‘Into the Jungle’ is an imaginative retelling of 'The Jungle Book' classic [Book Review]

Rundell's charming collection of short stories explore the lives of some of the best-loved characters before they met Mowgli

John Millen |

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By Katherine Rundell

Published by Macmillan  Children’s Books

ISBN 978 1 5098 2231 7

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book was first published in 1894, and the timeless collection of stories has been captivating readers ever since. In fact, each decade seems to see a new edition of Kipling’s classic hit bookshops. 

Generations of readers have come to know Mowgli, the man-cub, and the animals he grows up with: the majestic tiger, Shere Khan, the wise black panther, Bagheera, and the sneaky snake, Kaa. These characters have become some of the best known and loved in children’s literature.

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Many fans will also have grown up singing along to the 1967 Disney adaptation of the novel – although it  is much more light-hearted than Kipling’s dramatic tale. A new CGI/live action version of the stories was also released in 2016, and a much-delayed third adaptation, simply called Mowgli, is due to hit cinemas soon. It seems we simply can’t get enough of The Jungle Book.

This brings us to Into The Jungle, a new collection of stories by British writer Katherine Rundell that explore the lives of some of The Jungle Book’s best-loved characters, before they met Mowgli. Into The Jungle is an enchanting, well-written, and beautifully illustrated family book. It contains five stories which are told to Mowgli by the other animals as he roams through the Indian jungle. 

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Father Wolf tells the story of how Mowgli’s wolf mother got her reputation for great courage by outwitting the ferocious Shere Khan. Rapi, the gentle elephant, tells the story of the awful time Bagheera spent in human captivity with his sister, Gilhari – and how they managed to escape. And in the final story, Mowgli himself takes centre stage as he comes face to face with the dreaded White Ape. Each of these short stories is  then brilliantly woven together into a wider whole.

Thanks largely to Disney, Kipling’s characters have taken on a life beyond the pages of his original creation, and  Rundell now adds her own offering into the mix. Into The Jungle is an engaging, modern companion to the 1894 original. What’s more, its detailed colour illustrations, by the talented Kristjana S. Williams, are nothing short of stunning.

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Rundell is a talented, and highly-esteemed writer; while there is a trend for updating characters from classic children’s literature, you never get the sense she merely jumping on that bandwagon. The stories she offers up in this collection are all about courage, nature, loyalty and difference, and will certainly resonate with contemporary readers.

There have been so many retellings of The Jungle Book, readers will have to decide for themselves how this one measures up. With luck, Rundell’s version may guide them to Kipling’s original book.

John Millen can be contacted at [email protected]­il.com 

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge