The Jungle Book — Climbing the Stairs with a Librarian

This is the latest entry in “Climbing the Stairs,” a series of blog posts that explores and celebrates the classic titles painted on the O’Fallon Public Library’s staircase. Today we will be discussing “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling.

“The Jungle Book” is a collection of short stories written for children in which anthropomorphic animals (and a few humans) deal with themes ranging from freedom to living in a society to fostering. Each chapter ends with a poem that serves as an epigram or additional meaning for the story it follows.

The chapters of “The Jungle Book” are: Mowgli’s Brothers, Kaa’s Hunting, Tiger! Tiger!, The White Seal, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, Toomai of the Elephants, and Her Majesty’s Servants.


Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Of all the chapters, my personal favorite is Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. In that story, an English family in India befriends a mongoose named Rikki-Tikki-Tavi who has recently been flooded out of his home. He is curious and explores the entire house and garden.

While he’s exploring, he meets some weeping birds (Darzee and his wife) whose eggs have just been consumed by a snake. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi confronts the snake, Nag, and meets its mate, Nagaina.

Nag and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, 1894

After Rikki-Tikki-Tavi saves the son of the English family from a different poisonous snake (not Nag or Nagaina) in their yard, the family makes quite a fuss over him.

The two main villains in the story then decide to attack the family by invading the house through the bathroom, a plan which Rikki-Tikki-Tavi thwarts. He ends up killing both of the snakes and destroying their eggs as well so the family will be safe in the future.

The chapter ends with Darzee’s song for Rikki-Tikki-Tavi:

Darzee’s Chaunt (Chant)
Singer and tailor am I —
Doubled the joys that I know —
Proud of my lilt through the sky,
Proud of the house that I sew —
Over and under, so weave I my music — so weave I the
house that I sew.

Sing to your fledglings again,
Mother, oh lift up your head!
Evil that plagued us is slain,
Death in the garden lies dead.
Terror that hid in the roses is impotent — flung on the
dung-hill and dead!

Mongoose

Who hath delivered us, who?
Tell me his nest and his name.
Rikki, the valiant, the true,
Tikki, with eyeballs of flame,
Rik-tikki-tikki, the ivory-fanged, the hunger with eye-
balls of flame.

Give him the Thanks of the birds,
Bowing with tail-feathers spread!
Praise him with nightingale-words —
Nay, I will praise him instead.
Hear! I will sing you the praise of the bottle-tailed
Rikki, with eyeballs of red!

(Here Rikki-tikki interrupted, and the rest of the song is lost.)


More about Rudyard Kipling

Published in 1894, “The Jungle Book” was one of the first pieces of literature read widely by children. The stories were first released in newspapers and magazines as a series so children from across the country read the stories at the same time.

Kipling admitted some of the material from the stories were from tales he had heard during his childhood. He wrote: “I am afraid that all that code in its outlines has been manufactured to meet ‘the necessities of the case’: though a little of it is bodily taken from (Southern) Esquimaux rules for the division of spoils. In fact, it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen.”

Despite his re-use of the stories and his imperialist leanings, Kipling’s work remains incredibly popular. His “Jungle Book” stories have been published in 500 different editions and translated into 36 different languages. He was recognized for his masterful storytelling and remains the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature.


Reader’s Advisory

If you like “The Jungle Book,” here are some more stories you may enjoy.

The Nightingale by Hans Christian Anderson. Though the emperor banishes the nightingale in preference for a jeweled mechanical imitation, the little bird remains faithful and returns years later when the emperor is near death and no one else can help him.

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. While running away from home and an unwanted marriage, a thirteen-year-old Eskimo girl becomes lost on the North Slope of Alaska and is befriended by a wolf pack.

The Annotated Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. For more than a century, The Wind in the Willows and its endearing protagonists—Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and, of course, the incorrigible Toad—have enchanted children of all ages. Whether the four friends are setting forth on an exciting adventure, engaging in a comic caper, or simply relaxing by the River Thames, their stories will surprise and captivate you.

The World of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. The world of Pooh is a world of enchantment. It is a world where Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga and the others share unforgettable adventures with Christopher Robin.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s