Did you know there was a second Jungle Book? No, nor did I. I came across it by accident, rummaging around in my Kindle one sleepless night. If you ever find yourself purchasing a ‘Jungle Book’ for a young friend or relative I recommend that you get one which includes this. There are several editions which include both books and have nice covers and illustrations.
It is difficult to establish its length, oddly. Some editions give it as 80pp, some over 200pp. I found it to be more like 200pp. The differences may be because of the ballad poems interspersing the prose. I do love me some Kipling, but am less fond of the ballads. However, sometimes the ballads have insights the stories do not. No, on reflection, one shouldn’t omit the ballads.
In The Second Jungle Book Mowgli is now 17, a formidable opponent in battle and a cunning strategist. In wisdom he vacillates between caring for the jungle creatures who look to him for protection, and hot-headedness.
The stories come to an end for good when Mowgli realises Bagheera and Baloo are the only two of his original jungle friends still living, and they are very old. Only Kaa, the ancient python, remains unchanged. When the Spring Running comes once more, and all the jungle creatures seek a mate, Mowgli calls but nobody answers. He realises he must shed his jungle skin, return to the man-villages, and start a new chapter of his life. Mowgli the man would be a fascinating character. I might one day write a story about Mowgli Full Grown. I remember with great affection a story a student of mine once wrote about Kim full grown. Kipling’s work is fertile ground in which to plant one’s own seeds.
The stories are strong. And all the better for being less well-known than those in the first Jungle Book. The names of the animals are the Hindustani words for them. The respectful ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ way of speaking denotes respect, and feels rather ingenuous than archaic.
There is a bonus hidden in the middle of these jungle stories. ‘Quiquern’ (and its two ballad poems) is a long story about a young Inuit, his family, clan, and dogs during a particularly difficult winter. The tale is set around Navy Board Inlet, which is about as close to the North Pole as you can get and scratch a chilly living. It is a delight about this strange way of life, the weather, and the spirits of the ice. The page-turning quality is first rate.
Last year I read Kipling’s Captains Courageous which is set on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland at the turn into the twentieth century. The detail of that book is so good that one feels Kipling must have known intimately the people, ships, and sea of which he was writing: that he had sailed with them. Actually, he relied on one Dr James Conland for the ‘detail’: Kipling ‘just’ wrote the story. It goes to show what a cracking storyteller he was, for one believes absolutely that the writer was there, fishing on the Grand Banks (I reviewed it, look in the index on my blog, judimoore.wordpress.com or here on Amazon). To write ‘Quiquern’ did he spend time with the Inuit? Or did he find an exiled Inuit to fill in the local colour with which the story abounds? He is one of the first ‘westerners’ to give them their proper title.
Are these stories for children? Bloody death turns up in, I think, all of them. Do not imagine that anthropomorphising animals by putting words in their mouths is twee.
If your last reading of ‘The Jungle Book’ isn’t recent, you may find it helpful to reread that for the characters, before embarking on this one.