Places: The Jungle Books

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: The Jungle Book, 1894; The Second Jungle Book, 1895

Type of work: Short fiction

Type of plot: Fables

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*India

*India. Jungle Books, TheBecause the locations given for Mowgli’s world are vague, except for the reference to India’s Waingunga River, the forest in which Mowgli lives is chiefly symbolic of a world in which the laws of the jungle prevail, much as legal systems prevail in civilization. Mowgli’s jungle is made up of several settings, the first being the wolf cave in which he is sheltered as an infant and young boy by Father and Mother Wolf.

Several times Mowgli encounters human villages, usually as they relate to a woman named Messua who believes that Mowgli is her son who was taken from her years before. Through one season, Mowgli lives in the village and learns of the ways of humankind; however, he is run off when he unites the animals to trample Shere Khan the tiger. The villagers suspect that Mowgli is a demon possessed because he knows how to talk with the animals who helped raise him.

Later, Mowgli returns to this same village to rescue Messua and her husband, who are being prepared for execution because their son Mowgli lives as a brother to the animals. This time Mowgli enlists the help of his jungle friends to help his human parents escape and, especially with the help of the chief elephant Hathi and his three sons, destroys the village without killing the people. For many years, Mowgli is convinced that villages are more dangerous places to live than the jungle, where he understands the laws of the beasts. Later, when Mowgli is seventeen, he finds Messua in another village and goes to live with her as he comes to accept his place among people.

Council Rock

Council Rock. Place in the jungle where the wolves and others of the jungle meet to make important decisions. At this location the infant man cub, named Mowgli, or “Frog,” is spared from the wrath of Shere Khan the tiger by the help of Baloo the bear and Bagheera the black panther. Later, at this location, Mowgli defends the wolf pack’s aging leader, Akela, by spreading fire, or the Red Flower, to frighten away the younger wolves of the Seeonee Pack, who seek Akela’s and Mowgli’s deaths. Years later, when Mowgli is grown, he finally kills his sworn enemy, Shere Khan, and hangs his hide on the Council Rock. So the Council Rock is a symbol of leadership and power, where Mowgli finally wins a good name for himself.

Cold Lairs

Cold Lairs. Lost city that Mowgli visits several times, once when the monkey people take him captive there, and again when he explores the treasures stored in this forgotten place. A place of ruined houses and temples, Cold Lairs is a reminder of death. A white cobra guards the treasure, and when Mowgli takes a jeweled and thorn-pointed ankus into the jungle, he finds six men willing to kill one another for it before he returns it to Cold Lairs. The role of greed among men causes Mowgli to reject the gold coins and other treasures of this lost city. By the law of the jungle, Mowgli learns to live free of greed.

Other places

Other places. Other stories in this collection are set in a variety of places, such as St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea, Devon Island above Lancaster Sound in the Northwest Territories of Canada, and near a village in the Himalayan Mountains beyond Mutteeanee Pass. In each of these settings, whether Kipling is discussing white seals fighting for survival or men seeking the meaning of their lives, their isolation helps the reader focus on the essentials of life. Just as The Jungle Books as a whole focus on the law of the jungle, so the stories in other settings also focus on the principles of dignity, honesty, and valor in challenging circumstances.

BibliographyBlount, Margaret. Animal Land: The Creatures of Children’s Fiction. New York: William Morrow, 1975. Analyses the Mowgli stories as variants on the school story. Discusses the inversion of moral order between the animal and human worlds.Frey, Charles, and John Griffith. The Literary Heritage of Childhood: An Appraisal of Children’s Classics in the Western Tradition.Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987. Analyzes Mowgli as a character situated between two cultures, unable to fit into either fully, and connects Mowgli’s situation to Kipling’s position in regard to Indian and English society.McBratney, John. “Imperial Subjects, Imperial Space in Kipling’s Jungle Book.” Victorian Studies 35, No. 3 (Spring, 1992): 277-293. Detailed examination of Mowgli stories in relation to contemporary categories of race and ethnicity. Argues that the stories are an attempt to create in fiction a society in which distinctions of caste and race do not operate. Kipling is a “quiet rebel” against prevailing racial ideas.McClure, John A. Kipling and Conrad: The Colonial Fiction. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981. Examines The Jungle Books in relation to the politics of imperialism. Mowgli stories offer Kipling’s conception of the ideal education for imperial rule. The beast fable structure obscures the flaws in his concept.Murray, John. “The Law of The Jungle Books.” Children’s Literature 20 (1992): 1-14. Provides a good summary of earlier writings on Kipling’s concept of law and argues that this concept must be understood in the context of group survival against inimical forces, rather than as natural or ethical law.
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