To appreciate Kipling, forget any Disney-fied versions. His animals don't sing goofy songs, they aren't weird colors, and they don't make stupid jokes. They roar, fight, shed blood, die, and sometimes even the bravest cower in fear. The Jungle Books are pure excitement and adventure, and Kipling's genius raises them from mere talking animal stories to universal myths.
The names are recognizable: Mowgli, Little Frog, the man-cub; Bagheera the panther, soft and hard, dangerous as night; Akela, the Lone Wolf; Shere Khan the tiger, who's meanness is matched only by his cowardice; Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, mongoose of mongooses, hero to humans; Baloo, strong and wise, lazy and true. They do not speak; they utter, and the whole jungle takes heed.
These are stories every child should read: violent but not bloodthirsty, scary but not horrific, dark but not without light. Rudyard Kipling (think about that name, and weep that such monikers are no more) found something deep and primal in the human soul and expressed it through the adventures of animals. This isn't Aesop—there is an inherent morality to these stories, but actions in the jungle are better proof of good or evil than mere pithy phrases.
The Jungle Books are also stories every adult should read, even if you read them as a child. Kipling's prose is brilliant because it appeals to young and old readers without distinction. His words are sinuous and flexible, like he's dragging a jungle vine out of the page and putting it in your lap. Or maybe it's a jungle snake, more dangerous than it looks twisted on itself in long limp ropes of gripping flesh. Either way it's dangerous, the kind of dangerous truly great stories always are.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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