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review 2014-05-01 20:47
Multi-layered and fun
The Jungle Books - Rudyard Kipling,Daniel Karlin

Last time I read The Jungle Book was years ago, to my son, when he was a preschooler. I didn’t remember much before I started this read. It might be that I only read him selective stories, because my memory of the stories was sketchy. Mowgli – aye, all of them, even the ones included in the other Jungle book. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi – yes, of course. But I don’t remember ever reading The White Seal or a couple other stories, so my impression of them is fresh.

The entire book is simplistic on the surface: children stories mostly set in India, where animals assume human characteristics. Anthropomorphism is not a new literary device. It was first employed by Aesop, but Kipling wields it with skills unsurpassed by any writer who came after him. His stories are philosophical and many-layered – a layer for any age or point of view, which is a definition of classic literature. Many stories, despite their artless beauty, are focused on a conflict between a person and a society.     

Mowgli searches for his true identity but doesn’t find it. He belongs to two tribes – the jungle and the humans – but is fully accepted by neither. 

The white seal Kotick in his eponymous, Russian-flavored tale searches for a better, safer home for his people, but even when he finds it, he has to fight his conservative-thinking kin, to force them to change. Like Mowgli, Kotick doesn’t belong among his peers. He is a loner and a leader. The children see him as a noble hero, but I must ask: is Koitick a hero or a dictator? Is there a difference? Was it a coincidence that the story is infused with Russian influence? In my opinion, this story is the most profound in the collection. Incidentally, it’s the only one set outside of India.    

The elephant story is a story of exploitation. English exploit Indians. People exploit elephants. Nobody feels even a tad sorry, and everyone feels entitled. Although the esthetics and the metaphors are fantastic, the morals are…questionable.  

The last story, Her Majesty’s Servants, is the most ‘imperialistic’ of all and surprisingly stark for a children story. It lists all the ways an animal could fight for the British army – with pride! It spoiled the taste of the entire book for me. I don’t think this story belongs in this collection. Or maybe it does, which makes me even sadder.   

The only undisputed hero in the book was Rikki, the mongoose. His goal is to keep his adapted family safe, and he risks his life to achieve that goal. His story is light-hearted, very optimistic, and his bravery is as simple as his goal. His mental process caused me to smile.

 

It is the hardest thing in the world to frighten a mongoose, because he is eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity.  

 

The political views of the author are on display in this book, perhaps unintentionally, and while I disagree with them, I have to admit that all the stories were written by a master of the craft. I happened to read this book right after some mediocre indie novel, and the comparison – oh, boy! Like a pebble and a diamond. I luxuriated in the clean, sparkling water of Kipling’s language. It flowed and washed away the sticky residue left by bad writing.

Most historical writers I’ve ever read tend to rhapsodize, but not Kipling. He was trained and worked as a journalist, and it shows. Not an extraneous word in the entire book. What’s even more interesting: Kipling’s expressive, almost ‘visual’ narration was accomplished with very few adjectives. The book could serve as a writing teacher’s example of what could be achieved with verbs and nouns.

Sarcasm is another instrument in Kipling’s arsenal. The writer is sensitivity to human follies. He doesn’t condemn openly but he mocks mercifully. In the Mowgli’s stories, the comparison of monkeys and humans is uncanny and spot on.

 

No sooner had he walked to the city wall than the monkeys pulled him back, telling him that he didn’t know how happy he was, and pinching him to make him grateful.

‘We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the Jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true,’ they shouted. [underlining – mine]

 

Recognizing anyone, my friends? Maybe Kipling was not as ‘imperialist’ as his critics say. Or maybe his honesty overrode his political convictions. It happens with great writers.  

 

A mandatory read for everyone.

 

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review 2014-05-01 17:42
Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1994), directed by Stephen Sommers
Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book -

Surviving an adaptation that has virtually nothing to do with Kipling's book and unsynched dialogue (I had only the YouTube version available), Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book comes out smiling. It's a pleasant and amusing adventure about a boy who is lost to his parents in the Indian jungle and is raised by wolves. Which sounds quite a lot like Kipling's Mowgli stories, but really isn't. Before being lost, 5-year-old Mowgli discovers that he has a strong connection with a little girl in the camp. Later, as adults, Mowgli and the girl, Kitty, meet again, and of course from that moment on, as the opening narration tells us, this becomes a love story. Albeit one with complications. Kitty is promised to another, a soldier under her father's command, and Mowgli possesses the location of a lost city filled with a treasure certain unsavory people want for their own. Love is never easy.

As in the book, Mowgli has animal friends: the wolves, naturally, Baloo the Bear, and Bagheera the Panther. He can communicate with them, too, though not in any language that could be written down. The movie -- thankfully -- gives their communication a more naturalistic turn, in which sound and movement and posture substitute for words. The book's other animals are modified to suit this very different story. Shere Khan, the tiger, for instance, isn't the lame eater of cattle Kipling described, but a fearsome presence in the depths of the jungle, the embodiment of wildness under control, the very law of the jungle itself.

