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The Jungle Book character
Mowgli by John Lockwood Kipling (father of Rudyard Kipling); an illustration from The Second Jungle Book (1895)
First appearance"In the Rukh" (1893)
Last appearance"The Spring Running" (1895)
Created byRudyard Kipling
In-universe information
NicknameMan-cub, Frog
FamilyUnnamed parents †
Raksha (foster mother)
Rama (foster father)
Messua (foster mother)
Nathoo (foster brother) †
SpouseUnnamed wife
ChildrenUnnamed son

Mowgli (/ˈmɡli/) is a fictional character and the protagonist of the Mowgli stories featured among Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book stories. He is a feral boy from the Pench area in Seoni, Madhya Pradesh, India, who originally appeared in Kipling's short story "In the Rukh" (collected in Many Inventions, 1893) and then became the most prominent character in the collections The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book (1894–1895), which also featured stories about other characters.[1]

Name and inspiration[edit]

In the stories, the name Mowgli is said to mean "bald", describing his lack of fur. Kipling later said "Mowgli is a name I made up. It does not mean 'frog' in any language that I know of."[2]

Part of Kipling's inspiration for the story of Mowgli is believed to have been William Henry Sleeman's account of six cases in India in which wild children had been raised by wolves.[3] That account was first published in the first volume of Sleeman's Journey Through the Kingdom of Oude in 1848-1850 (1858)[4] and reprinted in 1852 as An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children in Their Dens, by an Indian Official and in The Zoologist (1888 12 (135): 87-98).[5]

Kipling's Mowgli stories[edit]

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. Muller, the head of the Department of Woods and Forests of India as well as Gisborne'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 invites 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, and conceives a son with her.

Kipling then proceeded to write the stories of Mowgli's childhood in detail in The Jungle Book, which serves as a prequel to In the Rukh. 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 (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 similar to the one that attacked Mowgli's parents. Messua would like to believe that her son has returned, but 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. After being accused of witchcraft and cast out of the village, Mowgli returns to the jungle with Shere Khan's hide and reunites with his wolf family, but it is mentioned that he later becomes married and goes back to the man village.

In later stories in The Jungle Book's sequel, The Second Jungle Book, Mowgli learns that the villagers are planning to kill Messua and her husband for harboring him. He rescues them and sends elephants, water buffaloes, and other animals to trample the village and its fields to the ground. Later, 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".

Play adaptations[edit]

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 published in book form in 2000.[6]

Influences upon other works[edit]

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.[1]: 204 

Mowgli has been cited as a major influence on Edgar Rice Burroughs who created and developed the character Tarzan. Mowgli was also an influence for a number of other "wild boy" characters.

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) and is also available online.

Mowgli stories by other writers[edit]

The Third Jungle Book (1992) by Pamela Jekel is a collection of new Mowgli stories in a fairly accurate pastiche of Kipling's style.

Hunting Mowgli (2001) by Maxim Antinori is a very short novel which describes a fateful meeting between Mowgli and a human hunter.

The Jungle Book: Last of the Species (2013) by Mark L. Miller is a series of comic books that tells the story of a female Mowgli who unintentionally started a war between animal tribes after killing Shere Khan to avenge the fallen members of the wolf tribe.

Mowgli's Missionary (2017) by James Penrice is a novel which describes Mowgli's unusual encounter with a missionary.[7]

Mi Hermano Lobo (My Brother Wolf) (2020) by Rafael Jaime is a short self published Mexican memoir written in Spanish in which the author details the deep emotional and physical impact Disney's animated version of Mowgli had during his lonely early childhood years as a symbolic "surrogate twin brother" figure and role model after learning about his real twin brother's death one day after their preterm birth. It also includes an exclusive interview with Diana Santos[8] who voiced the character in the Latin American Spanish dub of the 1967 film.[9][10] An audiobook version narrated by the author was uploaded on YouTube in September 2021.[11] It is similar in tone to the 2016 documentary Life, Animated.[12]

Feral Dreams: Mowgli and his Mothers (2020) by Stephen Alter is a novel which describes Mowgli's harrowing process in trying to adapt to civilization and his coming of age within the walls of an orphanage located in the Gangetic Plain and run by Miss Cranston, an American missionary who christens him Daniel. At the same time, Mowgli recalls some of his adventures in the jungle prior to his abduction and desperately yearns for his freedom. In this story Mowgli is raised by an elephant matriarch.[13]

Films, television and radio[edit]

Actors who played the character[edit]

