Literature

Five Fascinating Facts about The Jungle Book

Fun trivia about Rudyard Kipling’s classic work of literature, The Jungle Book, that inspired the Disney film

1. Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouts, personally requested Kipling’s permission to use names and symbols from The Jungle Book in his new cub-scout movement. Baden-Powell had already taken Scouting ideas from Kipling: Kipling’s 1901 novel Kim had given Baden-Powell the idea for the Memory Game (called the ‘Jewel Game’ in Kipling’s novel) which Baden-Powell would use in boys’ cub-scout training. The idea for the game is simple: Kim, a teenager who is in India to be trained as a spy, is presented with a tray containing a number of jewels on it. The shopkeeper, Lurgan, tells him: ‘Look on them as long as thou wilt, stranger. Count and, if need be, handle. One look is enough for me. When thou hast counted and handled and art sure that thou canst remember them all, I cover them with this paper, and thou must tell over the tally to Lurgan Sahib. I will write mine.’ The illusionist Derren Brown has used a similar game in his live shows and television programmes.

2. The Scouting term ‘akela’ is also from Kipling. The word ‘akela’ – used by Kipling for the name of the head wolf in The Jungle Book and one of Mowgli’s animal mentors – has been adopted by the Boy Scout movement for the Jungle Bookname of the leader of a scout pack. (Pronounced, by the way, ‘a-kay-la’.) ‘Akela’ comes from the Hindi for ‘solitary’ or ‘alone’.

3. In 2010, a handwritten note from Kipling to his daughter was discovered in an 1894 first edition of the book. The note reads: ‘This book belongs to Josephine Kipling for whom it was written by her father, May 1894.’ It is especially poignant because Josephine would die just five years later, in 1899.

4. Kipling admitted he helped himself to other writers’ ideas for some of the book. In a letter of 1895, Kipling wrote to an unidentified correspondent (who had enquired about Baloo’s ‘Law of the Jungle’ which the bear teaches Mowgli) that parts of the Law were ‘bodily taken from (Southern) Esquimaux rules for the division of spoils.’ He also said it was ‘extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen.’ The letter only came to light in 2013, but whether Kipling’s borrowings constitute plagiarism per se is difficult to determine, especially as we don’t know (and he couldn’t remember) which writers he admits to have ‘stolen’ from. It may be that it was nothing more than the magpie-like habit writers have of being susceptible to multiple influences, which end up being transformed into something new in their own work. (As Roland Barthes would say, all writing is a tissue of quotations.)

5. Kipling wrote a sequel to The Jungle Book, which is often overlooked. In 1894-5, Kipling wrote a follow-up book, The Second Jungle Book, featuring five more adventures involving Mowgli as well as three largely unrelated tales involving children who work with animals in order to overcome hardships. (One story, ‘Quiquern’, features two Inuit children travelling across the Arctic with the titular animal guide to help them.)

Image: Book poster for The Jungle Book published by The Century Company, c. 1900. Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collection. Via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).