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Finding an LDS connection with Kipling's 'Jungle Books'

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 29 2010 6:00 a.m. MST

Dec. 30 marks the birthday of Rudyard Kipling, the British author.

And though that may seem like a weak hook for a Mormon Times column, there is a sturdy connection.

Kipling was good friends with Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts. And when Baden-Powell began the Boy Scouts, he based the movement on Kipling's novel "The Jungle Book."

In 1892, it seems, Kipling married an American woman and moved into a cottage in Brattleboro, Vt. (Joseph Smith country). As he watched the snowflakes fall during the chilly winter, he wrote about the steamy jungle. His two "Jungle Books" were published in 1895.

According to Lisa Makman, an authority of Victorian literature, when Baden-Powell put together the Boy Scout and Cub Scout handbooks in 1908, "The Jungle Book" was the model for them. Terms such as "Wolf Cub," "Akela," "The Law of the Pack" and "The Grand Howl" were all from Kipling's books.

The whole enterprise of Scouting came from the Law of the Jungle: "The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack."

The three noble creatures of Cub Scout lore — the wolf, the lion and the bear — were the noble souls in "The Jungle Book."

And, according to Makman, the values of Scouting, such as self-sufficiency and respect of nature, were all also part of the Law of the Jungle.

Repeating the "Scout Law" pretty much sums up the virtues Mowgli learned from the family of wolves that raised him.

In short, for the first Boy Scouts, Kipling was king. In 1923, the author was the guest of honor and addressed the 6,000 Scouts at the Imperial Jamboree.

But the thing that impresses me most is that Rudyard Kipling, like the Mormons and the Boy Scouts, believed that people naturally know the proper way to behave. A sense of the higher moral law is born into us. Our parents and teachers don't need to drum a sense of right and wrong into us; they simply have to uncover our own native ability to recognize it.

Kipling's Law of the Jungle is what LDS people call the Light of Christ.

And the key to uncovering that deeper, more noble self inside of us lies in obedience.

A Scout "obeys the Scout Law," we're taught; just as for Kipling's "Jungle Book" creatures, "the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the hump is — Obey!"

But the kicker — and clincher — I think is how Kipling depicts Mowgli when the "man cub" gets older.

Does he become a wild Tarzan, ruling the beasts of the jungle with his intellect and will?

No, he doesn't.

According to Kipling himself, Mowgli returns to civilization, takes a government job with the British foreign service and becomes a young, uniformed forest ranger.

In other words, Mowgli doesn't go native.

He takes the Law of the Jungle as he learned it from his "wolf parents" and uses that knowledge to become — yes, that's right — a loyal Boy Scout.

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