera to bring Hathi and his three sons to him. The panther is confused but Mowgli tells him to say the Master-Word to Hathi: the Sack of the Fields of Bhurtpore.

Bagheera runs off. Mowgli cannot get rid of the smell of Messua’s blood, but knows that he cannot be responsible for more of that. The people must be punished, though, and he plans to get rid of them forever in a much simpler way.

Bagheera returns and tells Mowgli in awe that the word worked. Hathi and his three sons approach. Mowgli looks at Hathi and says he will tell a story of an old and wise elephant who fell into a trap and the sharp stakes cut him and hurt him. The elephant broke free and destroyed the fields at Bhurtpore after his wounds were healed. Mowgli asks who did this, and Hathi says it was himself and his three sons. Hathi explains that they let the jungle in and the men left. He asks how Mowgli knows. Mowgli explains that Buldeo told him this, and says it was well done. Now, though, Mowgli wants them to do it again and do it better - these men are vain, idle, cruel, and dishonest.

One son asks why he does not kill them, and Mowgli furiously responds he has no need of white bones. Bagheera cowers at the boy’s fury and while he can understand a quick kill, “this scheme for deliberately blotting out an entire village from the eyes of man and beast frightened him” (205). Hathi asks why they ought to do this when they have no quarrel with the men, but Mowgli responds that the jungle-folk must need grass. The elephants need not kill anyone, but the smell of blood burns in Mowgli’s nostrils and he must get rid of it. Then Hathi understands, and says his wounds burned too; this will be their fight too.

The elephants leave and Bagheera looks at Mowgli in awe. The elephants march for two days and their every movement is tracked. They feed and prepare. Rumors spread of a better place to feed and drink. Creatures gather and follow until one dark night they gather at the village.

Hathi and his sons break down the poles of the towers and the men tumble out. Armies of deer and pigs flood into the fields and wolves force the villagers’ hordes to destroy the ploughed land. The people wake and see that their crops are lost, their buffalo wandered off, and their grain stores trampled with dung. The Brahmin is confused and prays, and invites the headman of the wandering Gonds over to tell him what to do. The headman knows it is over for them and the jungle has won.

The people try to hang on as long as they can but the wild animals grow bolder, there is no food, and they suffer immensely. They finally decide to leave and go to the English at Kanhiwara to beg for mercy.

As they depart, they see the elephants wantonly destroying everything that is left, just as they had at the Sack. With horror, the villagers run away as “their village, shredded and tossed and trampled, melted behind them” (211).

“The Undertakers”

A thick voice calls out, “Respect the aged!” over and over again. It is a quiet early night along the Indian river. A boatman sails slowly. An Adjutant-crane, tall and thin and ugly, stands on the sandbar below the bridge. A mangy jackal joins him, complaining of the fleas from the village dogs and how life is hard right now.

There is a soft grating sound and the mugger of Mugger-Ghaut emerges from the water. He is a twenty-four-foot crocodile, immensely old and weathered. He is a murderer and village fetish and eater of man, but the jackal flatters him, hoping to get something to eat. He calls the Mugger the “Protector of the Poor” and watches him grunt up to the shore. The Mugger can make himself look like a log, and his tail can move him very quickly.

The Mugger opines how his people do not love him anymore now that the railway bridge is built. He bears no ill will toward people, though, but wishes they would go back to revering him. He has seen the village built five times, and will see it rebuilt five times more. He will always watch and he will always get a reward. The jackal complains that his only reward is blows. Both he and the Adjutant are great cowards.

The Mugger boasts that he is not proud and understands his fate. He used to be young and unthinking and loved when the flood came. He fed and rested. The people saw him and were afraid but they eventually believed that he drove the flood before the people and was thus the godling of the village. They threw flowers at him and gave him a goat, and Fate even led the rude boatman who wanted to kill him straight to him.