Mowgli has been played by many 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, Ryan Taylor and off-screen by Fred Savage. Mowgli was played by Neel Sethi and by Kendrick Reyes as a toddler in the Disney live-action reimagination, which was released in 3D in April 2016. Mowgli was played by Rohan Chand in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, released in November 2018.[26][24][27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sale, Roger (1978). "Kipling's Boy's". Fairy Tales and After: from Snow White to E.B. White. Harvard Univ. Press. ISBN 0-674-29157-3.
  2. ^ "Kipling's list of names". www.kiplingsociety.co.uk. 30 March 2007. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  3. ^ Hotchkiss, Jane (2001). "The jungle of Eden: Kipling, wolf boys, and the colonial imagination". Victorian Literature and Culture. 29 (2): 435–449. doi:10.1017/s1060150301002108. S2CID 162409338.
  4. ^ Sleeman, W.H. (1858). A journey through the kingdom of Oude in 1849–1850. Volume 1. London: Richard Bentley. pp. 206–222.
  5. ^ Zingg, Robert M. (1940). "Feral Man and Extreme Cases of Isolation". The American Journal of Psychology. 53 (4): 487–517. doi:10.2307/1417630. JSTOR 1417630.
  6. ^ The Jungle Play: UK paperback edition: ISBN 0-14-118292-X
  7. ^ Mowgli's Missionary – via Amazon.
  8. ^ "Entrevista a Diana Santos sobre 'El Libro de la Selva' (1967) - (12 de enero de 2020) HD". YouTube. July 16, 2021. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  9. ^ "Entrevista a Diana Santos en... Talentos de voz. Parte 1/3". YouTube. February 7, 2022. Retrieved September 9, 2022.
  10. ^ "Entrevista a Diana Santos en... Talentos de voz. Parte 2/3". YouTube. February 7, 2022. Retrieved September 9, 2022.
  11. ^ "Mi Hermano Lobo (el Audiolibro) - (2021) HD". YouTube. September 21, 2021. Retrieved July 24, 2022.
  12. ^ "20 20 Finding Owen A Boys Story Life Animated". YouTube. November 6, 2017. Retrieved May 5, 2024.
  13. ^ Feral Dreams: Mowgli and his Mothers – via Amazon.
  14. ^ Kumar, Anu. "Sabu Dastagir, the actor who crossed over to Hollywood on the back of an elephant". Scroll.in. Retrieved 2022-11-14.
  15. ^ Bruce Reitherman (2007). The Jungle Book audio commentary. The Jungle Book, Platinum Edition, Disc 1
  16. ^ Johnson, Walter (November 19, 1999). "Quick takes". Knoxville News Sentinel. Knoxville, Tennessee. p. 79.
  17. ^ Smith, Patrick (2016-04-25). "We don't wanna be like you: how Soviet Russia made its own, darker Jungle Book". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2022-11-14.
  18. ^ "'The Jungle Book' is the king of Disney animated movies". Retrieved 2022-11-14.
  19. ^ "Image: jbcomic1-big.jpg, (722 × 1014 px)". p-synd.com. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  20. ^ "Image: jbcomic2-big.jpg, (785 × 1110 px)". p-synd.com. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  21. ^ "Image: jbcomic3-big.jpg, (783 × 1100 px)". p-synd.com. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  22. ^ "Morecambe&Wise - The Jungle Book - I Wanna Be Like You - Disney spoof". YouTube. December 14, 2011. Retrieved September 8, 2022.
  23. ^ Hamad, Marwa (October 17, 2018). "'Jungle Book' actor Neel Sethi eyes superhero films". Gulf News. Archived from the original on December 7, 2019. Retrieved November 30, 2019.
  24. ^ a b Kit, Borys (20 August 2014). "Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett Join 'Jungle Book: Origins'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  25. ^ "Jonathan Larson Papers".
  26. ^ Sinha-Roy, Piya (November 8, 2018). "Watch Netflix's new trailer for Andy Serkis' dark twist on The Jungle Book tale, Mowgli". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  27. ^ Ford, Rebecca (6 April 2016). "Warner Bros. Pushes 'Jungle Book' to 2018, 'Wonder Woman' Gets New Date". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 6 April 2016.

External links[edit]

  • In the Rukh: Mowgli's first appearance from Kipling's Many Inventions
  • The Jungle Book Collection and Wiki: a website demonstrating the variety of merchandise related to the book and film versions of The Jungle Books, now accompanied by a Wiki on The Jungle Books and related subjects