Once upon a time, I guess just about everybody read The Jungle Books. There was even a movie, starring Sabu. Mowgli‘s adventures in the Indian jungle, being raised by wolves and tutored by a bear, a panther, and a python, all told by a master storyteller–it just doesn’t get any better than that.
When I was a little boy, my Aunt Millie gave me for Christmas an illustrated edition of the first part of The Jungle Books (there are two parts). How I loved that book! It fell apart from overuse while I was still a child; but reading the stories now, over 50 years later, I can still see those illustrations as clearly as if they were on the page in front of me. The only difference is, I think I love the stories even better now.
(They’re getting under my skin, too. Last night I dreamed I was going to marry a black-and-white cat who talked and smoked cigarettes.)
If The Jungle Books are not fantasy fiction, very strictly speaking, they certainly share in the spirit of fantasy. Kipling creates something fantastic, something totally at odds with reality–a world of talking animals who have laws and customs–and by the greatness of his art, gets the reader to believe in it. And in visiting this unreal world of his, we wind up seeing the real world more clearly.
If you haven’t read these stories in a while, read them again. If you’ve never read them, and are going to read them for the first time… Well, I envy you!