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Mowgli is a fictional character and the protagonist of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book stories. He is a naked feral child from the Pench area in Seoni, India, who originally appeared in 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 collections The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book (1894–1895), which also featured stories about other characters.
In the stories, the name Mowgli is said to mean "frog", describing his lack of fur. Kipling made up the name, and it "does not mean 'frog' in any language that I know of."
Kipling stated that the first syllable of "Mowgli" should rhyme with "cow" as opposed to the expected English word "mow"
The Mowgli 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 the Pench area in Seoni at the time of the British Raj, discovers a young man named Mowgli, who has extraordinary skills in hunting, tracking, and driving wild animals (with the help of his wolf brothers). He asks him to join the forestry service. Mueller, the head of the Department of Woods and Forests of India as well as Gisborne's boss, meets Mowgli, checks his elbows and knees, noting the callouses and scars, and figures Mowgli is not using magic or demons, having seen a similar case in 30 years of service. Muller also offers Mowgli to join the service, to which Mowgli agrees. Later, Gisborne learns the reason for Mowgli's almost superhuman talents; he was raised by a pack of wolves in the jungle (explaining the scars on his elbows and knees from going on all fours). Mowgli marries the daughter of Gisborne's butler, Abdul Gafur. By the end of the story, Mowgli has a son and is back to living with his wolf brothers.
Kipling then proceeded to write the stories of Mowgli's childhood in detail in The Jungle Book. Lost by his parents as a baby in the Indian jungle during a tiger attack, he is adopted by the Wolf Mother (Raksha) and Father Wolf, who call him Mowgli (frog) because of his lack of fur and his refusal to sit still. 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 learns he is able to stare down any wolf, and his unique ability to remove the painful thorns from the paws of his brothers is 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. It is uncertain if Mowgli is actually the returned Nathoo, although it is stated in "Tiger! Tiger!" that the tiger who carried off Messua's son was similar to the one that attacked Mowgli's parents. Messua would like to believe that her son has returned, however, 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. After being cast out of the village after being accused of witchcraft, Mowgli returns to the jungle with Shere Khan's hide and reunites with his wolf family.
In later stories in The Jungle Book's sequel, The Second Jungle Book, Mowgli learns that the villagers are planning to kill Messua and her husband for harboring him. He rescues them and sends elephants, water buffaloes, and other animals to trample the village and its fields to the ground. Later, finds and then discards an ancient treasure ("The King's Ankus") not realising it is so valuable that men would kill to own it. 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 in "The Spring Running".
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