The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book are collections of short stories. Each story begins with a few lines of poetry. Most of the best-known of these jungle stories involve the adventures of Mowgli the jungle boy, Kaa the python, Shere Khan the tiger, Baloo the bear, Hathi the elephant, and Bagheera the panther. The first three stories—“Mowgli’s Brothers,” “Kaa’s Hunting,” and “Tiger! Tiger!”—describe the exploits of Mowgli and his friends in a world seemingly as benign as it is in fact dangerous.
In “Mowgli’s Brothers,” the young jungle boy is hunted by the fearsome but lame tiger Shere Khan. The story recounts how Mowgli came to live with animals, how he was reared by wolves, and how he learned the laws of the jungle. In “Kaa’s Hunting,” Mowgli is kidnapped by monkeys and taken to Cold Lairs, a treasure-filled Indian temple lying in ruins. Kaa, Baloo, and Bagheera rescue Mowgli from playful monkeys who are more intent on folly than on work. Mowgli and friends flee the scene as the hungry Kaa descends upon the monkeys. In the last story of the Mowgli trilogy, “Tiger! Tiger!,” Mowgli and his wolf friends guard a herd of buffalo and stampede them into Shere Khan, killing the tiger. Messua, Mowgli’s mother, is introduced in this story.
The other stories tell of animal heroics. “The White Seal” deals with Kotick, a white seal who saves the year-old seals known as holluschickie from slaughter by humans. Kotick searches for and finds a new nesting ground where the seals will be safe from hunters. “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” is the story of a mongoose, Rikki-Tikki, who saves a family from three poisonous snakes. “Toomai of the Elephants” involves the initiation of Little Toomai, who can become an elephant hunter only when he is able to see the elephants dance, a near impossible accomplishment. Little Toomai witnesses the event and is praised for his bravery; thereafter he is known simply as Toomai. “Her Majesty’s Servants” is told by Dick Cunliffe’s horse. The horse discusses doing battle and life in general in a lancer division with other animals.
The Second Jungle Book continues the adventures of Mowgli. “How Fear Came” emphasizes the law of the jungle and how Shere Khan broke it by killing a man. “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat” deals with Purun Dass, the former prime minister of India who has turned into Purun Bhagat, a holy man. While meditating on a hill, he notices early signs of a landslide, warns the villagers below, and thereby saves them. In “Letting in the Jungle,” Mowgli chances upon a village where he finds Messua and her husband bound, beaten, and gagged. To punish the villagers who fled to safety and left Messua and her husband to be tortured, Mowgli lets in the jungle by having the elephants trample the village. “The Undertakers” involves Mugger of Mugger-Ghaut, a crocodile who tells the tale of how he tried to snap a child’s hand off and missed. The child grows up and returns to kill Mugger.
The King’s Ankus returns Mowgli to Cold Lairs, the monkey’s palace. Led by Kaa, Mowgli enters the treasure room guarded by the White Cobra and takes the ankus, a jeweled knifelike weapon. While Mowgli sleeps, a thief steals the ankus. Mowgli follows the thief’s trail and discovers that six men have died because of their desire to own the ankus. Mowgli claims that the ankus is evil and returns it. “Quiquern” occurs in the icy Arctic and tells the story of a young Eskimo, Kotuko, and the mystical dog Quiquern. “Red Dog” involves Mowgli’s cunning in the war between Mowgli, Kaa, the wolves, and the red dogs. In the last story, “Spring Running,” Mowgli is ill and Messua nurses him back to health. As Master of the Jungle, he bids goodbye to his jungle friends, and his adventures conclude.