Real-Life Origins Of 'The Jungle Book' Were Far Too Depraved For Disney To Adapt
Most people know The Jungle Book from the family-friendly Disney film. They don't realize that it was adapted from a far different literary work by the masterful Rudyard Kipling, who in turn received inspiration from a dark real-life story. In fact, there was an actual "Mowgli" who lived out in the wild with animals, though his life didn't at all resemble a Disney cartoon. When civilized people finally located this feral boy, his chances for a happy ending soon took a tragic turn.
Author Rudyard Kipling took some liberties while writing his famous work, The Jungle Book. In reality, there was no sleepy old bear named Baloo, nor a protective panther, Bagheera, or even a villainous tiger, Shere Khan. But there was a real-life Mowgli who lived among a wolf pack. But his life would not have made for a feel-good Disney flick.
The complicated life of Dina Sanichar came to light in the late 1800s, when he was first spotted by a group of startled hunters. One can imagine that he made for quite a bewildering sight. Besides his odd behavior and appearance, he wasn't alone.
The six-year-old feral child was walking on all fours, following what he believed was his family — a wolf pack. The hunters watched as they all went into a cave. Once they were out of sight, the hunters formulated a plan. They would surprise the pack, and not without spilling some blood.
The hunters lured the wolves out, along with the child. Once the cave was empty, the hunters unloaded their weapons on the animals, and even the enraged mother wolf fell at last. The boy watched in horror as his adopted family was cruelly torn away from him forever. After the carnage, they took Sanichar away from the only world he knew.
Actually, he wasn't alone in that regard. India, the setting for The Jungle Book and the country where Sanichar lived, had a long history with feral children. This phenomenon has happened as recently as 1972 when a young boy in Shamdeo was found after being raised by wolf cubs. But as Dina Sanichar shows, there is an ugly truth beneath these incredible stories.
Sanichar wasn't a friendly, fun-loving kid like Mowgli. He had a complete lack of social skills that hindered his reentry into the human world. It also didn't help that the hunters dropped him off in a place that provided the poor boy with little comfort.
After the massacre, the hunters took the feral boy to the Sikandra Mission Orphanage. There, he was baptized and given the name Dina Sanichar, with "Sanichar" being the Urdu word for Saturday, the day he had arrived. Those in control of the orphanage knew the boy was going to have a hard life. But what other life could he have had? Should the hunters have left him behind?
Integrating Dina into mainstream society was never going to be easy. During his early days at the orphanage, he completely refused the cooked meals given to him. He had only ever had a taste for raw, recently killed prey. He even tried to keep sharpening his teeth. But the orphanage staff did its best to help, addressing everything from his diet to his posture.
After having only walked on all fours like a wolf, Sanichar was forced into moving like a regular human. The upright movement was clearly uncomfortable for the child. He did eventually learn, but it took much longer for him to drop some other attributes he had picked up in the wild. Wearing clothes proved to be a tremendous chore for the boy. In addition, young Dina became incredibly lonely. Yet, he made a close friend.
There was a slightly older boy at the orphanage who was also rescued after being raised by animals. Even with the country's history of these young children, this bond seemed like fate. The boy was even able to help Sanichar adjust, given their shared backgrounds, and one man kept a close eye on his progress.
A missionary named Father Erhardt ran the orphanage, and he witnessed the advances and regressions that Sanichar made. It was clear that his friendship with the other feral boy was an invaluable asset, like when the elder child helped teach Sanichar how to drink from a cup. Though he made progress, Sanichar still found one aspect of everyday life to be incredibly difficult.
While the orphanage workers were able to finally get Sanichar to eat their cooked food and walk like a person, teaching him to speak was another issue. For a long time, the boy was content to simply make noises. He would growl and grunt, even as others begged him to use real words. He still didn't fit in with his fellow humans. If the wild was a vast and open space, the orphanage proved to be a constricting and limited refuge for Sanichar.
