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Mowgli

 

Mowgli by John Lockwood Kipling
(father of Rudyard Kipling), 1895

Mowgli is a fictional character who originally appeared in Rudyard Kipling's short story "In the Rukh", which was collected in Many Inventions (1893).

Mowgli then went on to become the most prominent and memorable character in his fantasies, The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book (1894-1895), which also featured non-Mowgli stories.

The Mowgli stories alone were first collected in The Works of Rudyard Kipling Volume VII: The Jungle Book (1907), and subsequently in All the Mowgli Stories (1933).

In the Rukh describes how Gisborne, an English forest ranger in India at the time of the British Raj, discovers a young man named Mowgli, who has extraordinary skill at hunting and tracking, and asks him to join the forestry service. Later Gisborne learns the reason for Mowgli's almost superhuman talents: he was raised by wild animals in the jungle.

Kipling then proceeded write the stories of Mowgli's childhood in detail. Lost by his parents in the Indian jungle, a human baby is adopted by Mother and Father Wolf, who call him "Mowgli the Frog" because of his furlessness. Shere Khan the tiger demands that they give him the baby but the wolves refuse. Mowgli grows up with and runs with the pack, hunting with his brother wolves. Bagheera (the panther) befriends Mowgli, partly because Mowgli, being a "Man", has the power of dominion over beasts: Bagheera cannot withstand Mowgli's gaze. Baloo the bear, teacher of wolves, has the thankless task of educating Mowgli in The Law of the Jungle[?].

Mowgli has many adventures among the talking animals in his jungle paradise, assuming ever-increasing mastery as he approaches manhood. Shere Khan regards Mowgli as fair game, but eventually Mowgli finds the one weapon he can use against the tiger - fire. After driving off Shere Khan, Mowgli returns to the human village where he is adopted by a couple who believe he is their own long-lost son. (In fact we never find out if this is true.)

While herding buffalo for the village Mowgli learns that the tiger is still planning to kill him, so with the aid of two wolves he traps Shere Khan in a ravine, where the buffalo trample him. Seeing this, the vilagers persecute Mowgli and his adopted parents as witches. Mowgli runs back to the jungle but soon learns that the villagers are planning to kill his adoptive mother and father, so he rescues them and sends elephants and buffalo to trample the village to the ground. In later stories he finds and then discards an ancient treasure, not realising that men will kill to own it; and with the aid of Kaa the python he leads the wolves in a war against the dhole (red dogs).

Finally, Mowgli stumbles across the village where his human mother is now living, which forces him to come to terms with his humanity and decide whether to rejoin his fellow humans.

Kipling also adapted the Mowgli stories for The Jungle Play in 1899, but the play was never produced on stage and the manuscript was lost for almost a century. It was finally published in book form in 2000.

Influences upon other works

Only five years after the first publication of The Jungle Book, E. Nesbit[?]'s The Wouldbegoods (1899) included a passage in which some children act out a scene from the book.

Mowgli has been cited as a major influence on Edgar Rice Burroughs' character Tarzan, although the Mowgli stories are arguably better written. Mowgli was also a probable influence on at least two other "wild boy" characters; see Feral Children in Mythology and Fiction.

Mowgli stories by other writers

The Third Jungle Book (1992) by Pamela Jekel is a collection of new Mowgli stories in a clever pastiche of Kipling's style.

Hunting Mowgli (2001) by Maxim Antinori is a very short novel which describe's a fateful meeting between Mowgli and a human hunter. Although marketed as a children's book it is really a dark psychological drama, and ends with the violent death of a major character.

Adaptations

Mowgli has been portrayed many times on film, notably by Sabu[?] in Alexander Korda's Jungle Book (1942), Jason Scott Lee[?] in Disney's live-action version (1994) and Jamie Williams in The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo (1997). There has also been a Japanese anime Jungle Book series (see The Jungle Book for details) and a US live-action TV show, The Adventures of Mowgli. However, none of these adaptations is especially true to the spirit of Kipling's original. Chuck Jones's 1977 animated TV short Mowgli's Brothers, adapting the first story in The Jungle Book, is the only adaptation that sticks to the original plot and dialogue.

The best known of all portrayals of Mowgli is the musical version in Disney's Jungle Book (1967) and Jungle Book 2 (2003). Disney's brightly-lit child-friendly jungle is a whole world away from the dark, dangerous and often violent jungle inhabited by Kipling's noble savage, but the popularity of the Disney version has overshadowed the original stories.

There have also been several comic book adaptations of the Mowgli stories. Between 1953 and 1955 Dell Comics featured Mowgli in three issues (#487, #582 and #620). P. Craig Russell[?]'s Jungle Book Stories (1997) collects three stories, actually adapted from The Second Jungle Book, which originally appeared between 1985 and 1996.

There was also a BBC radio adaptation in 1994, starring actress Nisha K. Nayar ?spelling as Mowgli, Freddie Jones as Baloo and Eartha Kitt[?] as Kaa.

According to Kipling the "Mow" of Mowgli should rhyme with "cow", but in the film and TV versions it is almost always pronounced to rhyme with "go"."

All of the film and comic book adaptaions depict Mowgli wearing a loincloth or other one-piece garment, but in the original stories, at least while he is living apart from humanity, he is naked.

See Also: Works of Rudyard Kipling

Feral children in mythology and fiction

External Link: The Jungle Book Collection: a website demonstrating the variety of merchandise related to the book and film versions of The Jungle Books (http://www.junglebook-collection.nl/)



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