The Mugger continues to speak of his vast knowledge and how he saw the English come, the bridge built, and more. The jackal and Adjutant are a bit skeptical, though, because they understand some of the changes happening more than he does. This angers the Mugger, for it seems like he does not understand the thing that goes on the bridge and pulls roofed carts. The jackal and Adjutant return to their sycophantic comments.

The Mugger talks about the white-faces and begins to reminisce about the Mutiny. There were so many bodies floating down the river that that was when he became fat and long. He was fatter than all other crocodiles. Once a boat of white faces sailed near him and a white child reached his hand down to the water. The Mugger tried to snatch it but the hand was too small and went through his teeth. The boy’s mother grabbed a gun and fired at the Mugger, giving him his only wounds. He is ashamed of this fact, and dreams about that white boy. He sinks down under the water.

Two men approach. The Adjutant is not worried because men leave him alone, and the jackal knows he is not worth a blow. The men have white faces. The crane and jackal wonder if they should warn the Mugger, as he is below water right now and cannot hear well, but they decide not to.

The men shoot and kill the Mugger, breaking him into three pieces. One of the men boasts that this was the beast that tried to get him when he was a child. He claims it was worth waiting up all night for this. The crane and jackal agree.

“The King’s Ankus”

Mowgli has gone to congratulate Kaa on his beautiful new skin. The two are good friends now, and Mowgli rests in a chair of Kaa’s coils. They relax and then play their game of Mowgli trying to lift Kaa up; this is, of course, impossible because the python is massive and heavy.

Kaa asks Mowgli if the jungle gives him all he has ever desired. Mowgli replies that yes, it does, even though of course he wishes he had another Shere Khan to kill or that sometimes it would be sunny when it rained or vice versa. Kaa presses him more, and then begins to tell Mowgli of the white cobra he once met in the Cold Lairs that told him many things beyond his knowledge, particularly of things that would make men crazed. Mowgli is intrigued and says he was once a man and would like to see these things.

Kaa is cautious and says this is not a game, but they can go see the cobra because the creature asked for him. Mowgli is excited to see the White Hood, as he calls the snake. The two start out for the Cold Lairs. It is empty and eerie in the moonlight, the monkeys not being there currently. Mowgli gives the snake-call to remain safe and they go into a large ruined vault.

Mowgli wonders aloud that there seems to be nothing there, and a voice asks if he is nothing. It is a white cobra of immense length with glowing red eyes. Mowgli politely greets him. The White Cobra asks how he can be so dismissive of the glorious city and King and thousands of elephants and horses. Mowgli and Kaa are confused, and try to tell the White Cobra that there is only jungle above them.

The White Cobra is unconvinced and announces himself Warden of the King’s Treasure - a treasure so vast and glorious that men cannot handle it. It has been awhile since men have tried to see it, through, which confuses him.

Mowgli tells Kaa that the snake is clearly mad. The snake begins to show him the treasure. It is incomprehensible - gold coins, palanquins and litters, gilded idols, gems, diamond-hilted swords, combs, pots, and perfume bottles, and much more. The value of this horde cannot even be estimated; it is “the sifted pickings of centuries of war, plunder, trade, and taxation” (245).

Mowgli does not understand these things, but his eye is drawn to a stunning elephant-ankus. Its handle is ivory and it is interlaid with gleaming precious stones. The White Cobra asks him slyly if it is worth dying to behold and suggests that he can have all he wants until he leaves. Kaa realizes that the White Cobra wants to kill Mowgli, and hisses angrily that the Cobra had asked him to bring Mowgli. He also lambasts the cobra’s foolish claims of civilization over his head.

Mowgli moves quickly and pins the snake. Kaa screams to kill him, but Mowgli says he will never kill again but for food. They see that the White Cobra’s venom has also dried up. The White Cobra hisses that he is shamed and wants Mowgli to kill him, but the boy refuses.

Kaa and Mowgli prepare to leave, and the White Cobra hisses after him that the ankus is Death. Back at home, Mowgli is confused what the White Cobra meant, but shows Bagheera the ankus. Mowgli is also perturbed at the idea that men would kill for this, but knows that men do indeed kill for idleness and pleasure. When Bagheera tells him that the ankus was used to hurt elephants and keep them in line, Mowgli throws it disgustedly into the jungle.

