"Mowgli's Brothers" is a short story by the British author Rudyard Kipling. It was first published in the St. Nicolas Magazine in January 1894. The story was subsequently collected in The Jungle Book (1894).
The story takes place in the Indian jungle. A toddler becomes separated from his parents when a tiger attacks their camp. The boy makes his way into a cave where Mother Wolf is nursing her cubs. Mother Wolf protects the boy from the tiger, names him Mowgli the Frog, and decides to raise him along with her own cubs.
The character of Mowgli first appeared as an adult in Kipling's 1893 short story "In the Rukh". "Mowgli's Brothers", the second Mowgli story written, is chronologically the first of the nine stories in the series.
"Mowgli's Brothers" was adapted as an animated television program by Chuck Jones in 1976.
One warm evening in the Seeonee hills, Father Wolf is getting ready to go out to hunt when Tabaqui the jackal comes by looking for a bone. Tabaqui tells Father Wolf and Mother Wolf that Shere Khan, the lame tiger, is hunting in the hills away from his usual territory. They hear Shere Khan hunting nearby. From the noise, they can tell that he is hunting Man tonight.
The wolves hear Shere Khan jump at a woodcutter's campfire and burn his feet. Then they hear something coming uphill. To their great surprise, it is a man's cub – a toddler left behind by the campers as they ran away from the tiger. Mother Wolf, who is nursing her four cubs, has never seen a man's cub before. The hairless, naked boy pushes his way between the wolf cubs and begins to suckle.
Shere Khan comes to the mouth of the cave and demands his prey. The cave opening is too narrow for him to get in, and the wolves refuse to give him the man's cub. Mother Wolf, a fierce hunter, claims the cub and scares away the hungry tiger. Mother Wolf is quite taken by the man's cub who appears completely unafraid. She names him Mowgli the Frog and decides to bring him up along with her own cubs.
When the cubs have grown a little, Father Wolf takes them to the Pack Council as required by the Law of the Jungle. Akela, the leader of the Pack, resides over the assembly. Cubs are pushed into the center one by one to be examined for acceptance into the Pack. When Mowgli is pushed into the center, Shere Khan's voice is heard claiming the cub for himself. A young wolf asks why the Free People should accept a man's cub. According to the Law of the Jungle, in cases of disputes, a cub must be spoken for by at least two members of the Pack other than its parents. No wolf speaks up for Mowgli. However, old Baloo, the brown bear who teaches the wolf cubs the Law of the Jungle, speaks for him. Baloo assures the Council that there is no harm in a man's cub. Bagheera the Black Panther also speaks for Mowgli and offers to pay to have the man's cub accepted into the Pack. The wolves gladly accept the bull Bagheera has just killed, and so Mowgli is entered into the Seeonee Wolf Pack.
Mowgli grows up learning the way of life in the jungle from Father Wolf, Baloo, and Bagheera. Ten or eleven years later, Bagheera tells Mowgli that the day is nearing when Akela will be too old to lead the Pack. When Akela can no longer hunt for himself, a younger wolf will kill him and become the new leader. Many of the wolves who allowed Mowgli to join the Pack are now also old, and Shere Khan has been working to befriend the younger wolves. He has been encouraging them to take over the Pack, and he has also been telling them that a man's cub does not belong in the Pack. Bagheera explains to Mowgli that he will soon be a man, and that wolves – and all animals including Bagheera himself – fear men. Bagheera reveals that he was born in a cage at the king's palace, and that was why he paid the price for Mowgli. He says he loves Mowgli but others hate him because they cannot stand up to him. Bagheera believes the young wolves will turn against Akela and Mowgli very soon. He tells Mowgli to go down to the village in the valley and take the Red Flower – by which he means fire – that grows outside the huts in little pots.
As Mowgli runs down to the bottom of the valley, he hears the Pack hunting. The young wolves are urging Akela to kill the buck, and Akela is clearly struggling with his prey. Mowgli realizes Bagheera is right: tomorrow may be the last day for both Akela and himself. Mowgli reaches the village and sneaks up to a hut. He looks in through a window at a woman feeding the fire on the hearth. In the morning, a child comes outside with a pot filled with hot coal to take care of the cows. Mowgli snatches the pot away from the frightened boy and disappears into the mist. Halfway up the hill, Mowgli meets Bagheera. Bagheera says Akela has missed his prey, and the wolves are looking for Mowgli. Mowgli goes back to the cave and tends to his fire pot until Tabaqui comes in the evening to summon him to the Council.
The Council Rock, the seat of the leader, is open. Akela, who had held the seat for the last 12 years, lies by its side. Shere Khan begins to speak. Bagheera whispers to Mowgli that the tiger has no right. Mowgli rises in protest and questions what a tiger has to do with the Pack's leadership. Some wolves try to silence Mowgli while others speak up for his right to speak. Eventually the senior wolves call for Akela to speak.
Akela acknowledges the Pack's right to kill him. He then exercises his right to fight the wolves one by one. No single wolf wants to fight Akela to the death. Shere Khan does not care about the old wolf. He asks the Pack to give him the man cub. Akela points out that Mowgli is a brother of the Pack who has not broken the Law of the Jungle. Bagheera speaks up next and reminds the Pack that he paid for Mowgli. The wolves refuse to honor the old pledge. Akela calls them honorless cowards then promises not to put up a fight if they let Mowgli go back to his own people. Most of the wolves take Shere Khan's side. Bagheera tells Mowgli that there is nothing more they can do for him except fight. Mowgli stands up. He is furious and also hurt to learn that the wolves, whom he had called brothers, hate him so much. He would have been happy to call himself a wolf before today, but now he declares himself a man.
Mowgli throws down the fire pot and, as the wolves pull back in terror, pokes it with a dead branch until it catches fire. He then uses the burning branch to subdue the wolves. Mowgli tells the Pack that he will go back to his own people but will not betray them to men. He then goes up to Shere Khan, grabs the tiger's chin tuft, and orders him to get up. He then beats Shere Khan over the head with the blazing branch, threatening to ram it down his throat. Shere Khan whimpers. Mowgli swears he will come back to the Council as a man with Shere Khan's hide on his head. He then orders the wolves not to kill Akela before driving them away with the burning branch.
The young wolves run, leaving Mowgli with Akela, Bagheera, and some of the wolves that had taken their side. Mowgli begins to sob. He does not want to leave the jungle. Having never cried before, he asks Bagheera what is happening to him. Bagheera tells him they are called tears, and that he is now a man and no longer a man's cub. Mowgli cries his heart out then goes to the cave. He says good-bye to his mother and cries on her coat. His brothers promise to come see him at the foot of the hill. Father Wolf asks Mowgli to come for a visit very soon because he and Mother Wolf are both old. Mother Wolf tells Mowgli she loved him more than her own cubs. Mowgli promises to come back for a visit and to lay out Shere Khan's hide on the Council Rock. He asks the family not to forget him then leaves the cave to go down to the village to join men.
- Text of "Mowgli's Brothers" on Wikisource.
- "Mowgli's Brothers" on the website of The Kipling Society.
- Public domain audiobook of "Mowgli's Brothers" on YouTube:
- Video of Chuck Jones' 1976 cartoon Mowgli's Brothers on the Internet Archive.