And all of this is just fine because, again, the story is so different. It really gets going when Mowgli meets Kitty as an adult and follows her back to the town. He is captured by Kitty's jealous suitor and the people who want to find the lost city, but rescued by Kitty and a doctor friend (played wonderfully by John Cleese) who want to civilize him.

As Mowgli, Jason Scott Lee, while he overdoes the wide-eyed routine, is really quite good. Physically, despite the absence of any scars or blemishes on his body, he looks like a young man capable of surviving in the jungle. Temperamentally, he is both innocent and impulsive, yet altogether too knowing when he finds himself in competition with others (the boyfriend's jealousy, the treasure hunters' greed). Lena Headey is, if I may say so, a pretty Kitty who proves her worth not by fighting but by her good nature and sophistication.

Roger Ebert, in his review, noted the incongruity of Kipling's name in the title, but then went on to make you wonder if he was referring more to the Disney picture-book than Kipling's work, when he said, "The sweet innocence of Kipling's fables about a boy who learns to live among the animals is replaced here by an 'Indiana Jones' clone, an action thriller that Kipling would have viewed with astonishment." Having Mowgli's final actions toward Shere Khan referred to as "sweet innocence" is something I personally view with astonishment. But I agree that the worst aspect of the movie is the jungle city and its contrived defense mechanism.

This is a minor criticism, however. The Jungle Book is a good-hearted, entertaining movie. An enjoyable throwback of sorts: a children's story about adults.

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review 2014-05-01 15:44
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling

If any of the stories in this book doesn't fit, it is "Toomai of the Elephants." Toomai is a young boy who is told that to be an elephant-catcher, he must first see the fabled "elephant dance." It's a joke among the old hands, who understand the unstated punchline: Toomai will never be an elephant-catcher. Little do they know.

 

At first glance -- it's about elephants who live in the jungle -- this story seems tailor made for The Jungle Book. Whereas "The White Seal" seems as out of place as its hero's white fur. What has a story about a seal got to do with the jungle, after all? Just this: unlike "Toomai," "The White Seal" deals with the law of the jungle, which, as these stories define it, is equal parts responsibility and survival. Toomai has an adventure; Kotick, the seal, is trying to save his species from slaughter and extinction.

 

Now, "Toomai" has a sleek and pretty coat and it moves gracefully, but the other stories have all that and something else: fangs. Not that these are horror stories by any means, though parts of them are scary, but I think they remain classics today because Kipling -- talking animals notwithstanding -- is guilty only of romanticizing life in the jungle; he doesn't sugarcoat it.

 

Children's stories they may be, but for a different breed of children. I honestly don't know if any child of today who embraced the modern trend of fairness and equality and non-violence and the idea that games and competitions are not about winning but rather the experience could relate to these tales. The "games" in these stories are all about winning. Winning, they say, is better. Much better.

 

Kotick begins his epic quest to find a safe place for all the seals when, as a young lad, he follows the men who are driving hundreds of his kind to the killing ground, where they are clubbed and skinned and he can no longer even recognize his friends. In another story, "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," a mongoose is pitted against a couple of cobras, and it's either them or him; there can be no truce, no understanding between them that they each have a right to live.

 

And then, of course, there are the three Mowgli stories. Mowgli is an Indian boy who, as a toddler, wanders into the den of a wolf pair (just ahead of the hungry jaws of a tiger named Shere Khan), and the wolves decide to raise him as one of their own. As a man-wolf, Mowgli is between worlds, fitting completely into neither; in the end, he is driven out of both. In between, he is kidnapped by monkeys who are likely to kill him at any moment. To save him...well, a lot of monkeys will have to die.

 

I love this stuff. No, it's not the violence itself, but that the violence serves a larger purpose. What is life, without death? Death, in its dark and frightening way, illuminates life. Ultimately, that is what Kipling is doing here, setting ablaze the lives of his characters -- from within, so that they burn themselves deeply into our memories. They are charming, but also ruthless; some are intelligent, others are stupid or simple or easily bored. But they all have a mission, a reason to live.

 

This is true even of the collection's most humorous story, "Servants of the Queen," in which a soldier who understands the languages of domesticated animals eavesdrops on a conversation between the animals of his camp. Bulls, an elephant, a camel, a horse, a mule -- they all have their own part to play in the wars of men. And if some phlegmatically accept death, others do not.

 

Games, I think, are more fun when they have rules and limits, and the same is true for fiction. Certainly these stories are very enjoyable. They're exciting and funny and romantic, but it's the rules and limits that give them an enduring meaning. Kipling's Jungle Law isn't of the "every man for himself" variety. What is important to his creatures, including Mowgli, is community, honor, justice; peace and freedom. Worthy ideals -- that come at a price. Both Kotick and Rikki-Tikki take a beating in pursuit of their goals, and Mowgli must give up a world he loves.

