The Jungle Books


The Jungle Books, Rudyard Kipling, 1894 and 1895

Uuuuuuuergh. I have struggled to find anything at all to say about imperialist scum-bag Kipling’s most famous works. Maybe if Disney stopped making movies about Mowgli, we could stop thinking about Kipling. I suppose it is ok to reclaim his characters for our own purposes. These books are not completely without merit, but they are hard to wrap the mind around. Quite paradoxical.




Kipling was born in India, then educated in England for about ten years, after which he returned to India and became a journalist, poet and novelist. He claimed to love India, but was a fervent Imperialist who harbored deep prejudice against the “Orientals,” as he called them. See his unspeakably atrocious poem “The White Man’s Burden” for more information.


Hathi the Elephant

Anyway, he wrote a book a young Indian boy, Mowgli, who is lost in the jungle when a tiger, Shere Khan, attacks his village.  Mowgli is adopted by a family of wolves. It seems a bit patronizing for this particular author to choose to write this character. Of course, he couldn’t depict a white, English boy living among beasts. So, it’s already yucky. However, it is a very compelling story concept. The idea of the feral child easily captures the imagination. And animals as characters is great. Everybody likes animals. The found family of Baloo, Bagheera and Kaa is quite endearing. They are a bear, a panther and a snake respectively.


Baloo the Bear

There are two Jungle Books. After the success of the first, Kipling published another a year later, called The Second Jungle Book. Both contain stories that jump between characters and through time, which was a bad call. If Kipling had thought to tell Mowgli’s story from beginning to end in one volume, that would make a much better read than these two volumes, which I plodded begrudgingly through. They’re boring, y’all. His prose is dry and lifeless.


Mang the Bat

For some reason, Kipling thought the animal society that Mowgli joins should have rigid rules, the Jungle Law, that Mowgli must memorize. He must show proper deference and courtesy to the various “people” of the jungle. The animals even speak in formal prose to cement the Arthurian nature of their world. What? Why even? The entire appeal of the jungle setting is wildness. *Tears hair out.* The feral child appeals, because he/she/they are surviving in a world without society. No rules to memorize. No caste. No school! Mowgli goes to jungle school. Really. Swing and a miss from Kipling. That is not the kind of learning required of boy raised by wolves. There are so many frustratingly poor artistic choices in these books.


Bagheera the Panther

Most of the non-Mowgli centered stories are very bad and painfully dull. Some are only slightly bad, perhaps even worth reading. “The White Seal” is about a seal who searches for a breeding ground that hunters cannot reach. It’s a bit charming and has a distinct environmental perspective, but you have to overlook some nastiness towards native Arctic people. Blergh. When I was a kid, I loved the story “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” about a mongoose who defends a British family from two cobras. Mostly I just liked the wee mongoose’s name. He is quite brave and determined. But honestly, at 35, the story of an Indian mongoose bravely defending imperialists has lost some of its appeal.


Akela the Wolf

Final Thoughts: Yup, we’re here already. I don’t have much to say about these books. They are under-stimulating. The plots of the Mowgli stories are dramatic and compelling. If only they had been better written. If only.


One of the Bandar-log and Kaa the Snake

Final, Final Thoughts: Of course, I am not the kind of inconsiderate knitter who posts pictures of knitted items without telling you where the patterns came from.


Jacala the Crocodile

Most of the patterns are by Anna Hrachovec, including the gator, the cat, the bat, the bear and the elephant. This is her ravelry page. You can also find her patterns on her website, Mochimochi Land. I used Tatyana Korobkova’s Small Tiger Doll pattern to make Mowgli wearing Shere Khan’s pelt, which is a thing that happens in the books, rather graphically. Akela the wolf is from Noel Margaret’s Wee Wandering Wolf pattern. I made the snake pattern up, but you could use this pattern from Just Be Crafty to make a very similar one.

Black Beauty


Black Beauty, Anna Sewell, 1877

Do the words Black Beauty conjure a hazy memory of an exciting adventure story about a boy and his horse that you read as a child? Me too. That book is The Black Stallion. Can’t wait to reread that one. Black Beauty is not the same type of story.

An ailing Anna Sewell picked up her pen intending to right an injustice, not to entertain anyone. She saw widespread mistreatment of horses in England. So, to humanize the humble horse Sewell wrote a book in the voice of a horse. Black Beauty recalls his days as a handsome, happy colt on a country estate. Things do not go well from there. BB is sold several times. He becomes a London cab horse. It’s not pretty.


As someone with limited experience with horses, I am perhaps not the best person to review this book. People flipped over this novel. Immediately. Apparently sad fake horse memoirs were exactly what they’d never known they needed. Anna Sewell lived only five months after the publication of her only book, but that was long enough to see it become a bestseller. It remains among the bestselling books of all time. Sad moralizing horse thoughts. Who’d a thunk it?

Don’t get me wrong, I think Sewell’s message is noble and worthy. I’m all for compassionate treatment of horses. I’m just not for a bleak collection of plotless parables about a horse’s sad life. But hey, as an activist novel it was incredibly successful. That’s wonderful for horses and wonderful for Anna Sewell. I want things to be wonderful for you, dear reader. I sincerely hope you are kind to horses. If you are already kind to horses, you can skip this book, because it’s rather dull.


I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so overtly and single-mindedly concerned with good behavior. On page seven the reckless behavior of an aristocrat results in the broken legs and subsequent death of a horse.  Black Beauty’s mother laments that “he was a good bold horse, there was no vice in him.” These horses are concerned about vice. I read just  seven pages before I was rolling my eyes at the moralizing. And can we talk about how bored I am of the aristocrat breaks horse’s legs/back trope. Vronsky did it. No one else needs to. Please stop with this shorthand. There are other ways to be inconsiderate.

Anna Sewell is very thorough in her reckoning of all the people who might be involved in the life of a horse and all the ways they might be cruel or kind to a horse. We have good and bad owners, buyers, sellers, riders, grooms, assistant grooms, hotel grooms, breaker inners, cab drivers, coach drivers and a whole slew of other people that didn’t stick in my memory.

Look, horses are cool. I like them as much as the next person, but not as much as girls who read lots of pony books. Pony books are not my subgenre. So, I can’t get too jazzed about the mother of all pony books. But I’m happy for the success of Black Beauty. It’s seminal. But so are some other books that aren’t very good. I’m looking at you Frankenstein and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

You might like Black Beauty if:

  • you love horses

You might not like Black Beauty if:

  • you love plots

Final thoughts: It was boring.

Side note: Please do not judge my knitting skills by this atrocious horse. I am so embarrassed by it. I have knit other stuffed animals that turned out very nicely. Cats, rabbits, parrots, people. All very nice looking. I really failed on this poor, derpy horse though. Jeez. It is very hard to sew an accurate seam on black yarn. Yikes. I don’t have access to a horse of any color, so I tried to make a horse. I promise that next knitted item you see on this blog will be better. It is not the fault of the pattern. I have knit other patterns by Alan Dart and they turned out beautifully.