Mowgli /ˈmaʊɡli/ is a fictional character and the protagonist of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book stories. He is a naked feral child from the Pench area in Seoni, India, who originally appeared in 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 collections The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book (1894–1895), which also featured stories about other characters.
In the stories, the name Mowgli is said to mean "frog", describing his lack of fur. Kipling made up the name, and it "does not mean 'frog' in any language other than the language of the forest."
Kipling stated that the first syllable of "Mowgli" should rhyme with "cow" and it is pronounced this way in Britain and some European countries, while in the United States it is almost always pronounced to rhyme with "go".
Kipling's 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 the Pench area in Seoni at the time of the British Raj, discovers a young man named Mowgli, who has extraordinary skills in hunting, tracking, and driving wild animals (with the help of his wolf brothers). He asks him to join the forestry service. Mueller, the head of the Department of Woods and Forests of India as well as Gisborn's boss, meets Mowgli, checks his elbows and knees, noting the callouses and scars, and figures Mowgli is not using magic or demons, having seen a similar case in 30 years of service. Muller also offers Mowgli to join the service, to which Mowgli agrees. Later, Gisborne learns the reason for Mowgli's almost superhuman talents: he was raised by a pack of wolves in the jungle (explaining the scars on his elbows and knees from going on all fours). Mowgli marries the daughter of Gisborne's butler, Abdul Gafur. By the end of the story, Mowgli has a son and is back to living with his wolf brothers.
Kipling then proceeded to write the stories of Mowgli's childhood in detail. Lost by his parents as a baby in the Indian jungle during a tiger attack, he is adopted by the Wolf Mother (Raksha) and Father Wolf, who call him Mowgli (the frog) because of his lack of fur and his refusal to sit still. Shere Khan the tiger demands that they give him the baby but the wolves refuse. Mowgli grows up with the pack, hunting with his brother wolves. In the pack, Mowgli learns he is able to stare down any wolf, and his unique ability to remove the painful thorns from the paws of his brothers is deeply appreciated as well.
Bagheera, the black panther, befriends Mowgli because both he and Mowgli have parallel childhood experiences; as Bagheera often mentions, he was "raised in the King's cages at Oodeypore" from a cub, and thus knows the ways of man. Baloo the bear, teacher of wolves, has the thankless task of educating Mowgli in "The Law of the Jungle".
Shere Khan continues to regard Mowgli as fair game, but eventually Mowgli finds a weapon he can use against the tiger — fire. After driving off Shere Khan, Mowgli goes to a human village where he is adopted by Messua and her husband, whose own son Nathoo was also taken by a tiger. It is uncertain if Mowgli is actually the returned Nathoo, although it is stated in "Tiger! Tiger!" that the tiger who carried off Messua's son was lame, just as Shere Khan is lame. Messua would like to believe that her son has returned, however she herself realises that this is unlikely.
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. The tiger dies, and Mowgli sets to skin him. Seeing this, Buldeo, a jealous hunter, goads the villagers into persecuting Mowgli and his adopted parents as sorcerers. Mowgli runs back to the jungle with Shere Khan's hide but soon learns that Buldeo and the villagers are planning to kill Messua and her husband. He rescues them and sends elephants, water buffaloes, and other animals to trample the village and its fields to the ground.
In later stories in The Second Jungle Book, Mowgli finds and then discards an ancient treasure ("The King's Ankus"), not realising it is so valuable that men would kill to own it. With the aid of Kaa the python, he leads the wolves in a war against the Dhole ("Red Dog").
Finally, Mowgli stumbles across the village where his adopted human mother (Messua), is now living, which forces him to come to terms with his humanity and decide whether to rejoin his fellow humans in "The Spring Running".
Rudyard Kipling adapted the Mowgli stories for The Jungle Play in 1899, but the play was never produced on stage. The manuscript was lost for almost a century. It was finally published in book form in 2000.
Influences upon other works
Only six years after the first publication of The Jungle Book, E. Nesbit's The Wouldbegoods (1899) included a passage in which some children act out a scene from the book.:204
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, enlisting the help of a human boy to play Mowgli. The boy's mother, who is a little bemused to see teddy bears trying to act like wolves, tags along to try to keep him (and the Hokas) out of trouble. The situation is 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 0-671-57858-8), and is also available online.
Mowgli stories by other writers
Hunting Mowgli (2001) by Maxim Antinori (ISBN 1-931319-49-9) is a very short novel which describes a fateful meeting between Mowgli and a human hunter.
Movies, television and radio
- Jungle Book (1942) starred Sabu as Mowgli.
- 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 its sequel, The Jungle Book 2 (2003), in which Mowgli is voiced by Haley Joel Osment.
- Around the same time – from 1967 to 1971 – five Russian short animated films were made by Soyuzmultfilm, collectively known as Adventures of Mowgli.
- Of all the various adaptations, Chuck Jones's 1977 animated TV short Mowgli's Brothers, adapting the first story in The Jungle Book, may be the one that adheres most closely to the original plot and dialogue.
- There has also been a Japanese animated TV series Jungle Book Shonen Mowgli based on the Mowgli series and a US live-action series, Mowgli: The New Adventures of the Jungle Book.
- 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. It originally aired on BBC Radio 5 (before it became BBC Radio 5 Live and dropped its children's programming). Subsequently, it has been released on audio cassette and has been re-run a number of times on digital radio channel BBC 7 (now BBC Radio 4 Extra).
- 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. These were later collected as an omnibus volume.
- 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.
- A 2016 live action remake of Disney's animated version of The Jungle Book starred newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli.
Actors who played the character
Mowgli has been played by many male actors. In the 1942 film adaptation, Mowgli was played by Sabu Dastagir. In the 1994 film adaptation, he was played by Sean Naegeli as a child, and later throughout the film he was played by Jason Scott Lee. In The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli and Baloo, he was played by Jamie Williams. In The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story, he was played by Brandon Baker. Mowgli was played by Neel Sethi in the Disney live-action reimagination, which was released in 3D in April 2016. Mowgli was played by Rohan Chand in the Warner Bros. film Jungle Book, which was released in 2018.