 

Not all the animals share these lofty ideals, however. Shere Khan doesn't. All he cares about is finally having the meal he was denied when Mowgli slipped into the wolf's den. But, then, just wait and see what happens to him.

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review 2014-05-01 10:57
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

The next time someone starts going on about an author "telling" instead of "showing", I'm going to direct them to Rudyard Kipling. There's a reason why it's called telling a story and Kipling does an excellent job of telling us about each of the most important characters that populate the jungle in this wonderful classic story.

 

It is told in the tone of an old fairytale with almost an Old English feel, and the events are surprisingly close to the Disney version. I understand now why the other animals in the jungle stayed away from the monkeys.

 

The characters are very distinctive and well-developed. I have new respect for Baloo, who was depicted as a buffoon by Disney. The biggest deviation was Kaa the snake who co-operated with the other creatures more than was suggested in the animated film.

While I wasn't overly impressed with the poetry in the song lyrics that were interspersed with many of the chapters, the prose was very engaging and I felt myself drawn into the world of the animals. The primary difference from the animated film version is that Mowgli has much more interaction with humans in the later part of the story concerning him, then his story is followed by other tales of animals, starting with The White Seal. These tales include Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a tale of a mongoose which has also been animated.

 

I felt that Kipling has a unique voice that made the reader feel the culture of India where most of the tales take place, although from the animals' point of view. I'm glad that I've read this classic book now and feel that the journey was very enriching.

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review 2014-05-01 10:47
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling

GPS Blog Read #2: Below are my ratings, under that an explanation on why I rated them as I did. Overall, there was just too much boredom or hate and not enough escapism.

 

Mowgli's Brothers 2 stars
Kaa's Hunting 3.5 stars
Tiger! Tiger! 2.5 stars
The White Seal 0 stars
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi 4 stars
Toomai of the Elephants 3 stars
Her Majesty's Servants 2.5 stars
The Jungle Book Movie 1 star

 

Mowgli's Brothers

I found the writing to be pretty terrible. I didn't feel any connection to the characters, the tale was disjointed and the ending was meh. I guess this is what happens when you skip all the middle and just highlight the important events. I couldn't bring myself to care or look closer at the societal themes. I tried reading aloud, and then even way out loud... nothing helped to improve this one. 2 stars for a decent introduction to the setting and cast of characters.

 

Kaa's Hunting

The writing and characterisation were better and the plot flowed. I felt a twitching of emotion when Baloo was panicking and I thought it was amusing that he felt guilty for the abusive tactics he used to teach Mowgli. Bagheera's love for Mowgli shown when he asks for assistance was also touching. I'm glad Mowgli's talents were demonstrated; that he's quick to think on how best to use the knowledge Baloo taught him even if at this stage in his life he isn't as grateful as he should be. I loved Kaa and his sneaky snake hypnotising dance. As for the bad guys, I could go into detail about what the monkey people represent but I think I'll spare everyone the rant and keep it to the group discussion. Two quotes, first from Baloo's perspective as part of the Jungle People and the second is from the monkeys perspective or the Monkey People:

 

"The Jungle People put them (the Monkey People) out of their mouths and out of their minds. They (the Monkey People) are very many, evil, dirty, shameless, and they desire, if they have any fixed desire, to be noticed by the Jungle People. But we do not notice them even when they throw nuts and filth on our heads."

 

"We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true," they shouted.

 

Tiger! Tiger!

The writing was okay, it became long-winded and boring at parts. Grown up (teenage?) Mowgli is arrogant and annoying. The humans are portrayed as simple and greedy, similar to the monkeys. This story just made me feel anger. Nope, didn't like it. Mowgli's Song pretty much sums it up...

"Ahae! My heart is heavy with the things that I do not understand."

The White Seal

"Scoochnie! Ochen scoochnie!" ("I'm lonesome, very lonesome!")

LMFAO at this translation. More like.... very boring! And depressing! I don't even... this story was probably the worst of them all. I just felt disgusted by the end. BLEH!

 

I met my mates in the morning, a broken, scattered band. Men shoot us in the water and club us on the land; Men drive us to the Salt House like silly sheep and tame, And still we sing Lukannon—before the sealers came.

 

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

The best story out of the bunch. Not much to say on it except that it was a fun ride through the life of the mighty mongoose.

 

Toomai of the Elephants

Eh, this started off slow and then it was okay and then boring. After reading all the animal tales, a story that followed a human wasn't all that captivating.

 

Her Majesty's Servants

This story had animals conversing that belonged to a military camp... mules, horses, camels, etc. Didn't really hold my interest.

 

Jungle Book Movie - Live Action (1994)

For a movie that has so many known actors, this movie sucked. The acting was horrible, the script was horrible. It's nearing 3am and this would have just been a rant anyway.... so yeah, if you value your time, just skip this movie.

 

Of course, I loved the Jungle Book record around age 6 and probably watched the Disney movie once or twice. So, listen to this after reading the book if you feel as drained from it as I did. :P

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