That night, though, he thinks he ought to look at it again. However, it is not there and Bagheera tells him that a man has taken it. They decide to follow the man’s trail. Mowgli wonders if the thing really is death and will kill the man in his hand. They see that the man’s trail crisscrosses with another. Both panther and boy take a trail and follow it until they find each man, dead. They then see that four other pairs of tracks have moved away from the dead men, and follow those.

They find that these four men are also dead, and that the ankus is lying next to the fire. Mowgli is shocked, especially when he finds that some of the men died of poison. He looks at the ankus and realizes he must return it to the White Cobra.

Two nights later, Mowgli returns to the Cold Lairs and tosses the ankus through to the White Cobra in his vault. From the other side of the wall he calls out to the White Cobra to get a young cobra to take over guarding the treasure so that no man can ever get to it. The White Cobra marvels that Mowgli escaped alive, and Mowgli admits he does not know how he did it.


“The King’s Ankus” is a morality tale that reveals the dangerous allure of money. The ankus itself, which has violently drawn blood from elephants and made them subject to their master’s will, is a symbol of the power money has over men and the terrible things it can make them do to secure such money.

“The Undertakers” is one of Kipling’s lesser-known tales but the only one that explicitly deals with one of the most seminal events in British colonial history: the Mutiny of 1857, or the Sepoy Mutiny. Critic Don Randall writes that “the uprisings of 1857-58 offered a deeply disruptive, multifaceted challenge to British claims to colonial authority, a complex, multiply articulated calling into question of the reign of ‘justice’ and ‘efficiency.’” Though the British usage of the term “mutiny” implies that it was merely a military uprising against legitimate authority, the insurrection included populist and regional aspects as well. Most British interpretations sought to reduce it a simplistic, all-encompassing narrative though it was much more complicated, but was perhaps even more fascinating was the mythic level it took in British history and culture. It became the stuff of folklore, an obsession for writers, journalists, historians, and more.

As for “The Undertakers,” the forces of colonial disorder can be found in the massive, grotesque, and uncanny figure of the Indian crocodile. Randall writes, “the death of the mugger seems almost to be a necessary effect of the triumphant manifestation of British technological and administrative know-how.” The boy who killed the monster was a child who survived the Mutiny and grew up to build this marvel of a bridge. He brings technology and its concomitants of modernity and civilization to the colonial world, but, tellingly, this also has to be done with violence. He utterly obliterates the mugger, which symbolically provides closure to the Mutiny story while at the same time suggesting that there can never be a real resolution.

“Letting in the Jungle” is an intense, vengeful tale that belies its label of children’s literature. In it, Mowgli rages at the treatment of Messua on the part of the cruel and superstitious villagers, and comes to believe that the entire village must be eradicated. While he does not choose to murder them, he does raze their civilization to the ground. In this story, he also straddles both worlds, fitting into neither (critic Jane Hotchkiss writes that only Mowgli is able to “enter the blurred borderland”); he frightens the animals with his steely desire for vengeance, and he terrifies the villagers. Critic Sue Walsh sums this up: “For the Jungle and the village Mowgli arks a site and system of differentiation and division, but by his ambiguity he disturbs that system of oppositions between nature and culture, human and non-human, the organic and the social; and he offers the possibility of a democratizing challenge to the hierarchy of caste, through his construction if not by his actions.”

Mowgli is a liminal figure, the ideal representative, critic Don Randall writes, “of a youthful, vigorous British imperial project and a figure of Kipling’s ideal imperial subject, a subject capable of negotiating – not without hardship but with ultimate success –the antithetical demands of domination and assimilation.” Mowgli’s desire to destroy the village comes from these feelings of not truly belonging. He is clearly confused and pained at both his expulsion from the Pack and from the people of the village. He is consistently navigating his identities, and in doing so Kipling probes the various anxieties of colonizer and colonized.