MacAdam/Cage, 2005. ISBN 1596921498.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 02/10/2006
Victoria Vinton, whose stories have appeared in a variety of publications including "Prairie Schooner" and "Sewanee River", has a gem of a first novel in The Jungle Law. Using what has been described as a literary footnote, Vinton has crafted an imaginative, engaging tale of Rudyard Kipling and a small neighbor boy, and the exchanges between them which led to the very famous Kipling work, The Jungle Book.
In an effort to escape increasing fame, Kipling moved his then pregnant wife to Vermont in the late nineteenth century. It is in the backdrop of the rural Vermont countryside that VInton introduces us to Kipling, his wife and their nearest neighbors, the Connellys. Young Joe Connelly's lively imagination helps to spark some of the details that any Jungle Book fan would readily recognize. Many of the characteristic mannerisms of the Jungle Book's "man-child" Mowgli are descriptions of Joe at play with Kipling urging the boy to imagine he is the man-child being raised by jungle animals.
Vinton weaves the story of young Joe Connelly through the story of the Kiplings in Vermont, but the strongest thread in her tale is that of the evolution of The Jungle Book.
Kipling spent part of his early life in Bombay. His family was filled with eccentric members whose stories infused a love of words and storytelling into the impressionable and imaginative Kipling. A move to England catapulted the writer into a literary mecca where he kept company with many notables. Because his privacy was far more important to him than fame, he moved to rural Vermont in the hopes of finding a place where he and his Daemon (the equivalent of his muse) would be able to take the seeds of a story and see it through to its end. The roots of those story seeds were in his days in Bombay. It is from the Hindi names for various jungle beasts that Kipling gave names to his Jungle Book characters: Baloo, the bear; Bagheera, the panther; Tabaqui, the jackal. Drawing from his imagined man-child's movements, he assigns the name Mowgli from the Hindi term for Little Frog.
In the jungle, there is an unspoken law by which the beasts abide. This law—The Jungle Law—becomes the backdrop for the lessons the jungle beasts present to Mowgli. The Law was "a set of rules and protocols that all the animals followed in order to live peaceably side by side, in relative good faith and order." In truth, it is in the tradition of the Law that Kipling and Joe both live among their family members and friends. The friendship between the two is, in many ways, as unlikely as Mowgli being raised by jungle animals and schooled in jungle law. Yet, their friendship is what gives voice to that man-child, his jungle family, and the simple laws of life which provide a framework for peaceful living among others.
Vinton paints word pictures as vivid as the film version of The Jungle Book. In doing so, she thrusts her readers into the nineteenth century life of Rudyard Kipling and into the mind of a creative soul developing one of his finest works. Opening the pages of this book is like opening an invitation into another lifetime, some other place, and some other realm—the realm of make-believe where those who believe can make anything seem real.
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