Mowgli (pronounced /ˈmaʊɡli/) is a fictional character from India who originally appeared in Rudyard Kipling's short story "In the Rukh" (collected in Many Inventions, 1893) and then went on to become the most prominent and memorable character in his fantasies, The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book (1894–1895), which also featured stories about other characters.
The Fish 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 India at the time of the British Raj, discovers a young man named Mowgli, who has extraordinary skill at hunting and tracking, and asks him to join the forestry service. Later Gisborne learns the reason for Mowgli's almost superhuman talents: he was raised by a pack of wolves in the jungle.
Kipling then proceeded to write the stories of Mowgli's childhood in detail. Lost by his parents in the Indian jungle during a tiger attack, a human baby is adopted by the wolves Mother (Raksha) and Father Wolf, who call him Mowgli the Frog because of his lack of fur. 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 learned he was able to stare down any wolf, but his unique ability to remove the painful thorns from the paws of his brothers was 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. We never find out for certain if Mowgli is the returned Nathoo, although a hint that he might be is provided in the Jungle Book story "Tiger! Tiger!" where we learn that the tiger who carried off Messua's son was lame, just as Shere Khan is lame. On the other hand, while Messua would like to believe that her son has returned, 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. Seeing this, Buldeo, a jealous hunter goads the villagers into persecuting Mowgli and his adopted parents as witches. Mowgli runs back to the jungle with Shere Khan's hide but soon learns that Buldeo and the villagers are planning to kill Messua and her husband, so he rescues them and sends elephants, buffalo and other animals to trample the village and its fields to the ground.
In later stories in The Second Jungle Book Mowgli finds and then discards an ancient treasure (The King's Ankus), not realising that men will kill to own it; and 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 (The Spring Running).
Kipling adapted the Mowgli stories for The Jungle Play in 1899, but the play was never produced on stage and the manuscript was lost for almost a century. It was finally published in book form in 2000.
Mowgli has been cited as a major influence on Edgar Rice Burroughs' character Tarzan. Mowgli was also an influence of a number of other "wild boy" characters; see Feral Children in Mythology and Fiction.
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 then 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) (ISBN 0-671-57858-8), and is also available online: Prologue and Story
Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, based Cub Scouting on a story in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book called "Mowgli's Brothers". Cub Scouts know it as "The Story of Akela and Mowgli". The words "Law of the Pack," "Akela," "Wolf Cub," "Grand Howl," "den," and "pack" all come from the Jungle Book.
In American Scouting, parts of the story are found in the Wolf Cub Scout Book, the Bear Cub Scout Book, and the Cub Scout Leader Book.
In the stories, the name Mowgli is said to mean "frog". Kipling made up the name, and it "does not mean 'frog' in any language other than the language of the forest."
Kipling stated that the first syllable of "Mowgli" should rhyme with "cow" and is pronounced this way in Britain, while in America it is almost always pronounced to rhyme with "go".
The story of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan by Ibn Tufail (before 1185) is similar to the story of Mowgli in that a baby is abandoned in a deserted tropical island where he is taken care of and fed by a mother wolf. There is no account of the tiger shere-khan in the story as it is intended to be a philosophical reflection on life and divine existence.
Hunting Mowgli (2001) by Maxim Antinori (ISBN 1-931319-49-9) is a very short novel which describes a fateful meeting between Mowgli and a human hunter. Although marketed as a children's book it is really a dark psychological drama, and ends with the violent death of a major character.
Mowgli has been portrayed on film by several actors:
The best known of all portrayals of Mowgli is the musical version in Disney's The Jungle Book (1967), where he is voiced by Bruce Reitherman, son of the film's director Wolfgang Reitherman; and The Jungle Book 2 (2003) in which Mowgli is voiced by Haley Joel Osment. Disney's brightly-lit child-friendly jungle is a whole world away from the dark, dangerous and often violent jungle inhabited by Kipling's noble savage. Disney's Mowgli sometimes appears at the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts as a meetable character, but very rarely. Around the same time – from 1967 to 1971 – five Russian short animated films were made by Soyuzmultfilm, collectively known as Adventures of Mowgli. Chuck Jones's 1977 animated TV short Mowgli's Brothers, adapting the first story in The Jungle Book, is the adaptation that sticks most closely to the original plot and dialogue.
There was also a BBC radio adaptation in 1994, starring actress Nisha K. Nayar as Mowgli, Freddie Jones as Baloo and Eartha Kitt as Kaa. This has been released on audio cassette and has been re-run a number of times on digital radio channel BBC 7's Little Toe Show.
(Not counting the numerous comics based on the Disney version)
'Mowgli' and similar can also mean: