"The Jungle Law"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie DEC 15, 2005)
"His favorite of all, though, is the story of the boy he heard on that first fateful day - Mowgli, the boy Joe calls to mind now as he scrambles through the woods. Why this boy, in particular, compels him so much, he doesn't fully know - though, perhaps, having been invited to partake in his creation, Joe feels a proprietary interest, a personal stake in what happens to him as the story unreels and unfolds."
Jungle Law is Victoria Vinton's fictionalized historical account of the period, in the late 19th century, when author Rudyard Kipling and his wife, Carrie, came to live in Vermont, USA. This is where he wrote the glorious stories later called The Jungle Book. In her imaginative debut novel, Ms. Vinton mixes fact with fiction and vividly brings to life Kipling's early years in Bombay, India, where he lived a pampered existence as the only son of a well-to-do British family. She connects his very early experiences in India, as well as later less agreeable ones in England, with the material he used to create the wonderful books and characters that have delighted children and adults for generations.
Kipling was born in Bombay, where his father, John Lockwood Kipling, was an arts and crafts teacher at the Jeejeebhoy School. His mother was a sister-in-law of the painter Edward Burne-Jones. Ruddy, as Kipling was affectionately called, was brought up by an ayah who taught him Hindustani as his first language. At the age of six he was taken to England by his parents and left for five years with extended family, virtual strangers. This experience, the abrupt separation from his parents and India, his first home, proved to be a traumatic one for the little boy. He was to write about his feelings during this period later in life, when he dubs his foster home, "The House of Desolation."
In 1892 Kipling married Caroline Starr Balestier, the sister of an American publisher and writer. The young couple moved to the United States, to Brattleboro, Vermont where the author wrote the stories which comprise The Jungle Books. The most familiar, and perhaps best loved, are the Mowgli tales where an Indian baby, Mowgli, is lost in the jungle after Shere Khan, (the tiger), kills his family. He is taken to safety by Bagheera, (the black panther,) and placed with a wolf family that has a brand new litter. The stories tell of how Mowgli is reared by his foster parents, alongside the wolf pups. Over time the child is instructed by a series of animal mentors in the rules or "Laws" of the jungle. There is also great enmity between Mowgli and the tiger Shere Khan who killed the boy's parents. Kipling portrays the natural world, and especially its creatures, in a logical anthropomorphized manner, so entertaining to both children and adults.
Rudyard and his proud, pregnant wife Carrie arrive in Brattleboro to build their dream home, Naulakha. Kipling left the hectic literary life behind in London, searching for a quiet, rural setting to raise his family and to write. The year is 1892 and the twenty-six year-old author has very little money. However, he brought with him to America something of great value - the seed of an idea, a gem of a story about a feral child raised by wolves. He wants to develop that theme in this new world.
The Connolly family, Jack, Addie and their eleven year-old son Joe, are the Kipling's nearest neighbors. Jack, a struggling immigrant farmer, is an angry, disappointed man, who labors under constant, backbreaking work for little monetary gain. He fears the harsh winter months ahead. He also resents the Kiplings, and what he believes to be their high and mighty airs and easy circumstances. Addie takes in their laundry, which fuels Jack's anger even more, although they need every penny. But young Joe is entranced by Rudyard. He has never met a more magical person in his life. As they become friends, Kipling tries out his tales on his young admirer, and it becomes evident that Kipling is as much inspired by the boy as Joe is by him. Joe, in fact, becomes sort of a muse. Kipling asks the boy questions and Joe's responses are necessary to flesh out Mowgli's character and life. Joe responds with enthusiasm, and begins to identify with the imaginary foundling. Unfortunately, when the boy returns home after his stimulating conversations with Kipling, he faces an angry jealous father.
The parallels, contrasts, and interactions between these two families, and the mutually rewarding relationship that Kipling shares with Joe make for fascinating and rewarding reading. The narrative is extremely well written and the descriptive passages, whether of the landscape or conversations between Joe and Kipling which conjure-up Mowgli and his magical friends are wonderful, absolutely superb at times. The complexity and intensity of the characters, and some of the situations they face, leave the reader with a sense of sadness. There is grief here. The creative process comes out the ultimate winner, I believe. Joe, with his extraordinary imagination will always be the "changeling child," with too much in common with the fictional Mowgli for his own good. Jack is an unhappy man, but perhaps is better off living with his rage than with the understanding that he can never give his son what Kipling can. And Kipling, is hampered by haunting boyhood memories, a domineering wife and so much loss.
A most unusual and original novel. Highly recommended!
- Amazon readers rating: from 9 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Jungle Law (October 2005)
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- Washington Post review of The Jungle Law
- SF Gate review of The Jungle Law
- The New York Times reveiw of The Jungle Law
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About the Author:
Victoria Vinton received her Masters of Fine Arts dregree in writing from Columbia and is a recipient an Artist Fellowship from the New York Foundation of the Arts.
She lives with her daughter in Brooklyn, New York, where she works as a literacy consultant for the New York City Public Schools.