Sanichar celebrated his tenth birthday at the orphanage. And by the time he was in his twenties, he was still there. Granted, for a feral child, he made many steps forward in social and mental developments. But he lost the early, most important years. And one thing became clear.
Sanichar would never leave the orphanage, as no family would adopt him. This was his permanent home, perhaps the only place in the world where he could survive. After all, he'd probably be ostracized elsewhere for his physical deformities. Unlike the healthy-looking Mowgli, Sanichar made for a rather unsettling sight.
Sanichar's body was stunted, as he barely stood at five feet tall. He had a very big forehead and oversized teeth that helped him chew and gnaw at the raw food in the wild. Sanichar's helpers at the orphanage couldn't change his body or even his crippling anxiety. But the feral child did take on a human habit that gravely affected his health.
Despite all Sanichar's difficulties in living among humans, he fell in love with smoking. It soon turned into a grave addiction. With a rattling cough and low energy levels, Sanichar soon became a shadow of his former self. The orphanage called in a doctor to examine the rapidly deteriorating man.
By the time he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, there was little that doctors could do for him. Dina Sanichar died in 1895 between the ages of 29-34 years old. And while Rudyard Kipling never explicitly admitted to the similarities between the character Mowgli and Sanichar, when The Jungle Book was published, the public noted the similarities to the then widely-known story of the feral child.
Fact versus fiction
Sanichar became a bit of a celebrity, so it's likely that he inspired Kipling's character — but with a few key changes. The author certainly made his main character's life a little happier, as Mowgli was never coerced back into society. However, the author did include some darker material that Disney left out of their adaptation.
Kipling's novel had Mowgli face many dangers in the jungle, just like Sanichar surely would have. And then, in the end, Mowgli simply leaves the jungle behind, realizing he doesn't belong. But in the stripped-down Disney cartoon, Mowgli's life isn't nearly as dangerous, and his entry into civilization isn't the least bit bittersweet.
Harsh reality in store
Needless to say, Dina Sanichar was far less lucky than the fictionalized version of Mowgli. When he was out in the wild, there were no singing animals who helped him along. But this wouldn't be the only case in which we swept tragedy under the rug for the sake of a good story — just look at Peter Pan.
Just like The Jungle Book, the story of Peter Pan was based on real events, but the truth wasn't nearly as magical. In case you're not familiar with this classic tale, here's a quick breakdown of the story. It starts with Peter, a mischievous and magical boy with one special quality: he does not age.
Darker than the truth
While it sounds nice enough on paper (what's so scary about fairies and childhood adventures?) the reality of the matter is far more twisted than anyone expected. Turns out, Peter Pan was based on a real person whose situation bordered on sinister.
The real Peter Pan
It all starts with the childhood of the author, a man by the name of James Matthew Barrie, or J.M. for short. This man had a truly dark past, and it all started when he was a young boy.
Normal early childhood
Barrie was born in 1860 in Scotland, to a large, conservative family. His upbringing was relatively normal — that is, up until tragedy struck when Barrie was only six years of age.
In 1867, Barrie's older brother David collided with a fellow ice skater, cracked his head open, and subsequently died. The boy had only been thirteen years old. Naturally, this rocked the Barrie family to its core.
Barrie's mother Margaret had a particularly unusual reaction to this awful tragedy. This strange emotional response would end up staying with Barrie for the rest of his life.
Margaret, understandably, was devastated by the shocking death of her favorite son. But she had another set of feelings related to the incident; she took comfort in the idea that David would forever be a child, and would never grow up or leave her.
Difficulties in adulthood
Eventually, Barrie would move out of his childhood home and find love in the form of his wife, Mary Ansell. However, this marriage would prove to be an irregular one for one reason in particular.
While Barrie and Ansell were married for 15 years, they never actually consummated their marriage. Barrie himself admitted this openly in letters, and it seemed that for him this was a huge failing.
