Now This Is the Law of the Jungle, As Old and As True As the Sky…
Most people are unaware that Rudyard Kipling wrote a sequel to his first highly successful anthology of stories, probably because most editions combine the two into one volume (much like the merging of Louisa Alcott’s Little Women and Good Wives). But for what it’s worth, the sequel (or second half) of The Jungle Book is better than its predecessor.
The first book contained seven stories and a collection of poems, only three of which concerned Kipling’s most famous literary creation: Mowgli, the feral child raised by wolves and learned in the ways of the Jungle Law. The second book comprises eight stories, five of which centre on the adventures of Mowgli and his animal companions, as well as three unconnected short stories and the usual collection of poems.
“The Miracle of Purun Bhagat” is a beautiful, haunting story about an Indian Prime Minister who gives up his career and lifestyle in order to become a holy man on the outskirts of a remote mountain village. This decision is not treated as a big deal within the narrative, for: “India is the one place in the world where a man can do as he pleases and nobody asks why; and the fact that Sir Purun Dass had resigned position, palace, and power, and taken up the begging bowl and ochre-coloured dress of a holy man, was considered nothing extraordinary.”
Once established within the small hillside shrine, Purun partakes in deep mediation in an attempt to grasp the fundamentals of life and the universe, but it’s not until the small village is threatened by a landslide that the long-awaited miracle of the title is performed.
“The Undertakers” is very much like the first Jungle Book‘s “Her Majesty’s Servants” in that the story is essentially the private conversation that takes place between several animals: in this case, a jackal, an adjutant bird, and a crocodile. Focusing on their bad reputations as predators/scavengers, and touching briefly on the Mutiny, this story (much like its predecessor in the first book) probably won’t be popular with young readers.
“Quiquern” is to the second Jungle Book what “The White Seal” was to the first: a story that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with either India or the jungle, and so ends up feeling completely random and out of place. However, that’s not to say that it’s bad. Concerning an Inuit family living in the Arctic Circle, Kipling provides a harrowing portrayal of the very real struggle for survival that goes on in the winter months, as well as describing the stark beauty and mystery of the northern lands. When the food supplies in his village run low, young Kotuko follows a vision of the spirit Quiquern in a last desperate attempt to find sustenance for his people. Why it’s part of an anthology called The Jungle Book is anyone’s guess, but it’s a haunting story told so vividly that you’re likely to feel cold whilst reading it.
But it’s the story of Mowgli that most readers will pick up the book for, and some of his best adventures are to be found here. They include “How Fear Came,” which can be easily likened to one of Aesop’s fables in the way Mowgli learns how fear was born amongst the animals of the jungle, as well as how the tiger got his stripes and the origins of the Water Truce that exists in times of drought, allowing animals of all kinds to drink without fear at the available waterholes.
This is followed by “Letting in the Jungle,” in which we see a much darker side to Mowgli when he instructs the jungle animals to destroy the man-village after the life of his human foster-mother is threatened, and “The King Ankus” in which he returns to the ruined city in the midst of the jungle and finds a hidden treasure guarded by a half-mad white cobra. He takes a jewelled elephant ankus with him, though is warned that it will bring only death — and sure enough, Mowgli witnesses the destruction that it generates when it is stolen by a group of hunters.
In “Red Dog” Mowgli allies himself with his old friend Kaa the python in order to rid the jungle of a pack of vicious wild dogs, and together they concoct a clever scheme involving a gorge full of beehives, a swift-flowing river, and the strength of the wolf pack. Finally, in the poignant “The Spring Running,” Mowgli finds himself struck by a strange melancholy that he can find no solution to — at least not until he revisits the man-village. Perhaps it’s finally time for him to return to the man-pack…?
In his other books, I’ve sometimes found Kipling’s prose a little dry and meandering; here it is deep and rich and beautiful. It’s a shame that the Disney film is usually considered the “quintessential” version of this tale, for there is so much to be found and valued in the original text. Many of the characters are profoundly different — Kaa is not a villain with hypnotic powers, but a wise-yet-uncanny friend — and concepts such as the Jungle Law and the Water Truce are explored in further depth. Of course, there will always be debate surrounding Kipling’s politics and views on race (the presence of white colonists in India is far more pronounced in the sequel) but as a collection of well-told tales, The Jungle Book (and its sequel) makes for quality reading.