I grew up on the Disney version of the Mowgli story… My first reaction to reading Kipling’s Jungle Book was disappointment. I was taken aback that the whole book was not about Mowgli. When I got into the story of the seal I was wondering where it was going. As I read on, I realized that the Jungle Book was a series of tales, the first three of which were Mowgli-related stories and that the others had to be appreciated on their own. There are also significant differences between Kipling and the Disney version which was inspired by Kipling but not a faithful rendition. Once all this is clarified, I found myself having a much more positive appreciation of Kipling’s book.
All of the tales are of talking animals, some of which can communicate with humans and some of which cannot… I have found one thread that links these stories. They all feature situations where at least one of the animals is focused on helping others, and either improves their situation or saves them from threatening situation and therefore demonstrate a high level respect, devotion, and caring. If there were not animals, one would even say of “humanity”. But metaphorically speaking, Kipling does speak of humanity, of qualities that deeply define what we are.
So, the wolves save Mowgli from the tiger, the panther and the bear with the snake’s help rescue Mowgli from the clutches of the monkey, the wolves help Mowgli save the world from the nasty tiger, the seal after many years of searching finds a safe beach for the other seals, the mongoose save the family that live in the house that harbors him from the king cobras, the elephants collaborate to create a good dancing area in the jungle, and the troop animals’ obedience in the final parade serves as a lesson in leadership. I might be simplifying a bit, but I like looking at it in this light.
Kipling, Rudyard, The Jungle Book, Gutenberg Project.