The Jungle Books (Signet Classics)

The Jungle Books - Rudyard Kipling, Alev Lytle Croutier I didn't expect to love this book as much as I did. Well, as much as I loved a good half of it. This isn't a novel, but a collection of 15 stories. Eight of them do involve Mowgli, a young Indian boy orphaned by the evil tiger Shere Khan, raised by wolves and who can count as friends and protectors Bagheera the black panther, Baloo the bear and Kaa the rock python. I've actually never seen the famous Disney film made from those stories, but that might have helped make the reading experience all the more fresh and delightful. What particularly struck me was the close observation of nature and animals evident right from the first sentence. If I were rating the Mowgli stories alone, I'd rank this book a five. But there are seven other stories, and these I felt more mixed about. I did love "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" about a brave mongoose versus cobras every bit as much as the Mowgli stories. I really liked two stories of the arctic, "The White Seal" about an Alaskan seal trying to find a sanctuary from men seeking to kill seals for fur and "Quiquern" about Canadian Inuits and their dogs searching for food. I liked "The Miracle of Purun Bhagat" and thought "Toomai of the Elephants" Okay. But I didn't like "The Undertakers" at all and hated "Her Majesty's Servants." One of the reasons I didn't expect to like Kipling much at all is his reputation as an imperialist and racist. He's notoriously the author of the poem "The White Man's Burden." (And just because you're the first doesn't mean you're the second. Arthur Conan Doyle struck me as uncritical of imperialism but it was clear from his stories he was no racist--even believed in racial intermarriage. Kipling's views are quite different judging from the introduction to the edition I read.) Despite Kipling's politics though I found reading this book there were good reasons why Indian authors such as Arundhati Roy, V.S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie find Kipling impressive and even influential. Kipling can be a wonderful storyteller. Rushdie has said Kipling's writing has "the power simultaneously to infuriate and to entrance." Mostly I was entranced. But a few times, and especially in "Her Majesty's Servants," I thought the dark side of Kipling, and his unapologetic imperialism and certainty everyone had their place and should obediently stay in it, was at its worst.