Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mowgli is a fictional character who originally appeared in Rudyard Kipling's short story "In the Rukh" (collected in Many Inventions, 1893) and then went on to become the most prominent and memorable character in his fantasies, The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book (1894-1895), which also featured non-Mowgli stories.
The Mowgli stories including In the Rukh were first collected in chronological order in one volume as The Works of Rudyard Kipling Volume VII: The Jungle Book (1907) (Volume VIII of this series contained the non-Mowgli stories from the Jungle Books), and subsequently in All the Mowgli Stories (1933).
In the Rukh describes how Gisborne, an English forest ranger in India at the time of the British Raj, discovers a young man named Mowgli, who has extraordinary skill at hunting and tracking, and asks him to join the forestry service. Later Gisborne learns the reason for Mowgli's almost superhuman talents: he was raised by wild animals in the jungle.
Kipling then proceeded write the stories of Mowgli's childhood in detail. Lost by his parents in the Indian jungle, a human baby is adopted by the wolves Mother (Raksha) and Father Wolf, who call him "Mowgli the Frog" because of his furlessness. Shere Khan the tiger demands that they give him the baby but the wolves refuse. Mowgli grows up with and runs naked with the pack, hunting with his brother wolves.
Bagheera (the panther) befriends Mowgli, partly because Mowgli, being a "Man", has the power of dominion over beasts: Bagheera cannot withstand Mowgli's gaze. Baloo the bear, teacher of wolves, has the thankless task of educating Mowgli in The Law of the Jungle .
Mowgli has many adventures among the talking animals in his jungle paradise, assuming ever-increasing mastery as he approaches manhood. Shere Khan regards Mowgli as fair game, but eventually Mowgli finds the one weapon he can use against the tiger - fire. After driving off Shere Khan, Mowgli returns to the human village where he is adopted by Messua and her husband who believe he is their own long-lost son Nathoo. (In fact we never find out if this is true.)
While herding buffalo for the village Mowgli learns that the tiger is still planning to kill him, so with the aid of two wolves he traps Shere Khan in a ravine, where the buffalo trample him. Seeing this, the villagers persecute Mowgli and his adopted parents as witches. Mowgli runs back to the jungle but soon learns that the villagers are planning to kill Messua and her husband, so he rescues them and sends elephants and buffalo to trample the village to the ground.
During his time in the village Mowgli wears clothing, but discards it again when he returns to the wild.
In later stories he finds and then discards an ancient treasure, not realising that men will kill to own it; and with the aid of Kaa the python he leads the wolves in a war against the dhole (red dogs).
Finally, Mowgli stumbles across the village where his human mother is now living, which forces him to come to terms with his humanity and decide whether to rejoin his fellow humans.
Kipling also adapted the Mowgli stories for The Jungle Play in 1899, but the play was never produced on stage and the manuscript was lost for almost a century. It was finally published in book form in 2000.
Influences upon other works
Mowgli has been cited as a major influence on Edgar Rice Burroughs' character Tarzan, although the Mowgli stories are arguably better written. Mowgli was also a probable influence on at a number of other "wild boy" characters; see Feral Children in Mythology and Fiction.
Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson used the Mowgli stories as the basis for their humorous 1957 science fiction short story "Full Pack (Hokas Wild)". This is one of a series featuring a teddy bear-like race called Hokas who enjoy human literature but cannot quite grasp the distinction between fact and fiction. In this story a group of Hokas get hold of a copy of The Jungle Book and begin to act it out with the help of a human boy and his mother, who is a little bemused to see teddy bears trying to act like wolves. The situation is then complicated by the arrival of three alien diplomats who just happen to resemble a monkey, a tiger and a snake. This story appears in the collection Hokas Pokas! (1998) (ISBN 0671578588), and is also available on-line:
Mowgli stories by other writers
Hunting Mowgli (2001) by Maxim Antinori (ISBN 1931319499) is a very short novel which describes a fateful meeting between Mowgli and a human hunter. Although marketed as a children's book it is really a dark psychological drama, and ends with the violent death of a major character.
Movies, television and radio
Mowgli has been portrayed on film by several actors:
- Sabu in Alexander Korda's The Jungle Book (1942)
- Jason Scott Lee in Disney's live-action The Jungle Book (1994)
- Jamie Williams in The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo (1997)
- Brandon Baker in Disney's (1998), which is apparently not a sequel to either the 1967 (see below) or 1994 Disney versions.
However, none of these adaptations is especially true to the spirit of Kipling's original. Chuck Jones's 1977 animated TV short Mowgli's Brothers, adapting the first story in The Jungle Book, is the adaptation sticks most closely to the original plot and dialogue.
The best known of all portrayals of Mowgli is the musical version in Disney's The Jungle Book (1967), where he is voiced by Bruce Reitherman , son of the film's director Wolfgang Reitherman; and Jungle Book 2 (2003) in which Mowgli is voiced by Haley Joel Osment. Disney's brightly-lit child-friendly jungle is a whole world away from the dark, dangerous and often violent jungle inhabited by Kipling's noble savage, but the popularity of the Disney version has overshadowed the original stories.
There was also a BBC radio adaptation in 1994, starring actress Nisha K. Nayar as Mowgli, Freddie Jones as Baloo and Eartha Kitt as Kaa. This has been released on audio cassette and has been re-run a number of times on digital radio channel BBC 7's Little Toe Show.
Note: According to Kipling the "Mow" of Mowgli should rhyme with "cow", but in the film and TV versions it is almost always pronounced to rhyme with "go".
(Not counting the numerous comics based on the Disney version)
- Classics Illustrated #83 (1951) contains an adaptation of three Mowgli stories.
- Between 1953 and 1955 Dell Comics featured adaptations of six Mowgli stories in three issues (#487, #582 and #620).
- Some issues of Marvel Fanfare feature adaptations of the Mowgli stories by Gil Kane
- P. Craig Russell's Jungle Book Stories (1997) collects three stories, actually adapted from The Second Jungle Book, which originally appeared between 1985 and 1996.
- The Jungle Book Collection: a website demonstrating the variety of merchandise related to the book and film versions of The Jungle Books
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