Summer Reading List: Book One
By: Rudyard Kipling
When I read this book a few weeks ago, I already knew a lot about it. I knew it was about a boy who, through some unfortunate events, grows up in the care of jungle animals. I knew about the characters Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, and of course Shere Khan. It is a book I think most of us know whether we have read the stories or not. What I did not realize, and I apologize to Rudyard Kipling, was the inspiration that The Jungle Book had on one of my favorite books, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
When I think about it now, it is quite obvious. The relation begins in the title and extends to the books main characters: Mowgli and Nobody (Bod). Both of their families are killed moments before their respective stories begin; both were saved in very unlikely ways in worlds that many people consider to be scary and perhaps dangerous (the jungle and the graveyard); both were then raised by a family of sorts (wolves and ghosts); educated in the ways of their worlds (the Law of the Jungle and the Freedom of the Graveyard); kidnapped by vicious creatures (Bandar-log and the Ghouls); and both ended up defending themselves and killing their would-be killers (Shere Kahn and the Man Jack).
The Jungle Book was a lot of fun to read. The old pages of my father’s copy smelled of an older world where a boy could be lost and raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves, a bear and a panther. Kipling’s world, when Britain ruled the Indian subcontinent. The book, which is a collection of seven stories, shows a rougher world than I expected. I forget sometimes that children’s stories use to be more haunting and savage, thinking of Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and even Rock-a-bye Baby. A good example is in the second chapter, “Kaa’s Hunting,” when the reader learns that Baloo sometimes beats Mowgli when he is not paying attention to his lessons on the Law of the Jungle.
In an interview that Neil Gaiman did with Stephen Colbert in 2009, Gaiman addressed this issue when Colbert asked him about the opening to The Graveyard Book.
“There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.”
Colbert made the argument that this was too scary for a child to read. Gaiman countered, explaining that, “children’s fiction always had a little bit of darkness in it.” Both of these books certainly have their darkness, but always with a light at the end of the final page.
The Jungle Book isn’t all about Mowgli and I would say that my two favorite chapters are “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” I like mongooses, and “Toomai of the Elephants,” I like elephants, especially ones that dance.
Earlier I apologized to Rudyard Kipling. I did this because I never realized how his work, his masterpiece, inspired one of my favorite modern day writers. But that is why I take this time, the hot days of summer when no ones feels like being outside unless they have to, when all I want is to sit in a cool chair with an ice tea and a promising book to take me away from the 100 degrees Fahrenheit (I can only spell this work because of Ray Bradbury) and the high humidity.