Mowgli, Bagheera, Baloo: Rudyard Kipling’s own sketches of the Jungle Book cast revealed

Until recently, drawings made to help shape the characters could only be seen in the British Library. Now they will feature in a new edition

Evocative drawings that Rudyard Kipling created for The Jungle Book but never used are to be published for the first time.

Mowgli, the Indian boy raised by wolves, and his mentor Bagheera, the black panther, are among sketches created by the author in helping him to shape the jungle characters that were to enchant generations of readers.

They have been preserved at the British Library, part of a collection that was bequeathed to the nation in 1940 by Kipling’s widow, Caroline.

Now the British Library has collaborated with SP Books, an independent publishing house, on a major project in which Kipling’s original handwritten manuscript is reproduced in book form for the first time.

Rudyard Kipling’s manuscript of The Jungle Book.
Rudyard Kipling’s manuscript of The Jungle Book. Photograph: aerhion/© SP Books

Dating from between 1892 and 1895, the manuscript contains the stories of both The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, although these are not arranged in the same order as the published editions.

Some 173 sheets bearing Kipling’s elegant handwriting, and about a dozen drawings in black ink, offer insights into his creative process. The drawings were not published because they are unfinished, essentially works in progress.

Laura Walker, the British Library’s lead curator of modern archives and manuscripts, told the Observer: “He was formulating the characters in his mind. The drawings aided his visual image.”

She said: “There’s an unfinished sketch of Mowgli and Bagheera, sideways on one page. They’re all on the backs of the pages of the manuscript. So it looks like he was working on them as he was working on the text – part of his creative process in defining the characters. There’s one with Shere Khan [the Bengal tiger and Mowgli’s enemy], with a herd of buffalos going towards him.”

She added: “Some look like he’s drawing to get ideas of what different characters or places look like. Just above Bagheera, there could be the outline of Baloo [the bear]. Mowgli is closer to how we view him from illustrations and different adaptations over time – a long-haired young boy. It’s a basic line drawing. It gives you that essence of the character.”

Illustration by Rudyard Kipling in the manuscript of The Jungle Book.
Illustration by Rudyard Kipling in the manuscript of The Jungle Book. Photograph: © SP Books

The manuscript has subtle differences from the final printed version, including some of the titles: “Her Majesty’s Servants” was originally “The Servants of the Queen”, while “Red Dog” was “The Little People of the Rocks”.

Crossed-out words, annotations and notes to himself reflect Kipling’s precision. The story “Toomai of the Elephants” has the largest number of corrections, in red pencil. There are also scrawled instructions for layout or typography.

Kipling, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, was born in Bombay, during the British Raj. He spent his childhood in India and longed to return during his schooldays in England. He did so in 1882, working as a journalist.

But his reputation has suffered, with English Heritage, for example, noting that he “believed in British superiority over the people of colonised nations”.

The British Library’s website notes: “After the first world war… the tide of history relentlessly swept aside Kipling’s colonial vision. Values celebrated in his writings for adults soon seemed out of tune with the times. Political critics came to see him as old-fashioned at best, contemptible at worst.”

The new edition, which is published on 25 November, will also feature vibrant colour illustrations by French artist Maurice de Becque.


Dalya Alberge

The GuardianTramp

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