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You think you know The Jungle Book. You can hypnotize anyone with your rendition of "Trust in Me." You march with the best of them. You want to be just like Mowgli and you think have the bear necessities to do it.
Bad news: You're wrong. If you went into the jungle singing all those songs, you wouldn't get a warm bear hug—instead you would get eaten alive.
Before The Jungle Book was a hit Disney cartoon, it was written by Rudyard Kipling way back in 1894. It is a collection of short stories, featuring three tales about Mowgli, the boy of the jungle, as well as others about a young elephant wrangler, a rare white seal, and a noble mongoose. Each story is a fable of sorts, with a little moral, like believe in yourself, or subjugate the natives.
About that last one: Kipling was a white guy born in India and an advocate of British Imperialism. George Orwell (yes, that Orwell) even called Kipling a "prophet of British imperialism." But that didn't stop people from eating up The Jungle Book the same way the British Empire was eating up territories at the time.
Like salmon swimming upstream, the popular Jungle Book spawned a sequel, the cleverly named Second Jungle Book in 1895 as well as the Third Jungle Book written almost a hundred years later in 1992 by the cryogenically frozen and then thawed Rudyard Kipling. (Just kidding, it was written by someone else entirely.)
The Jungle Book has inspired countless film adaptations, and once Disney got its paws on it, they cranked out musicals, video games, and Happy Meal toys, which is amazing when you consider McDonald's didn't even exist in Kipling's lifetime.
And they just keep going. So if you've already seen the movie, the musical, bought the t-shirt, and played the video game, but you haven't read the book, grab a copy and see how the global Jungle Book fever got started.
Why should you care is a great question when it comes to The Jungle Book. Sure, it has merchandising out the wazoo, but the book itself is well over one hundred years old and more than a little racist (so is the Disney adaptation, if you have any social justice to spare).
If imperialism alone isn't enough to make you care, though, push it aside and consider this: Each story in The Jungle Book is about growing up different and trying to fit in. Kotick, the white seal, is the only white seal ever (plus his story barely fits into the jungle theme). Rikki-tikki is a mongoose, which is a naturally solitary figure, stuck trying to fit in among a human family. And Mowgli is the king of trying to find his place. Is he a man, or is he a wolf? Neither tribe wants him, and he has to find his own way in the world.
So if you haven't been subjugated by an empire and you're free to read whatever you want, instead of toiling away for the Man, pick up a copy of The Jungle Book and see how our protagonists mature.
The Kipling Society, which wants to know how well you know your Kipling (very well, thank you very much), has sections mainly for sailors and mainly for soldiers, but we're sure they wouldn't mind if you took a peek.
Forget About Your Worries and Your Strife
The 1967 Disney animated adaptation is just the bear necessities of Mowgli's story, but with some jazzy music thrown in for good measure.
In the Flesh
In the 1994 live-action adaptation, Mowgli is a little older, and more muscular, and more glistening than we feel comfortable with.
Need more songs? The Jungle Book musical is for you.
Black and White Jungle
Amongst the many adaptations, there's even Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book from 1942, which is the oldest of the bunch, and the one with the longest title.
Last First Edition
A rare first edition of The Jungle Book holds a lot of family history.
Kipling is, of course, one of the BBC's featured Historic Figures.
The Jungle Anime
In this exceptionally weird adaptation, Mowgli's parents are environmentalists who leave their child unsupervised and he wanders into the jungle but doesn't get eaten because… science?
Spinning a Tale
Disney's TaleSpin takes iconic characters like Baloo and Shere Khan and… has them fly planes? And we thought the last video was weird.
The Jungle Book—Live
The live-action adaptation starts a hunky Mowgli, Queen Cersei Lannister, John Cleese, and that guy from The Princess Bride. Instant classic.
Who needs Disney when you have the purr-fect Eartha Kitt on your recording of The Jungle Book?
Here's an audio recreation of Kipling interviewing Mark Twain, complete with crazy accents.
The Man, the Myth, the Legend
You know how sometimes you're listening to the radio, and then you see the person you've been listening to, and they look nothing like you expect? This isn't like that at all. Rudyard Kipling looks exactly like you'd expect him to—or so we're guessing, anyway.
Put a Ring on It
Here's what Indian elephants in captivity, like Kala Nag, looked like, except this one kind of looks happy.
The Cutest Book
This is one of the cutest covers ever. Don't you just want to squeeze Baloo until he bursts?
The Artsy Book
And this is one of the artsier interpretations of the text that you'd be proud to put on your shelf.