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Book Review - The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book

I just read The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book (they were both collected into a single volume). The Jungle Book was first published as a book in 1894, while the short stories it contains were originally published in magazines from 1893 to 1894. The stories in The Second Jungle Book were also first published in magazines, from 1894 to 1895, with the book first being published in 1895. Both were written by Rudyard Kipling.

For anyone unfamiliar with the stories, they largely center around the inhabitants of an Indian jungle, and then largely around Mowgli, the "man-cub" raised by wolves. However, not all of the stories were about the jungle, as the title would imply. For example, there was the tale of Kotick, the white seal of the arctic, and that of Kotuko, the Inuit and his sled dog. The non-human characters were anthropomorphized to a degree - they could speak to each other (and to Mowgli), they were more intelligent than in real life, and there was a bit more organization and "Law" than really exists, but to a large degree, the animals in the book behaved like they really would in the wild.

I really enjoyed reading this book. You may think that of course I would, because it's a classic, and there's a reason why books become classics - but that's not always the case. Consider that a few months ago, I posted my review of Gulliver's Travels, and I wasn't too fond of that book. And I also recently read Peter Pan (I don't post reviews for all the books I read), and although it was enjoyable to read, I was a little disappointed. Just being a classic doesn't guarantee that everybody will like that book. But with The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, I can definitely see why they've been popular for so long.

The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book are usually marketed as a children's books, which they are. But the stories in them, presented as fables, are not the tepid affairs that some Amazon reviewers seem to think children's stories should be. They have some violence, characters are killed, some characters are mean and intolerant, but non of it is overdone. Those are issues that, presented properly, children can and probably should deal with. Though, as far as being children's books, according to the Wikipedia entry, at least some "readers have interpreted the work as allegories of the politics and society of the time." As any book, The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book do reveal something of the mindset of the time when they were written. Kipling was a British man living in Imperial India, and the racism of the time does surface in some parts of the books.

I'll admit, I've always been fascinated with the characters from The Jungle Book thanks to a Disney cartoon called TaleSpin. TaleSpin was a 1930s era aviation fantasy - a hero that flew a flying boat, an island bar that you could only get to by plane, villains that had a flying base always on the move, air races, experimental airplanes... You can see why a kid like me would have liked it. Anyway, the characters from TaleSpin were loosely based on the characters from Disney's version of The Jungle Book, which themselves were only loosely based on the characters from Kipling's The Jungle Book. So, in the end, the TaleSpin characters that initially got me intrigued with the The Jungle Book really didn't share any more than names with the originals. But it did make it a bit hard to read Baloo's lines and not hear the voice from the cartoon.

One note on the particular edition of the book that I read - it's part of a series called "Unabridged Classics" put out by Sterling Publishers. All of the books in the series are affordable, hardcover editions of stories that have survived the test of time (the edition of Gulliver's Travels that I read was part of this same series). The publishers have added a handful of footnotes to explain things that might be lost on the modern reader, as well as a series of questions at the end of the book to stimulate thought or discussions (the end of book questions are targeted to a young audience). You could read all the stories in the series free on Project Gutenberg, but if you're looking for a good hard copy to put in a home library, this series is a good choice.

Speaking of Project Gutenberg, here are the relevant links for these books:
The Jungle Book
The Second Jungle Book


Interesting :)
If you want, I have an article about Talespin and the Jungle book on my site.

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