Book #114: The Jungle Book (1894)

jbauthor: Rudyard Kipling
language: English
length: 157 pages
finished on: 3 October 2016

I bought this book shamefully long ago in Jinbocho, a district of Tokyo famous for old books – there are only a small number of shops with foreign books, though. I don’t even know when I went there, it must have been at least two years ago, maybe three. I finally got around to reading it this year, coincidentally around the time I heard about the new movie version, which has now been and gone in the cinema (I didn’t get a chance to see it in the end).

One thing I’ve found with old books, and this applies also to books like Gulliver’s Travels and A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes) is that they seem to be more like collections of short narratives tied together. Everyone knows about the Lilliputians, not many know about the Houyhnhnms. Same goes for this book – everyone knows about Mowgli, but not many know about one of the later short stories, about seals in Alaska (nothing to do with the Jungle, that one). This is partly because of the movie, of course, but it meant I was a bit surprised that only the first three or so stories were about Mowgli, Baloo, and Shere Khan. I think Kipling later realized that they were the most popular characters, and the next book in the series is called Mowgli’s tales, or something.

Anyway, the stories are nevertheless interesting and well-told, even if the Mowgli stories are the best, but I didn’t see the point in the stories about the seals or horses. I think in all the stories Kipling shows his love for India well, despite the fact that he also lets racism show through from time to time, and the descriptions are very vivid and tangible.

Perhaps it’s just compared to the modern style, but I found his style a bit clipped sometimes, like characters often showing up or doing something without any pre-empt. It’s difficult to explain what I mean, but I was often thrown by a character saying something because I didn’t know they were even in the scene, for instance. I also found the dialogue awkward just because they talk using “thou” instead of “you” a lot of the time, something I thought should have died out by the end of the 19th century.

So I think it started strongly, but kind of lost its way in the second half when the stories were completely different. I’d recommend it overall, though.

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