Man Cubs Need Their Fathers: Kipling's Jungle Books
One of the biggest worldwide hits of the summer—or any summer, for that matter—is The Jungle Book, Disney’s charming new interpretation of the Kipling classic. Children are eating up this film. But it’s not surprising that the intelligentsia, which once called the book a celebration of British imperialism, are now calling it racist garbage, not to mention politically incorrect.
Ironically, in their rush to condemn The Jungle Book, the critics are missing Kipling’s most politically incorrect message of all: That boys need their fathers, and need them desperately.
It’s a message we should pay particular attention to on Father’s Day, coming up on Sunday.
As Jody Bottom writes in The Federalist, Kipling’s writings for children “derive from his intense feeling of being an abandoned child, sent home from India to live in a boarding school at age five.” Bottom notes, “The subtext of nearly every one of his children’s stories is a boy’s desperate need for a father.” Kipling himself is “so eager for a father that he cannot write about a boy without casting every older male in a father role.”
For example, in The Jungle Books, the story of an orphaned man-cub named Mowglie, we have Baloo the bear, whom Bottom calls a “kindly but learned” father figure. Bagheera, the panther, is another father figure, while the wolf Akela “is father as clan lawgiver.” The python Kaa is “father as source of ancient memory and possessor of mysterious powers.”
We see the same phenomenon at work in another Kipling novel about a fatherless boy, titled Kim. Bottom notes that father figures in this tale include “Mahbub Ali, a Pashtun horse trader, [who] becomes the mature figure of worldliness for the boy, an elderly Tibetan Lama becomes the father of his spiritual unworldliness,” Bottom writes, while “a British officer . . . becomes the father figure who calls the boy to a high political purpose.”
We see echoes and evidence of this need for fathers in modern life. It seems that boys don’t merely feel abandoned when their fathers are out of the picture: All the available evidence reveals that both boys and girls don’t do as well as kids who have a loving father providing a steady presence in their lives.
For instance, family researcher Patrick Fagin of the Heritage Institute notes that “teenagers without a dad around are almost twice as likely to be depressed as teenagers from an intact family.” “They are more than four times as likely to be expelled from school,” and “three times as likely to repeat a grade,” as well as abuse drugs and alcohol. Even more depressing is the fact that kids without dads “are also more likely to have sex before they are married—setting the stage for yet another fatherless generation.”
All of this shows that for dads, spending time with their kids, playing with them, teaching them right from wrong, and disciplining them, is the most important work any man can do.
As for the movie, well, as charming as it is, Disney’s writers don’t seem to recognize what Kipling was doing with the Mowgli stories. For instance, they cast Scarlett Johansson as the python, Kaa, a pretty piece of reverse-sexism. Bagheera the panther is the only character left to truly represent a father.
If you decide to see The Jungle Book with your own man-cubs, then give them a copy of Kipling’s The Jungle Books to read afterward—or read it to them yourself. They’re tremendously entertaining stories and poems. And be sure to point out to them what Kipling was saying with his children’s books: That boys (and girls) need their fathers, and without them, they are truly lost.
Oh, and to all you dads out there, have a very happy Father's Day.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Publication date: June 17, 2016