This complicated relationship with sexuality would haunt the author throughout his entire life, but to truly understand the controversy surrounding it, we must go back to a sunny afternoon in Kensington Gardens.
One fateful walk
There, 30-year-old Barrie was taking a leisurely stroll through the picturesque grounds when he ran into two young boys walking with their nanny. These children were 4-year-old George Llewelyn Davies and 3-year-old John Llewelyn Davies.
Barrie was immediately drawn to the young boys and made it his mission to befriend them. He'd see them increasingly frequently while walking his Saint Bernard through the gardens and entertained them with fantastical stories.
Eventually, Barrie grew close enough to the boys that he met their parents, Arthur and Sylvia. The couple went on to have three more sons, Peter, Michael, and Nicholas, and all of the boys began referring to Barrie as Uncle Jim.
Not entirely innocent
However, this close relationship Barrie shared with the children wasn't entirely innocent. He truly did care deeply for the five boys, but his affection came with a dark side.
Barrie not only loved the Llewelyn Davies children, but he also felt a certain sense of possessiveness and jealousy over them. He didn't want to have to share the boys with anyone else, and soon he wouldn't have to.
The children become parentless
The patriarch of the family, Arthur, passed away from jaw cancer in 1907. Rich from his popular books, Barrie paid for all his medical care. Three years later, Arthur's wife Sylvia lost her fight with lung cancer.
These sequential tragedies made the five Llewelyn Davies children into orphans, leaving the question of what would happen to them and where they would live. Luckily, Sylvia had left a will.
In the will, she left explicit instructions as to where the children would go in the event of her death. She specified that she'd wanted the boys' nanny to parent the girls, along with their Aunt Jenny. However, Barrie got to the document first.
The scheming author doctored the will to make it seem as if it was referring not to Jenny, but to "Jimmy," as the children called him. No one was any the wiser, and Barrie quickly gained custody of the brood.
Everything went according to plan, and the five kids did end up living with Barrie for years. However, even today there persists intense controversy over the true nature of the relationship they shared.
Some people believe that the relationship between Barrie and the children was highly inappropriate, and may even have been sexually abusive in nature. Others have different thoughts, though.
Others challenge negative accusations
Many insist that, while their relationship was undoubtedly odd, Barrie never would have dreamed of hurting the children. His supporters claim that he wasn't a predator, but in fact was asexual.
The children's perspective
“I don't believe that Uncle Jim ever experienced what one might call a stirring in the undergrowth for anyone — man, woman, adult or child. He was an innocent," Nicholas, the youngest of the brothers, was quoted as saying.
Nevertheless, regardless of his intentions, the Llewelyn Davies' tumultuous childhood and unexpected surge to fame brought them all to dark ends. The first one to meet his demise would be the oldest, George.
Gone too soon
George passed away at the young age of 21, having been killed in combat in 1915 in the midst of fighting WWI. Less than a decade later, his younger brother Michael would suffer a fate equally as tragic.
At the age of 20, Michael drowned in what was almost certainly a suicide. Many reports say that he died in the arms of his lover — a man — and that turmoil surrounding his sexuality had been one factor contributing to his depression.
One brother remained
In later years, decades after Barrie's death, John would die of lung disease and a year after that Peter would take his own life by jumping in front of a London subway car. Only one brother, Nicholas, would live to die of old age.
Turned grief into inspiration
Barrie was extremely traumatized by the deaths of George and Michael, and their passing shook him so heavily that it transformed the very way he conceptualized his own magnum opus, Peter Pan.
While Barrie had based his beloved book on the joy he got from surrounding himself with the Llewelyn Davies children, in the aftermath of their deaths he began seeing the story as a reflection of his own tragic inabilities to mature and become a real adult.
In 1937, at the age of 77, J.M. Barrie died of pneumonia. However, his strange, controversial, and fantastical legacy not only in art but also in life has certainly outlived him, and continues to puzzle, terrify, and excite generations of children to this day.